Saturday, December 1, 2012

Oh, No – Oh, Yes

“Oh, no” was my first reaction when I felt that tickle and slight burning sensation in my sinus and throat late yesterday afternoon.  Following a familiar train of thought my slight tickle soon became a full-fledged catastrophe. Today of all days!  Now I’m going to feel rotten for our daughter’s wedding and reception this weekend.  Memories of nasty colds in the past crowded my mind, and a verse from one of Tevia’s songs in “Fiddler on the Roof” began playing in my head.

With our daughter getting married
And … (you’re getting a cold)
You’re upset, you’re worn down
Stay inside, go lie down

Well the “go lie down” part was at least good advice!  But then, thankfully, I became aware of how my thoughts and emotions were running away with their own agenda.  It was time for me to take a few deep breaths and let myself feel what was really happening.  It was time for me to determine the agenda.

“Oh, Yes” it was happening.  My body knew the signs.  But since I’ve become more present to what is, I see how easy it is for me to catastrophize; how easy it is for me to make any situation much, much worse.

Just being there with this “cold” I realized that is was not that bad.  I knew how to address my symptoms and reduce the chances of spreading it to others.  With that awareness, I was able to just accept what was already here and gently begin to look after myself.  What a relief!

Suddenly, things looked brighter, and I felt comforted.  Recollections of how, in the past, this simple acceptance has seemingly shortened and reduced the severity of any illness came to mind.  I don’t think this is an accident, or that I am fooling myself.  I truly believe that simple acceptance actually helps my body heal.  The energy I formerly used to resist, deny and imagine disastrous outcomes, is now available to my immune system who really does know what to do when I let it.

So today, although I’m not cured, I am feeling pretty good.  The symptoms are still there, and I will, with some regret, forgo the hugs and kisses.  But I am really feeling pretty well and I know I will enjoy this very special weekend.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Beneath the Surface

Well, I’m back!  Sorry for my long absence.

As many of you know, we have been in a long slow process of moving from BC to Manitoba.  It has been a journey filled with sadness and joy, of loss and discovery.  And it has had many things to teach me.  Despite my careful planning and organization, and regardless of my careful attention to detail, things had a way of getting “off track”.  Just when I thought everything was finally coming together, things would fall apart once more. 

For sure I got lots of practice in riding the waves of uncertainty, and of not getting so caught up in the undertow of emotional attachment. Through it all I sought to be open to the moment; to have a 360 degree view of what was happening – not just around me but inside me as well.  Of course, what I intended and what actually happened were often not the same.  But, my intention to be present and to “be there” with what was happening helped me to notice when I was sidetracked and to bring myself back to centre.
As I witnessed my internal processes in this manner, I was reminded of Socrates’ bold statement that "The unexamined life is not worth living."  This great teacher believed that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth.  As I took time to examine and reflect on what was happening, I was struck with how much our minds are like icebergs, only a small part of what is really going on is easy to see.  It is a challenge to catch a glimpse of what is going on beneath the surface.
The other day I realized how much part of me loves to “think”.  I notice this especially when I sit to meditate – this part of me tries to convince me that thinking would be much more interesting than being present to what really is.  Some thoughts seek to create an alternate reality through fantasy, or wishful thinking.  Others are worries – most often about things that may never happen or happened in the past and about which I have no control.  And then there is planning. Sometimes my thinking is one big attempt to control the world and make everything work out well – for everyone, including me!  All of this “thinking”, ironically, made me realize some of my thoughts needed further exploration. 

For sure thinking is very near and dear to me; it is an integral part of who I am – a very curious part who loves to explore ideas.  I love the challenge of searching for answers and the satisfaction of finding them.  Thinking keeps me engaged with life.  It is also a way of demonstrating that I am competent.  When I feel competent, I feel safe, and that I can keep others safe as well.  In that sense it is clearly a defensive strategy that seeks to ward off dangers!

