Monday, December 19, 2011

Following the Stars

Meditation for me is a practical, down-to-earth experience.  Just being there attending to the present moment – my sensations, feelings and thoughts as I go through my day-to-day activities; brushing my teeth, washing my face, peeling the potatoes, going for a walk, interacting with others, and such is a very practical grounding experience.

Of course, my meditative practice – the time I set aside to quiet my mind by focusing  intently on something specific - sounds, visual pieces, tactile sensations, tastes and smells, and, most often, simply my own breathing is the backbone.  It helps train my mind to quiet the internal chatter and to be present for whatever is.

But ever since I was a child stars have fascinated me.  I remember how, as a very young child, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, would, as the song says, bring me to a place of wonder.  Later on I began scanning the early night sky to wish on the first star of the evening.  And then, as a teenager, I would watch for falling stars and the promise of wonderful things to come.

Of course that was a long time ago so it took me by surprise when the presence of stars in the early morning and night sky became part of my meditations.  It wasn’t intentional at all, but sometimes at the beginning and end of a day I feel a need to expand my awareness of what is and open myself to the universe. 

So, after quieting my mind and becoming grounded, I open myself to the sky above.  What I often sense first is the cool crispness of the air – the way it fills my lungs and cleanses my body.  Then, as I breathe deeper into the sky I become aware of the stars.  As I open myself to their presence, I feel a profound connection with them and something deep inside begins to vibrate ever so subtly.  It is as if I hear the stars singing!  I never expected to sense this; I know I can’t actually “hear” the stars.  After all, the nearest star is 9,470,000,000,000 km or 4.22 light years away.  And yet, I do.

The idea of singing stars, or the Music of the Spheres, was proposed by Pythagoras more than 2,500 years ago.  Mythology turned into science in the 1970s when astronomers found that stars do pulsate, and are not stabilised by their strong magnetic field as was previously thought.  We now have actual recordings and music composed with their songs.

So, strange as it seems, I let myself be carried into the heavens by the stars.  Initially, I sense a quiet vibration, this grows as I open myself to the 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and then to the stars beyond our galaxy – an estimated 500 billion galaxies each with approximately 100 billion stars.  As I do so, my reverie deepens and the songs swell into an uplifting celestial chorus.

As I come to the ever-expanding edge of the universe and peer into the void, I become aware of a creative presence.  To me this presence is the Divine, the Alpha and Omega, the “I Am” of creation.  I am filled with this presence, and I realize I am part of this wonderful creation – and this presence is part of who I am.

 When I bring my meditation to a close and return to my earthly surroundings this experience supports me.  I move through my days with an enhanced sense of unity with others – and with all that is.  Differences pale.  I am filled with peace, love and joy. 

Afterword –

 May you also be filled with Peace, Love and Joy during this holiday season and throughout the New Year.

To hear the music of the stars for yourself, check out the following:

·         The first piece of music composed for stellar instruments: the slowly-building Stellar Music No. 1 by Jenõ Keuler and Zoltán Kolláth.

·         An old star in the constellation Hydra. It is 130 light years away and 60 times brighter than the Sun. Its sounds, which have been featured in club music in Belgium, are reminiscent of African drumming.

·         A new class of star with a powerful magnetic field. It pulses every 11.7 minutes.

 ·         Or to hear music that is more like what I hear in my Celestial Chorus look for the CD “Canticles of Ecstasy” – the music of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard, was known as "Sybil of the Rhine".  She produced major works of theology and visionary writings. She used the curative powers of natural objects for healing, and wrote treatises about natural history and medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees and stones. She is the first composer whose biography is known.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Big One

