Category: Contemplate


Looks like rain.

Why do people always talk about the weather? People that you don’t even know will speculate on the weather, tell you what they heard about the weather, ask you if you know what weather is coming. Why?

Until recently, this bothered me. I felt like it was somehow fake. Like it was a generic, meaningless conversation and that it served no purpose other than to make me a bit uncomfortable about engaging in a fake conversation about nothing for its own sake.

Then I started to see it in a different light. I got into an elevator at work with an elderly man and he began talking about the weather. For two reasons, I jumped into this conversation with both feet:

  1. For my whole life, I’ve witnessed people start up converstations with my mother on a regular basis. Strangers in a store, cashiers, just anyone, anywhere. There’s something about her that makes people want to tell her things. These aren’t weather conversations that she has, these are life story conversations. And it happens all the time. This never happens to me and I’ve assumed it’s because I have an unapproachable air. I can tell you where that came from – I created it for a reason, but that’s another story. Point is, I thought WHY NOT. Maybe I’m becoming less unapproachable, which is what I’d prefer, and here was my chance to try it on and connect with another human being. WHY NOT?
  2. I didn’t want to seem impolite. This older man was from a generation where people didn’t pass on the street without saying hello. If he had the guts to reach out to a stranger, I didn’t want to punish him for it and cause him to lose all hope in today’s generation (even though I’m yesterday’s generation, but you know what I mean).

So we had the talk. The weather talk. It was very give and take. We both made observations and agreed on the quality of the weather and how we hoped it would change. It was painless and pleasant and it didn’t even seem that fake. He seemed really genuine. He didn’t even seem to notice that we were having a fake conversation.

That got me thinking. Maybe it WAS real. But how?

Easy. It was real because the subject was a thing we had in common. It affected both of us that day. The weather affects all of us, all the time. We all have our separate lives and thoughts and opinions and experiences and values – but we all get rained on by the same rain and we all shovel the same snow. It connects us all. When it’s windy, our power goes out and when it’s -30 C, we are ALL freakin’ freezing.

So, thanks, old elevator dude.

Today we’re having weather again. Last night was freezing rain and today it’s warming up and the ice is melting. I popped outside this morning with my camera to see the icy world. Here’s my (one-sided) conversation with you about today’s weather:

I saw the deserted feeders this morning and thought it fitting that the birds would be hiding out, waiting for better weather to come out to feed.

Weather-5 I realized I was completely wrong about how tough songbirds are when a flock of goldfinches landed in the apple tree, ready for elevensies.

Weather-6

 Look at this little guy’s tiny feet on the icy branch. Makes me cold just thinking about it.Weather-7

Other things that caught my eye.
RabbitIcy silver rabbit.

Weather-2Black-eyed Susans.
Weather-3Black-eyed Susan encased in ice.
Weather-4Slushy boots.
Weather-8Lavender.

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On Being Present

Being present has been on my mind lately. It’s funny because it seems that the 2 occasions when one is fully present are:

1 – when you’re purposely thinking about it, consciously being present
2 – when you’re completely not thinking about it, when you’re really into what you’re doing

Here are some times when I feel I’m the most naturally, effortlessly mindful and present:

 Being Barefoot

Walking barefoot connects you with the earth, lets you feel every single step you take, makes you conscious of where you walk to avoid stepping on something unpleasant. You can’t walk barefoot outside without having your mind on the sensation. It’s like seeing the ground in extreme detail through your feet. Every pebble, every crack in the sidewalk, the soft coolness of grass, the heat radiating from sun-warmed pavement, the resistance of rock, the yielding of sand.

Geocaching

Found it!

The passing of the geocache.

It’s like being Indiana Jones without the bad guys chasing you. Finding clues, searching for treasures, opening containers to see what others have left – it’s SO fun!  I find that when my little posse and I go geocaching, we seem to be very ‘in the moment’. Each little step or discovery that gets us closer to our find is so exciting. Watching my son find a cache, talking about where we think the clues are leading, searching through the cache once it’s found and looking at each article, deciding what we’ll leave behind for the next treasure hunters – it’s always an adventure and we never miss a moment of it as it happens.

Eating grapes

I make a point of enjoying each grape that I squish in my mouth. I bite down just enough to crack the skin, then kind of stick my tongue in and turn it inside out so that the next bite is a crazy splash of juicy, grapey goodness.

Savasana

I love yoga. I really do. But I have to admit that my favourite part is the ending when we lay there and relax. It’s unbelievable to me that doing ‘nothing’ could feel that amazing. The whole class feels good, but the relaxation, integration and inner focus is so centering and energizing. Afterward I feel like I’m back on track, fresh and balanced and renewed. There’s just nothing like it.

Cuddling

Sleepy boy on a boat ride.

My little guy taking a rest on my lap during a ride up the creek.

Being close to another person, close enough that cuddling is something you do together, is one of the best things in the world. The warmth of your co-cuddler, their smell, the fact that they find comfort in being close to you as well. It’s hard not to pay attention to that.

So….can I apply my ability to be in the now to other situations?

If I can eat grapes mindfully, then why do I stuff popcorn in my face? Perhaps I could use my grape-eating mindset when eating popcorn, enjoying each kernel, feeling its texture and fully tasting its salty, buttery deliciousness as it dissolves in my mouth. (Ok, I think I can see why I inhale it.) If I can live each moment of geocaching, why not try to be fully present while grocery shopping? Can I smell the freshly baked bread as I pass the bakery? Do I feel the chill of the coolers in the dairy aisle? Do I realize how many germs are on the handle of my grocery cart?