Many of my thoughts are mental chatter.  As I become more authentic and true to myself, I am learning to recognize them with a measure of compassion as “just thoughts” and gently let them go.  One morning, for example, as I awoke to discomfort, a part of me began to worry that I might lose my mobility.  In the past I might have spent many hours – perhaps the whole day – worrying about being chronically disabled, thinking how I might try to avoid it, and planning what I needed to do if it became a reality.  But this particular morning, I saw it for what it was and had a good laugh.  In reality, the pain was not that bad; it might even get better as I began to move around and gently stretch. I not only knew that my fears were not facts but that if I needed to deal this issue, I could do so “when the time came.”  This sense of inner wisdom and personal strength was empowering. With that inner authority I was simply able to calm the chatter and release my fears.

Other times thoughts have a strong charge and are very persistent.  I have come to see them as more than just thoughts. They have strong emotions and physical sensations; they demand attention.  Surprisingly, by simply following these thoughts and the emotions they stir up, I have found a way to understand issues that otherwise might remain hidden and protected.

A recent incident underscored this point.  I found myself dealing with a nasty bully, and I was thinking up a storm.  Thoughts of “what to do” were taking up a great deal of my time and energy.   And so I decided to spend some time following the trail to see where it might lead and what I might need to learn from the situation.

As I listened to what various parts had to say, I discovered that the part of me who prides herself on being skilled at working with others and finding amicable solutions was being stymied.  After more than a month of attempting to resolve the issue and expecting a reasonable response I finally had to accept the obvious – no resolution was forthcoming.
Another part of me was angry that I was being bullied and attacked for a problem I did not create.  And then there was a part who feared the confrontation of dealing with this difficult situation.  Complicating this was that she, this fearful part, even felt intimidated by “my” anger.

Not so long ago, these fears would have scared me off.  I would have swallowed my anger in an attempt to nurture my internal distress.  I would, at least to the outside world, have let it go.  People might even have complimented me on my composure.   Reality, however, would be quite different as my anger would not have been “let go” but buried it deep inside where it would continue to fester.  Not this time!  Rather than being scared off, I decided to examine the urge to “let it go”.

There was no doubt; I didn’t like what was happening. I felt violated and I felt I needed to protect myself.  I also realized that part of me feared what would happen if I did stand up for myself.  I discovered that even my conciliatory, peace-making approach, though dear to my heart, was perhaps partly a response to that fear.  Simply by being open to all these conflicting emotions and hearing what they had to say deepened my understanding of what I needed to do.

Accepting my anger and exploring what it had to teach me opened up options.  I began to own my anger and under this new proprietorship wonderful things began to happen.  In owning my anger I found new energy; energy to facilitate my internal dialogue, energy to address the situation, and most importantly energy to take care of myself.  My first task was to assure my fearful, timid parts that I could and would do that.  In the past I had often ignored their voices. But as I continued to listen with the intent to take care of “all of me”, my fearful parts gradually began to trust me and calm down.  Once we were all “on the same page” and working together it was my job to carry through and provide the necessary leadership.

The energy that my anger gave me and my commitment to myself ensured that I would do whatever I could to let this bully know he could not treat me with impunity.  I could and would protect myself and my own needs.  This violation would not be swallowed.

I knew there was no guarantee that my actions would result in a satisfactory outcome. I doubted that this bully would accept his responsibility; for several months now he had aggressively refused to consider my concerns.  And sure enough, the requests and deadlines outlined in the strongly worded letter from our lawyer were ignored.  When the deadline and waiting period passed, I was advised that taking him to court would be an option, but it would cost me.  And given this bully’s track record it was unlikely he would ever pay up even if the courts found in my favour.

The question that now faces me is what should I do?  Do I put myself through months of further stress and incur additional costs to no avail?  Do I continue spending quality time on a problem that seems unsolvable? Should I keep on fighting a losing battle?
Is this how I look after myself?  I think not.

As I reflected on these questions, I realized that following my thoughts down to the anger that fuelled them had served its purpose. Those persistent thoughts of how I had been treated and “what to do about it” were no longer there.  I had demonstrated that I could be there for my fears and protect myself in a very challenging situation, and I was stronger for it.  It was time to let it go.