Last week I celebrated a big birthday – my 70th!  Coming as it did in the midst of saying goodbye to the dreams we had for our life here, it found me in a vulnerable spot.
From time to time sadness comes over me and I need to embrace it and just be there with it – tuning in to what is sad for me.  As I do this, the sadness gradually softens and is replaced by openness to the future and an appreciation of what is. 
The other day, for instance, as I climbed a hill and caught a glimpse of the ocean, the realization that quite soon I would not be able to walk here and experience this wonder on a regular basis came over me.  I noted my teary eyes and heaviness throughout my body.  So, I stood there, looking out over the ocean.  I seemed rooted to the spot as my sadness drained down into the earth.  After a few minutes of honouring my sadness in this way though, I found I had begun to move on.  The beauty of the place with its rocks, waves and wonderful natural landscape moved into the forefront of my experience and the sadness faded.
As I work through my grief in this way, I find that I am “moving on”.  It happens in many different ways – sometimes with appreciation, and sometimes even with optimism and enthusiasm towards what the future may offer.  
None the less, I was feeling quite vulnerable as I approached my “three score years and ten”.  To me it was a milestone, and I knew it was something my husband would have made a big fuss over a few years ago.  But I also knew that wouldn’t happen this year.  I was sad about that, but it was more that sadness.  The part of me who felt unworthy and unloved as a child took notice and went on high alert.  Her anxiety began to flow through my veins.  Maybe nobody would help me celebrate my birthday; maybe no one likes me; and maybe I’m just not good enough!
Fortunately, I know this needy part and I was able to support her and calm her fears to some extent.  But I still felt some anxiety as my birthday approached.  I was watching for signs that I was right.  Part of me felt the need for proof.
So when the first cards and birthday greetings began to come my way I grabbed on.  Here was proof and I didn’t want to let it go!  Sad to say that didn’t work!  Try as I might, the special moments passed and the harder I tried to hold on the less special they became.
Striving to hold on engaged my mind, and mischievously it began discounting the recognition coming my way.   There was a nagging voice: that card didn’t cost much; those flowers were likely a last minute decision, and on and on.  I wanted the hugs to last longer, and I wanted more and more good things.
I was caught in the vortex of the downward spiral.  But, fortunately, I was paying attention and I knew what was happening.  So, I calmed my neediness, and after some time was able to move on with an agreement to just be there – in the moment – throughout the rest of my big day.
Well, really it was more like a big week!  People are still remembering me.  And I feel so well loved and appreciated.  I have had many, many wonderful birthday greetings - cards, flowers, hugs, phone calls, dinners, lunches – and on and on.  So many wishes and so many good feelings that I can hardly bear it!
Just shifting my intention to being present for whatever came changed how I experienced what happened.  I held each birthday moment in my awareness for however long it lasted and savoured its special richness; the feeling, the sound, the scent, the emotion.  And as that moment passed – I let it go.  I didn’t hold on.
The richness of those experiences is still warming my heart.  Thank you dear friends and family for taking time from your busy lives to make my birthday special.  Thank you for making your love for me so abundantly clear.  How could I ever have doubted?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paradise Found – Lost – and Rediscovered

Paradise Found – Lost – and Rediscovered

Life here on the island is paradise!  Nestled between the Strait of Georgia and the west coast rain-forest, the weather is mild, the air is fresh and sweet, and good friends abound.  Life couldn’t be better!

For 14 ½ years we have enjoyed this wonderful place and have been richly blessed.  But now, as health issues become a significant concern, we realize – reluctantly, that this dream is coming to an end.  At first part of me tried to deny that it was true.  And yet, during recent personal health challenges, I realized just how tenuous things really were.   If I was out of commission for any length of time, the structure I provide would disappear and my husband would need some kind of alternate support in a hurry.

For a while I felt anger – why was this happening?  And what did we do to deserve this?  Quickly though I moved into a “fix it” mode – bargaining and denying the reality by building an impressive support network that would, in theory, be there for my husband if I became ill or incapacitated.  These friends and family members were ready to do what they could to help.  But then, some of these friends got sick and some even passed away!

Reality started to get through to me and gradually I began to accept the truth of the matter.  Our younger daughter had been encouraging me to consider moving closer to her so that she could support me for several years.  She spends considerable time with us each year and understands the stresses and challenges we face.   I, however, was not ready to see the truth as clearly as she did from her vantage point.  This fall, however, I got an email from our other daughter who is a geriatrician and deals with situations like this all the time.  In clear black and white she laid out all the reasons why she believed that we need to move back to family and why we needed to do this sooner rather than later.

One of the things she said that really hit me was that my husband could outlive me.  I know if that happened he would need to be close to family support.  I believe it was at that moment I knew what the right action was.  I really had no choice.  My husband had to be my first priority and we had to make plans to return.

Fortunately, we have three talented children who are willing to provide the kind of support we need.  They are all strong individuals with divergent skills and ways of looking at things.  So, when our son and daughter who live in Winnipeg jointly endorsed a new condo for us, we listened and proceeded to finalize.

We have offers of help with packing, and in deciding what to take and what to leave behind.  We have a line of credit and a lawyer to handle our legal affair. We have the assurance that we will have a good medical doctor and other supports when we arrive.  And we even have confidence that our car will somehow find a way to its new home.