With some surprise, I discovered I could easily do that without stuffing things inside.  In fact, I have a deep sense of peace about it.  I have demonstrated that I can look after myself.  I can stand up for myself against a nasty bully, and I can do that without vengeance.  My goal has been to look after myself and now the best way to look after myself is to know when to stop pursuing a losing battle. My energizing anger has served its purpose and I am left with a sense of peace.  I have done all I can do.

Following those highly charged thoughts not only helped me deal with a very real and pressing issue in my life, it also nurtured my personal growth.  Life is not always fair and justice is not a sure thing.  This much, however, is sure.  I have done all I can to serve notice that this behavior is not acceptable. 

“The effect of contemplation is authenticity – authentic presence and authentic action.  If contemplation doesn’t lead to authenticity, then it remains only navel-gazing and self-preoccupation.

~ adapted from “Simplicity: the Freedom of Letting Go” by Richard Rohr


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Bitter Sweetness


Our time here is quickly coming to a close; we are busy saying good-bye to the friends we’ve made during our 15 years on the island.  It is hard – the bitterness of it rises up each time I hug someone – knowing this may be the last time – for a long time.
And yet, at the same time, it is sweet – very sweet.  The recognition of just how connected I am to each one warms my heart.  A few short years ago we were strangers, and now we are like family – maybe even closer.
I wish I could pay tribute to each and every one of these special people, but words would not be enough.  And I know that I would fail to mention many wonderful people and special memories.  So, instead, I will highlight some of the groups that have connected me to this place and grounded me in a way I have never known before. 
Of course, there is my family – without them we would likely never have ventured to the island at all.  Being here with my parents and brothers, who have been here for almost 50 years, connecting to their families, my cousins, nieces and nephews, has been special.  Being here gave me a chance to have an adult relationship with each of my parents and to support them as they aged.  I also was able to get to know my wonderful brothers, who had been children when I began teaching, in an ongoing dynamic fashion.  We discovered many ways in which we were similar, and others in which we were quite different.  How fortunate I am to have brothers like them!  We have supported each other in so many ways, and have become very close.
And then, there is the Haven Society, the first group I worked with after I got my “sea legs”.  Working with such a great group of women connected me to my new community in a unique way.  We had great times together, but we also addressed important issues and worked to make our community a better place.  Many of these friends remain woven into the pattern of my life.
Some of the people I will miss most are my hiking buddies.  With them I have explored thousands of kilometers of trails on the island – as well as other places.  I love the woods and walking through the west coast rain forest is a treat all on its own.  But the thing about hiking is the people who hike with you.  There is something about huffing and puffing up a steep slope that deepens your relationships. No pretenses here!  Connecting with each other in this down-to-earth way is like a glue that binds us together.  In a way my hiking friends became a great big loving family.  We supported each other through challenges; we celebrated each other’s joys, and, when we needed help they went out of their way to be there for us.
And then, then there’s my book group.  A few years ago I joined my first book group.  I thought a book group was simply that – a group of people who got together to discuss books.  I quickly found, however, that my book group was much, much more.  These women became like sisters to me.  Besides discussing our book, we shared each other’s lives month by month.  Sometimes a few would go out to see a play together or we might meet on a one-to-one basis for lunch or simply to visit.   Even though I have known these women for only a few years, they brought food when my mom passed away, and helped celebrated her life.  And, even as I made preparations to leave, they were there - they helped me pack and clean.  And now, they won’t let me leave – at least not completely.  They are including me in their monthly meetings via Skype.  And they even gave me a gift certificate to purchase eBooks for quite a few months to come.  They are just so special!
Many of our neighbours have become good friends too.  And of course, through all these connections, other doors have opened.  Abe and I took up Bridge and, for a while played two or even three times a week.  Even though we aren’t able to play now, we are finding other things to enjoy with our bridge buddies.  One of my friends and I have even started playing on-line and hope to continue that after I move.
I have also had the opportunity to discover an artistic talent, that I never knew I had, with my friend Ellen (a hiking buddy and also in my book group).  She is a talented artist and invited me to join her and a couple of others in her home Monday afternoons.  In her own gentle way she taught, modeled and encouraged me to explore watercolours – a whole new world of fun, relaxation and creativity.
Finally, I want to mention my ARC friends – the people who took “The Return to Consciousness” training with me.  I owe them a debt of gratitude, for without them the course would not have been offered on the island, and I would have missed out on this life-changing opportunity.  One of the things that I sought when I retired was to become more of “a human-being” rather than a “human-doing”- which I had been all my working life.  And ARC has helped become more present to myself – for my own life.  The support of my fellow ARCies, together with those who willingly became my clients as I practised and others who later joined my meditation group has encouraged me in my journey along this path.
On reflecting, on these past 15 years, however, I realize that becoming a human being is not simply about being more connected with myself – important though that is.  It is about being more connected with others.  It is about being more connected with nature.   It is about being more connected with my community.  I realize that this is what I have become while living here on the island.  And this – this is the incredible sweetness.  
So this is not good-bye.  You, my dear friends, will be part of my life even as we move apart.  And you, my special soul mates, will be in my heart forever.  Until we meet again!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Catching My Breath