So many things are falling into place, and now the ball is back in our park.  How will we move forward into our new life?  For me personally, I know I will be moving back with a new inner reality – a new found ability to be present for myself and others.  This allows me to accept, and yes, even embrace whatever is – whatever is already here, and whatever we will find there.  In a way, I am beginning to see that paradise is not about where we are, but rather why we are here at this time – right here – right now.   I have been given a very strong why; I have a burning purpose.

And so, as I move forward, the challenge will be how to fulfill my purpose.  As I do that, I believe I have the option of bring paradise to our new home, and to our new community.  I have an opportunity to remain the source of the calm gentle energy that I have become out here on the West Coast.  I am getting a glimpse of paradise – not as a place or a destination, but rather as a state of being.  The ebb and flow of the ocean tides runs deep in my veins, and the strength of the old-growth forest fills my heart.  I know that this quiet, calm peace will always be part of me and paradise will not be lost; it will be discovered anew!


For those of you who have been my clients – I want to thank you – I have learned so much from you.  I hope that I will be able to stay in touch with many of you via email, Skype, and the telephone.  If you are interested I can refer you to another ARC Clinician – let me know.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Me and My Left Hip

Me and My Left Hip

For the past 4 ½ years I have struggled with my left hip; this resulted in pain, tightness and reduced mobility.  Prior to this, ignoring some subtle and some not so subtle warning signs, I was an avid hiker – I was out on the trails communing with nature two or three times a week.  And then one day towards the end of a hike, my hip and leg just seized up.

My doctor suggested taking a three month break in order to let it heal.  I wish it had been that simple.  By the end of three months, I couldn’t even go for a short walk without finding myself back in bed unable to move for days.

At this point a helpless “little girl” part somewhere deep inside had a tantrum.  She wanted her mommy.  She wanted to have her “boo-boo” kissed – she just wanted it to go away!

In desperation, I tried every mother-substitute I could find.  I was prodded, poked and stretched.  I was a good little girl and did what I was told.  I tried heat; I tried cold.  I experimented with all kinds of liniments, pills, potions and herbal remedies.  But nothing delivered the cure I needed!

And so it went for years.  Then this spring I fractured the sacroiliac joint in my other hip.  Doctors could find no reason for this, but a “light bulb” turned on.  I finally got the message: I was looking in all the wrong places.  I wanted to be rescued, but there was no rescue in sight.  It began to dawn on me that I needed to be there for myself in a new way; I needed to find my own path to wellness.   I began to understand what taking ownership of my health really meant.

Sure I had become pretty good at asking for and accepting help. I was more attuned to my body and was learning to communicate her needs more clearly.   I was even good at speaking up when I needed something – a different chair, a cushion, not to sit at all, and even saying “no”.  But more was required.

Those of you who have been reading my blog will remember the lessons I learned on my drive to northern BC when I decided to attend in a more open fashion to my body’s responses.  So, when I noticed a pain in my back or hips I allowed myself to move toward it – to be there with it and to experience what it was really like.  Did it tingle?  Ache?  Or burn?  When I did that and simply breathed into the painful area, I discovered places where I was holding tightness, anticipating the pain, and resisting it.  As I continued to breathe into the area and allowed the tension to move, shift, or release, my pain lessened.

This was one of those “Aha” moments.   I realized that for more than four years I had been resisting the pain and likely creating a vicious cycle.  The initial pain may have been the trigger, but it seemed as if my anticipation and fear of the pain was perpetuating and even enhancing the cycle.  This gave me insight into how my resistance and tensing of the already tight muscles might just be a critical part of my puzzle.

This realization empowered me.  I was no longer waiting to be rescued.  I became more aware of my response to the pain and even my response to the simple anticipation of pain.  When I did feel pain or when I noticed myself anticipating pain I began to pay closer attention. I let myself move towards the pain – towards the fear—just being there with it, noting what I was really feeling, what I was thinking, and how bad (or not) the pain really was. Surprisingly, I found that what had made it so unbearable was the part of me who anticipated the pain – the part of me who feared how bad it might get.  I began breathing into the present moment and relaxing with the actual sensations.  The pain was not as bad as I had feared; there was no need for the tense muscles.  And gradually I began to be able to move more freely – without a flare up. 

The understanding that muscle tension might be one of the big culprits helped me to consciously soften those muscles as much I could whenever I noticed them tensing.  I also began to encourage these very tight muscles to soften in other ways – exercising in the pool and providing effective acupressure with a simple tennis ball. I also began walking and doing some gentle mindful stretching every day.

I am not totally pain free all of the time, but my left hip is no longer holding forth on centre stage! I actually enjoy moving again.  I even did a three-hour hike recently without a flare up.  It has taken me quite a while to learn what I needed to learn, but my left hip and I are happy to see a glimpse of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Afterward – I thought I was so smart to have finally figured this out when I picked up a book that had already figured it out.  It’s written for back suffers, but applies to any kind of pain that doctors don’t know what to do about (or even some they do).  It’s called, “Back Sense” by Ronald D. Siegel, Michael Urdang, Douglas R. Johnson.  It suggests that most chronic back pain may start with physical injury or strain, but is caused by tight muscles which occur in response to our fears about the pain.  Mindfulness, relaxation of the tension and resuming normal activities is recommended.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Occupation on Wall Street

I just had to share this article from ~

It shows so clearly how being mindfully present affects all your life!

Remaining human: A Buddhist perspective on Occupy Wall Street

By On October 11, 2011 · 7 Comments
Group meditation at Occupy Wall St. / Photo: Velcrow Ripper
As the movement grows in New York and all over North America, Michael Stone believes we are creating a language to reimagine what a flourishing society looks like.
A MAN STANDS on a bench in Zuccotti Park on Wall Street and chants a phrase from a meeting last night: “We don’t want a higher standard of living, we want a better standard of living.” He’s wearing a crisp navy blue suit and typing tweets into his iPhone. Next to him, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, wearing a red t-shirt, is surrounded by at least a hundred people as he makes his way onto a makeshift platform.
Since the protesters aren’t allowed to use megaphones or amplifiers, they have to listen carefully to the speaker’s every sentence, after which the speaker pauses, and those close enough to have heard repeat the sentence in unison for those farther away. When Naomi Klein spoke three nights ago, some sentences were repeated four or five times as they echoed through Liberty Park and down Wall Street, passed along like something to be celebrated and shared, something newborn.
Slavoj Žižek said:
They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are awakening from a dream which is tuning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scenes from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice. But it goes on walking. Ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street – Hey, look down!
We are awakening from a dream. When the Buddha was asked to describe his experience of awakening he said, “What I have awoken to is deep, quiet and excellent. But,” he continues, “People love their place. It’s hard for people who love, delight and revel in the fixed views and places of absolute certainty, to see interdependence.”
Over and over, the Buddha taught that what causes suffering is holding on to inflexible views. The stories that govern our lives are also the narratives that keep us locked into set patterns, habits and addictions. The same psychological tools that the Buddha cultivated for helping us let go of one-track rigid stories can be applied not just personally, but socially. Enlightenment is not personal; it’s collective.
The media love a good fight. In Toronto during the G20, those not involved in the protests were eventually distracted by the images of a burning police car in front of the banking sectors. With burning cars and young men breaking windows, there was suddenly a more entertaining target than the real issues of coming austerity measures and avoidance of policies that deal with climate catastrophe. With violent images prevailing, the protests lost momentum because the issues were forgotten in the media.
This time, even though there is a massive police presence at most protests, the movement is not giving the media the images of broken windows that they love. Instead we are seeing a blossoming of creativity and hope.
We need a language now that allows us to reimagine what a flourishing society looks like. Any meditator knows that there are times when the thoughts that stream endlessly through awareness can eventually grow quiet. But it’s only temporary. The stories come back. But they return differently. They have more space and they are –more fluid, less rigid. We need stories to think and make sense of a world – now an ailing world that needs us. A more convenient way to apply the Buddha’s message to the social sphere is to remember that viewpoints never end or dissolve altogether, rather we learn to shift from one story to another, like a prism being turned, so that the possible ways of looking at our lives can constantly change.
“If you see others as Buddha, you are a Buddha. You remain human. You no longer try to get beyond others. “
It’s time we adapt to our economic and ecological circumstances – uncomfortable truths we’ve been avoiding for far too long. This awakening is not just about economics, it’s about ecology and our love for what we know is valuable: community, healthcare, simple food, and time.
This process of dislodging old narratives is the function of both spirituality and art. Both ethics and aesthetics ask us to let go in a way that is deep enough that we find ourselves embedded in the world in a new way. If we think of this emerging movement as a practice, we’ll see that as it deepens and we let go of habitual stories, our embeddedness in the world deepens. Intimacy deepens. Relationships deepen.
In the same way that moving into stillness is a threat to the part of us that wants to keep running along in egoistic fantasies and distraction, those with the most to lose are going to try and repress this outpouring of change. They’ll do this with police, of course, but they’ll also use subtle measures like calling us communists or anti-American, anti-progress, etc. Our job will be to keep a discerning eye and watch for this subtle rhetoric that obscures what we are fighting for.
In the Lotus Sutra it is said that the quickest way to becoming a Buddha is not through extensive retreats or chanting but through seeing others as a Buddha. If you see others as Buddha, you are a Buddha. You remain human. You no longer try to get beyond others.
A student once asked Zen master Shitou Xiquian, “What is Buddha?” Shitou replied, “You don’t have Buddha mind.” The student said, “I’m human; I run around and I have ideas.” Shitou said, “People who are active and have ideas also have Buddha-mind.” The student said, “Why don’t I have Buddha-mind?” Shitou said, “Because you are not willing to remain human.”
This student wants to transcend his life. He imagines that being a Buddha is something outside of himself, beyond his everyday actions. If you have to ask what awakening is, you don’t see it. If you can’t trust that you have the possibility to do good, to see everyone and everything as a Buddha, then how will you even begin? Our Buddha nature is our imagination.
These protests are reminding us that with a little imagination, a lot can change. We are witnessing a collective awakening to the fact that our corporations and governments are the products of human action. They aren’t serving anymore, and so it is in our power and in our interest to replace them.
We are not fighting the people on Wall Street, we are fighting this whole system.
Žižek, the protestors, the Buddha and Shitou share a common and easily forgotten truth: We cause suffering for ourselves and others when we lose our sense of connectedness. We are the 99 percent but we are dependent on the 1 percent that control forty percent of the wealth. Those statistics reflect grave imbalance in our society.
Of course people are taking to the streets. In the U.S. 44.6 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for over six months. Long-term unemployment at this level is unprecedented in the post second world war era, and it causes deep strife in communities, families and people’s health.