Well, here we are – settling in to Beth’s home; our packing done, our things loaded into a container.  A welcome hiatus in our move back to Winnipeg.  It's a chance to catch our breath and enjoy our last few weeks on the island with our friends and family here.  The generosity of those who offered their homes to us warms my heart.  And the synchronicity between when Beth was planning to be away and our need for shelter seemed miraculous!

Interesting – living out of a suitcase.  With only a couple of bags that we’ll take with us when we leave, life has become much simpler.  The decisions about what to wear, for instance, are limited.  We have something for cool weather, something for warmer weather, and, of course, a water-proof jacket for the rain.  Our menu choices are determined by using up what we had left in our cupboards, and freezer.  I am experiencing in a very concrete way how much of our time is taken up with our “stuff”!   Never before have I realized quite so clearly just how much time I had spent looking after things.
Also, with our lives being a bit topsy-turvy I have found it necessary to curtail my personal interests and be here more consistently with Abe.  This may change as we settle in, but for now, most of my usual activities are on hold.  So, again, I have more time.  Of course, I knew that activities take time, but I love to be active, and don’t plan for a lot of “down time”.  But how precious time is!
As I open to this gift of time and allow myself to simply relax into the present reality, I am becoming much more aware of the subtle nuances of my day-to-day life.  For example, my relationship with Abe – of course it is my intent to be supportive of him in his journey.  But what does that mean?
Where is the boundary between support and interference?  Between helping and undermining?  When should I step in and provide a word or thought he can’t find and when should I allow him to find it himself?  And does it change with the circumstances?  What if there are others present?  What if they don’t understand how hard he is trying?

What is my motivation?  Am I speaking up to protect and support Abe or to avoid my own embarrassment?  And, after almost 50 years together, where is the difference?  When is it about my own frustration, impatience and pain?
Of course there is no simple answer to these questions.  But I’m finding it good simply to be present in the moment.  To just notice when I do step in and when I don’t.  To be aware of emotions – mine, Abe’s and others – as things unfold.  To just see what happens.  To consider my actions and the reactions that result in light of my intentions.

I know I have a tendency to “help out” and that’s not always “helpful”.  I also know that there is no way to get the right balance all the time.  But I hope as I become more present and open to Our Dance I will learn to be more supportive – in the most genuine and  helpful way possible.  Not just my intentions, but in my day-to-day actions. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Walking Meditation

The following is an article that I just had to share with my Blog readers.  It was written by a good friend, Amy Hanson.  After reading it you may want to check out her website and sign up to receive her Newsletter too.  ~ Bonnie

Each day I spend time in nature. For quite awhile this has been my form of meditation. Walking isn’t commonly considered a meditation, but it is if approached with mindfulness.