Love Always / Photo: Velcrow Ripper
This movement is also showing the power of non-violence. Non-violence, a core precept in my own Buddhist practice, is not an ideology. It’s the power of facing what’s actually going on in each and every moment and responding as skillfully as possible. The depth of our awakening, our humanness, has everything to with how we care for others. Our sphere of awareness begins to include everything and everyone. The way we respond to our circumstances shows our commitment to non-harm.
In meditation practice we can experience gaps between the exhale and the inhale, between one thought dissolving and another appearing. The space between thoughts is the gentle and creative place of non-harm. The meditator learns to trust that quiet liminal space with patience because from it, new and surprising ways of seeing our lives emerge. This is the inherent impulse of non-harm in our lives. It begins when we bear witness to the fading of one thought and the emergence of another.
These protests are exposing the gap between democracy and capitalism. The way democracy and capitalism have been bound is coming to an end. We want democracy but we can’t afford the runaway growth economy that isn’t benefiting the 99 percent. And if the 99 percent are not benefiting, the truth is, the 1 percent feel that. If there’s anything we’re all aware of these days, it’s that it’s not just twitter and email that connects us – it’s water, speculative banking, debt and air, as well. When the 1 percent live at the expense of the 99 percent, a rebalancing is certain to occur.
If we can trust in the space where, on the one hand, we are fed up with economic instability and ecological degradation and, on the other, we value interconnectedness, we are doing the same thing collectively that the meditator does on his or her cushion. We are trusting that something loving and creative will emerge from this space that we create. It’s too early to say what that may be. It won’t just be a rehashing of an ideology from the past. These are new times and requite a new imaginative response.
The people of Occupy Wall Street and now Occupy San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Copenhagen and 70 other cities are trying to do both: take over a space that’s being wrested from the people, and also hold the possibility of a new way of living. What’s been stolen from the people is not merely a physical space (their foreclosed homes, for example) but space to rethink how our society operates and what to do about the bottom dropping out. Even the media, looking for a hook, can’t find one. “What are your demands?” the media keep asking. The answer: “It’s too early to say.” Let’s see how much space we can hold, let’s see what our power is, and then we can begin talking about demands.
If we are going to fully express our humanity and wake up as a collective, we need to replace our youthful ideas of transcendence with the hard work of committing to the end of a way of life in which our work is not in-line with our values.
We’re demanding a fundamental change of our system. Yes, we all need to work through our individual capacity for greed, anger and confusion. This is an endless human task. We also have to stop cooperating with the system that breeds greed and confusion as it shapes our lives and our choices. This movement is the beginning of bringing that system to a halt.
From here, anything is possible

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Driving Lessons from the Backseat

To me the benefit of meditation is the practice it provides for real life.  Through mediation practice I have learned to recognize when I am not present and then to return gently to consciousness – the ability to simply drop down into the reality of the present moment and to be there for whatever it has to offer.  It gives me greater skill in navigating through the emotional rapids of day-to-day life instead of being hijacked by thoughts, feelings, or other sensations.  Because of my meditation practice, I am more able to be open to what’s going on around me as well as inside me as it happens throughout the day.  I am less likely to be swept away by judgements, or taken over by expectations.  It allows me to be present to my own experience.
A few weeks ago I had a perfect opportunity to practice this link between meditation and in the moment awareness of my life.  I was on my way north – a 12 hour road trip out of Vancouver.  This in itself was a challenging prospect for me as I am still healing from a fractured sacroiliac joint.  But I knew the vehicle would be comfortable even in the backseat.  From past experience I knew that this backseat fit and supported me well.

And so I settled in.  I began with some focused attention on my breath and then gradually let it shift into a sense of my whole body breathing and present moment awareness.  I wasn’t trying to get anywhere, or feel anything special, I was simply allowing myself to be where I was and to feel whatever was there to be felt.  Observing and accepting whatever was – because it was already there.  I was just being with my thoughts, sensations, and emotions – whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, because they were part of my experience in that moment.

One of the first things I noticed occurred as we stopped at a gas station on our way out of Vancouver.  Maybe it was because my vision was limited in the back seat, or maybe not, but my sense of smell (not my strongest sense) started communicating with me.  As I experienced the smell of the raw gasoline some of my fondest childhood memories stirred.  My dad had a service station and that smell was the smell of family, and family outings.  Part of me also recognized that the fumes from the gasoline were not too healthy and I also felt some aversion.  So, being present for what was, I enjoyed my childhood memories and took care of myself by getting out of the vehicle to take an early bathroom break.

As we drove on, I noticed other smells –the two dogs behind the backseat, the market gardens, and agriculture.   Then, as we got out on the open highway I became conscious of the sensory impact of traffic – the smell of rubber and exhaust, the feeling of heat, and the constant hum.  Sometime later, the distinct impression of a drier climate – heat and dry grass filled my awareness.  As we continued north, this was displaced by a rain shower which added an element of moisture to the air.  Many memories were triggered as we drove through this smorgasbord of sensory experiences and I just let that be – neither attaching to the memories nor resisting them.  It was a novel and relaxing way to enjoy the trip from the backseat.

Of course other sensations and experiences were also part of the journey.  I had brought a set of CDs along, “The Seven Wonders that will Change Your Life” by Pat Gray and Brian Sack, so we slipped that into the player.  As I listened to the audio book I attended to my personal experience of it – the parts that resonated with me, the parts I wanted to reflect on later, as well as the parts that awakened strong emotions.  One section of the 3rd CD for instance seemed to me to be preachy and dogmatic and I felt myself experiencing resistance and anger.  So, I moved towards these emotions in a meditative manner.  By reflecting on the part of me who felt these emotions and the times I had felt this way before, I gained important clarity.  I learned more about my uncomfortable feeling and how I might honour this new understanding.  Given that there were others in the vehicle, I was also aware that they might have other reactions.  But I owned my personal response and needs and shared them with the others.  A rewarding dialogue ensued.  What a relief to find that they had experienced similar reactions!  We decided we would not listen to the rest of the audio book if it continued in that vein.  Fortunately it didn’t!

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the trip however was my experience of my painful areas.  Travelling has been difficult for me and part of me feared what this trip might mean for my body.  Knowing this, I had decided to go anyway and to attend to my body’s response in as open manner as possible.  So, when I noticed a pain in my back or hips I allowed myself to move toward it – to be there with it and to experience what it was really like.  Did it tingle?  Ache?  Or burn?  I found when I did that and simply breathed into the painful area, I uncovered places where I was holding tightness, anticipating the pain and resisting it.  As I continued to breathe into the area and allowed the tension to move, shift, or release, my pain decreased.  Of course I also took every opportunity I had to get out of the car to stretch my legs and flex my muscles as well.  But still, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at our destination feeling much, much better than I ever thought I could after an all-day drive!