My first experience of being fully present in nature was when I was a child. I have very lucid memories of being in the forest and feeling a deep sense of connection. For me, it was as if colours, smells, sounds, tactile sensations and feelings were magnified. My heart would open and the pulse of peace would resonate throughout my whole body; a sense of being home.
As years went by, and the “busyness” of life stood in the way of the time I needed to spend in nature, I lost the ability to find this opening. Occasionally I would sit in a park or by the ocean and wonder where the magnificence had gone.

It is a long story of how I have renewed my relationship with Earth, but what I do today on my walks certainly contributes to the deepening and maintaining of that relationship.

First, I listen to my thoughts as I enter the forest. Quite often this is the time I am reviewing what has happened or what I think is going to happen in my life. I am usually in my past or in the future. What I notice at this time is that I am completely oblivious to my surroundings. .. you know, like when you drive home and don’t remember the drive! I consciously breathe; bringing me back to the moment I am experiencing right now. Having the oxygen clear my head, I slow my pace and look at my feet, focusing on the path, each small obstacle becoming the heart of my attention.

As my intention shifts, my world becomes clearer. There is a cacophony of greens shimmering from the different plants around me. Moss covered rocks, salal, sword ferns, evergreen trees and more reach out to baste my open glances. The smells on the trail shift as I walk through the different areas. Under the cover of evergreens, I smell the dampness of the shade, long without sunshine. As the trail descends to a small high-running creek, I inhale the dank odor of the rotting debris lying in the mud. Then an open field unfolds and dried grasses bend while being blown by fresh, cold air; its coldness stinging my cheeks. My feet sink into the boggy marsh, a faint squish with each step, soft and comfortable to feel. The birds, unseen, sing a spring song, even though it is early; their chirps a little higher pitched and gayer than a week before.

During the walk, I move in and out of presence. One moment, completely in the forest, the next in various circumstances affecting my life. I consciously and tenaciously bring myself back.

I become aware of my auric field surrounding me. A playfulness comes over me and I experiment with intention and how I can control the field. I draw the energy in, close to my body, sensing the containment I have created; the singleness of who I am in the universe. Then, I expand and like a blanket covering the entire forest, I feel as though the expansiveness of what I have created is a part of all there is.

My walk ends for the day and I feel filled with vigor. Clear minded and ready to face the challenges of life. I am grateful for what the walk has provided me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Waking up to Insomnia

As most of you know we are in the midst of moving back to Manitoba. It is a challenging time.  It gives my intention to be present for "what is" lots of practice - the waiting, the questions, and the "what ifs". Parts of me have been frustrated, angry and anxious and, not surprisingly, this has affected my sleep.  As I reflected on this I turned to an article on insomnia that I had written for the ARC "Presence and Possibility" magazine some time ago.  It reminded me about how I had dealt with insomnia in the past and helped me address my present situation.  I have found that simply breathing into the part of me who knows about being relaxed , and that soft, calm and warm feeling in my muscles and joints often short circuits my restlessness and allows me to drift off to peaceful sleep.  And when that doesn't happen, I just get up and sit with whatever is.

I know many of us, in our busy lives, struggle with bouts of insomnia, so I thought I'd share this story with you.

Insomnia, for me, has deep roots — a genetic predisposition compounded by my family history and years of wrestling this night-time demon.  As I worked through my ARC training, I realized that I had created a lot of drama around my insomnia and she had obliged by becoming bigger and stronger.  The more I resisted, the more powerful she became.  This insight inspired me to consider a new relationship.

Having learned to trust my own internal wisdom, I knew I had a choice about whether or not to remain hostage to my various parts. The decision to act on that choice, however, does not come easy.  It takes a determined commitment to personal growth and a desire to live a more authentic life.

So, as part of my commitment to myself I began to explore my insomnia, I decided that on nights when I was restless and knew that sleep was not coming I would get up.  I knew getting up would not be easy.  So, to make it as welcoming an option as possible I kept the lights low and made myself warm and cozy.  I allowed myself just to “be there” with what was — my wakefulness.  Sometimes I read or meditated, but mostly I simply rested.  Quite often I got sleepy and went back to bed where I drifted off to sleep. But, whether I went back to sleep or not, getting up when I couldn’t sleep proved to be much better than lying there twisting and turning.