And so, by being where I was and feeling what I was feeling without judgement or resistance I learned a great deal.  I even learned to enjoy driving from the backseat. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Making the Best

The other day a friend said to me it’s good to make the best of a bad situation.  My first instinct was simply to say “for sure”.  But, while on one level I agreed something in me said – wait a minute.

I know we sort of promote this idea of making the best – grinning and bearing it, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and so on – even when (perhaps especially) we don’t like a situation.  And certainly whatever the situation is – it’s already here.  So why not make the best of it?

Why not simply agree?  If the unpleasant circumstance is already here – there is no way of getting around it.  But, a part of me knew that this was not all that was here.  My feeling uncomfortable with the situation – that was also real.  Could I go along with what was happening and still be authentic?  And what about other realities: my respect for the other people involved, prior agreements, and so on?  A multitude of realities – all present in that one moment.  So what to do?

To be honest with myself (and others) I have to wrestle with these realities; I need a response that reflects the situation from all of my perspectives. I can no longer go along with a situation that makes me feel uncomfortable – simply put a smile on my face and make the best of things.

So what are my options?  Well, in this situation, where I was simply having a conversation with a friend, I just had to speak up.  I needed to express my reservations to be authentic.  Speaking up lead to a new understanding of what I was struggling with.  

Yes, at times all I can do in the moment is to make the best of it.  But an authentic relationship needs an honest foundation.  I need to let others know when I am not totally comfortable with what is happening.  Being aware of my response and being willing to communicate that in the moment is, for me, a more authentic way of being.  When such a message comes from my heart I know it will be respectful of others and trust it will strengthen our relationships.

Another response is to consider how I came to be in this uncomfortable place.  Reflecting on this may enlighten me about how to avoid similar situations in the future.  What thoughts, emotions or feelings lead me to agree?  How can I be more aware in the future?  Is this something that I need to say “No” to?  If so, what will alert me to this?

Or, is there a way that the experience can be changed?  What might that change look like?  Can I be the source of this positive shift?

Lots to reflect on!  And yet, I realize that it is much like the familiar serenity prayer.  It’s the courage and wisdom I’m working on.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

I’d be delighted to hear your response to this!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Authentic Personal Leadership: Making the Shift

In our ARC training we were asked to list the qualities of good leadership.  In this instance, we were talking about authentic personal leadership.  But, what struck me so clearly then, and what still resonates in my deepest being, is what I already “knew” about leadership. Although I was viewing it through a different lens, I found the ideas very familiar.
As we named different aspects of healthy leadership, and listed them on the white board, I realized that these were qualities I had already developed through my years as an educational consultant, coordinator, and administrator. What was unfamiliar, and new territory, was how to apply these concepts on a personal level.  I began to wonder, could my professional experiences help me develop a more authentic personal leadership? 

I sat nurturing this question for some months, and from this period of gestation came a new beginning.  My wonderings grew into a very personal understanding of what authentic personal leadership means.

Using the skills I had honed throughout my career to inform my personal growth at first seemed a bit backwards.  Then I realized that those skills were not simply tools I had used to help me in my career but were, in fact, part of who I had become.  They were more than skills – they were values that were dear to my heart and a core part of who I was.  And so, I began to reflect on those values and how they might help me in my current life.

For starters, there was respect. As an educational leader, I found it critical to respect all stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, principals, trustees, and the community as a whole.  Through respect I valued their needs and viewpoints.  I knew that good planning and decision-making depended on hearing from all parties, not just the ones who were the loudest, the most powerful, or at the “front of the line”.  Respect is about inclusiveness – valuing all the stakeholders.

Another skill that was critical to my success as an administrator was crisis management.  Interestingly, I often found that it was the crises that helped me become more effective. In a crisis there was not only the need for immediate attention and response, but also to process the event in the aftermath when things died down – questioning what part of the structure or system needed to be addressed to prevent, or at least decrease, the likelihood of a similar problem reoccurring. With proper crisis management the whole system ran more efficiently and provided a sense of security and confidence.

Finally, a skill that was critical for smooth organizational functioning was the development of clear and shared understandings of who we were, what we believed, and how we would put this into practice. In other words, developing a mission statement or shared vision – and then, expressing our philosophy in clear short-term and long-term goals that all stakeholders could understand.

It seemed to me that these professional skills could have real implications for personal leadership.  Although some of the language might need tweaking, surely the underlying principles were the same.