Getting up when I couldn’t sleep not only short circuited my old patterns but simply  accepting being awake also enabled me to see things in a new way.  By looking at my insomnia with a new eye, and with a new name, “wakefulness,” things gradually shifted. I began to understand more about her. I know I am often awake because I’m excited — either about something that has happened or something that will happen.  I have come to realize that some of my favourite activities are quite stimulating, and not a good preparation for sleep.  I also learned that getting little sleep at night does not necessarily result in a “bad day”.  Surprisingly, I can often carry on quite well; not having a “good night’s sleep” isn’t the medical emergency I thought it was after all!

However, as I sat with my insomnia cum wakefulness I began to sense something deeper; a feeling of tightness throughout my body — a tightness holding on for all she was worth.  So, I followed that part for a while and asked a few questions.  How is it to feel this tightness?  How was it in the past to feel this tightness?  Were there times when I felt it more than others?

As I probed deeper I came to know my tightness for what she was — an anxiety that not only affected my sleep, but also undermined much of my day-to-day life.  So, once again following my commitment, I explored this anxious part.  How was it for this part to feel this way?   Where did anxiety learn to feel this way?  How would it be if this part were less tight?  As I gently listened to anxiety, it began to open up.  And, as it did, I discovered within myself a strong, almost overpowering need to look after things and to make everything work out okay for others.  No wonder I felt tight and anxious!  I was trying to hold everything together — for everyone!

This part who “needed to look after things” was hyper vigilant; it anticipated other’s needs and even took on their perceived emotions.  The anxiety which was attached to it was often so high that I would follow its directives and take immediate action on behalf of others without being asked — without finding out if this was something they wanted — without even considering my own personal costs.  As I came to know this part better I gradually began to regain my authority.  I realized that I was attempting to do the impossible.  I could never look after everything.  No amount of anxiety and vigilance could keep my family and others safe.  I could not hold everything together, and, in truth, I didn’t need to. 

As that reality sunk in anxiety started to loosen its hold and I began to feel very tired.  With that feeling, however, came a voice from the past who quickly identified this tired feeling as laziness — a big “no-no” in my family. Anxiety rushed back in, urging me to do something — anything.  I almost listened.  But now I was on to “anxiety”, so instead of doing as she wished; I simply acknowledged her presence and returned to spent time with the part who felt tired — to simply “be there” with her.  My acceptance of tiredness became so strong that one morning after a good night’s sleep I didn’t want to get up!

This was a totally new experience for me.  Yet, in line with my commitment to myself, I just lay there. And, once again, understanding came.  What I had been calling tiredness and sleepiness was really something else.  This soft, calm and warm feeling in my muscles and joints was what it felt like to be relaxed.  What a realization this was.  A part of me knew what it was to be “relaxed”!  For almost all my life this part had been buried — it had been in exile — I never even knew she existed!

I was euphoric.  I just basked in my relaxation.  For several weeks I was unwilling even to consider being anything but relaxed.  But, of course, honeymoons don’t last forever.  My anxious part did not really disappear.  What has changed, however, is my awareness.  Now I am much more attuned to anxiety’s presence and can respond to it more effectively.

As for my relaxed part, we are gradually building a trusting relationship.   It is wonderful the way I can depend on “relaxed” in moments when anxiety tries to gain the upper hand.  Simply connecting with my relaxed part, who knows how to be calm even in the midst of a storm, helps me to “be there” with my anxious part.

As for anxiety, we are also continuing to deepen our relationship.  I see how this part can act as a dependable barometer — one that signals the need to pay attention and to be present for what is really going on.  Feeling that anxiety, recognizing that something needs my attention and being able to approach it from a relaxed position is still relatively new to me.  But it feels right.  I feel empowered.

From insomnia to wakefulness; through anxiety to finding relaxation…the journey of authenticity continues.