For instance, with the notion of respect, is this not what we want to bring to our thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, and actions?  Valuing all of their perspectives and insuring they have an input in decision making, is at the core of personal development.  Listening to all these parts; encouraging the quieter ones, and putting healthy boundaries around those who tend to take over, is critical if we are to develop into truly authentic individuals.

I also see a parallel between managing administrative crises and handling the challenges of my life today.  Recently, as I dealt with a personal crisis I became quite aware of how my various parts (thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, and actions) were dealing with the situation as it happened.  And afterwards I was able to reflect on the experience to gain a better understanding not only of what happened but why it happened.  In listening and respecting my parts in this way, I gained clarity on new and better ways to handle similar situations in the future.  My emotions had demanded immediate attention, but other parts needed to have time later on to make their position known.  I even heard from parts in the post-crisis processing who, if I had listened to them earlier, might have helped me avoid the crisis altogether.

For a while, I was puzzled as to how mission statements, values and goals might inform my personal leadership. These workplace concepts, at first, did not seem to apply.  And yet, the way a clear vision and goals give an organization a compelling sense of what they are about is definitely powerful.  I struggled with this for some time.  And then, one day, I realized that personal integrity and knowing what I was about is just as important to me as it is to any organization.

With this in mind I reflected on my personal life vision.  To my surprise I discovered I had been living under a false assumption – I thought I had a clear idea of my life values. This just wasn’t true!  My mind might tell me one thing but my heart and gut often have other opinions.  By not recognizing this, I was setting the stage for self-sabotaging behaviours.  Assuming that I knew, and not checking that all my parts were in agreement, left them no choice but to make their dissention known – often in very disturbing ways.

While understanding and working with these differing perspectives is a work in progress — one that will keep me busy for the rest of my life — I am beginning to forge a deeper, better-rounded understanding and acceptance of who I am.  And, as this clarity of purpose deepens, it empowers me to live my life with greater integrity.

This success brought me to consider whether goals might also inform my personal leadership.  At first, I rejected the idea — surely nothing so cut and dried could possibly work!  Goals, by their nature, are meant to be measureable so that you know if you reach them and can tell if you are “successful”. I didn’t want to set myself up for failure.  But if not goals, then what does inform my actions and responses?  What guides me as I make my daily decisions and choices?  

As I pondered this question, I realized that my intent, like goals, informs and guides.  But, unlike goals, my intent does so in a dynamic, flexible, non-judgemental manner.  Intent allows me to be open to a range of options and to respond with integrity to any situation.

My intent, for example, to “return to consciousness” again (and again) and to pay attention to my thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, and actions serves as a powerful guide.  It helps me to be present in a holistic, non-judgemental and accepting, yet discerning manner – facilitating the necessary dialogue between my parts and also with the world at large.   This is a dynamic, self-informing process.  As it unfolds, my intent evolves and more clearly informs my life.
And so, my experience as an educational leader has informed and instructed me in my understanding of personal leadership.  Indeed, what I already “knew” about leadership has empowered me make the shift to authentic personal leadership.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go

I just finished reading a book by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest.  The book is called "Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go".  He speaks of contemplation in a way that, for me, is akin to meditation.  I was impressed.  Here is a brief quote that inspired me.

I’m sure that most people in the Western world have never really met the person who they themselves really are.  Because at every moment, all our life long, we identify ourselves either with our thoughts, our self-image, or our feelings.  We have to find a way to get behind our thoughts, feelings and self-image.  We have to discover the face that we already had before we were born.  We have to find out who we were all along in God before we did anything right or wrong.  This is the first goal of contemplation.

I ask you to imagine a river or stream.  You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats and ships are sailing past.  While the stream flows past you inner eye, I ask you to name each one of these vessels.  For example, one of the boats cold be called “my anxiety about tomorrow.”  Or along comes the ship “Objections to my husband,” or the boat “Oh, I don’t do that well.”  Every judgement that you pass is one of those boats.  Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let it move on.

For some people this is a very difficult exercise, because we’re used to jumping aboard the boats immediately.  As soon as we own a boat, and identify with it, it picks up energy.   But we have to practise is un-possessing, letting go.   Pp. 94-95

Of course, we have to return to our “boats” but we can’t have any genuine freedom unless we know who we are apart from them.  In the final analysis the purpose of letting go is so that we can freely lay hold of something.  And the purpose of this new liberation from bondage is so I can commit myself from free and healthy motives.  The effect of contemplation is authentic action, and if contemplation doesn’t lead to genuine action, then it remains only navel-gazing and self-preoccupation.  P.98