How about you…?

After much practice and training of your mind, do you think it becomes easier to slip into being mindful and present on a regular basis? When are you the most mindful?

While looking for images online to go with my mindfulness blog, I happened upon this entry by CharmedYogi that illustrates perfectly the idea of inner chatter and finding stillness.

A Charmed Yogi

woman with furrowed browBehind my brow, there’s a virtual manuscript that my mind starts to read and attach to when I’m “trying” to be still.  Sometimes during those few minutes before sleep when I’m laying down with my eyes closed or when I’m sitting in silence to meditate, there’s a full editorial meeting involving checklists, drama, and fictitious scenarios at work that my mind plays out.   It loves the activity, the intrigue, the thought movement.   My brain can flip through the pages with vigor.

Sometimes the manuscript turns into a full fledged movie, and my brain gets sucked in like a kid in front of a television.  Even as this is happening, I’m observing like a producer, and another voice sneaks in the back door and says, “hey we should be meditating here.”

Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with mind-made movies that inevitably result in anxiety, worry, fear, or guilt.    As…

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This is part 2 of the Mindfulness Through Photography post I just wrote….That was a synopsis of the seminar. This is a compilation of nuggets of wisdom, thought provoking tidbits, things bouncing around my head and stuff we talked about at the workshop.

Judgement

  • Consider trying to be aware of how you view a situation/person/feeling/whatever. Are you passing judgement on it or are you accepting it? Even good judgements are still judgements.

    What do YOU think?

  • Sometimes judgement can be the opposite of compassion. Rather than pass judgement on someone, including yourself, consider a compassionate view. Perhaps you will find that you have a great capacity for it. (I need to work on this one.) And do practice compassion and gentleness toward yourself. We usually think of it in terms of other people, but you need to be nice to you.
  • Carolyn Coker Ross describes the Buddhist idea of radical acceptance – “Radical acceptance is accepting what is on a deep level without judgment – not saying it’s right or wrong but just that it is.” Trying to change or control what is leads to more suffering. She goes on to say, “It is not the size or severity of the problem that makes us able to accept what is.  It is our intention to heal.  An intention to heal brings us back to love which is the destination of our soul’s journey to healing.”
  • Chatter/self-talk isn’t necessarily bad, but being aware that your chatter is just that – chatter – and not a definite truth, is important. Just today, my mind was on a chattering tangent while I was cleaning the bathroom. I heard my mind say, “It’s your own fault, you could have avoided it.” Thankfully, I was able to let go of that nasty, hurtful thought, realizing that it was my own self-doubt talking and not a truth.

This 2nd verse of the Tao Te Ching applies here.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

Mindfulness

  • Psychology Today describes mindfulness as…”a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

    In the moment.

  • Be a witness to your mind. Realize that you are not your thoughts. When you observe yourself thinking or reacting, you’re aware of, or witnessing, your mind. The witness is a non-critical observer.
  • Mindfulness can be an effective antidote to anxiety. It can bring you through a situation, present in the moment rather than having your mind run wild.
  • Pay attention to your body as a witness. This is one of the exercises I like in yoga. The instructor leads us as we focus on each part of our bodies, checking in, not judging whether it feels good or bad, just noticing. It’s a great way to get your head in the right space for yoga and I think it would make a good beginner meditation for those of us whose minds wander easily.
  • Breathing meditations and exercises are great ways to relax and to be in the present moment.
  • While you’re doing your best to focus, sometimes stuff comes up. That’s ok. Own it. Make a choice about what you do with it. Use your reaction to it as insight.
  • Invite your witness to observe, validate and let go.

Stillness

  • We have to discipline our minds for stillness. We all have so many responsibilities, distractions and obligations that accessing our internal stillness can be very difficult. It’s worth the effort.
  • Inner peace; in the moment; just being…what is it to you?

This weekend I attended a workshop called Mindful Photography. I really had no idea what to expect. This is the first workshop I’ve ever been to and was pleasantly surprised to find I wasn’t going in feeling nauseous about being around a bunch of strangers. I missed my turn onto the highway on the drive in, because I was rocking out to the radio, and arrived last, but not late.  There were the two workshop leaders, Kaye-Lee and Robin, two women, a man and a teenage girl. I also noticed a plate of muffins and cookies, which made me happy, and a dish of olives, to which I was indifferent. I sat down between the two women.  I think the main reason I didn’t feel nervous was because I made the assumption, correct or not, that anyone signing up for this workshop wasn’t going to be the type to be judgmental about the other attendees. I mean, obviously we’re there to learn and share, so I used my technique of  just ‘telling myself‘ that this is an accepting environment and went happily from there.

The idea of the workshop was to make us aware of our inner chatter, to then notice that chatter and, after discussing mindfulness, to practice letting go of our distracting self-talk. We used photography, not as a way to express ourselves, but to access what happens inside us. Kaye-Lee described the camera as a porthole to our inner selves.

The room held a table covered in random items. Our first exercise was to choose two items to photograph: one that we liked, and one that we didn’t like. Afterward, we shared our experiences. The items we chose stirred up emotions – connections to childhood, strong feelings about injustices, frustrations about technical aspects of photography, creative thoughts and the desire to take a good photo. Essentially, it created inner chatter. I’ll tell you about mine and show you my photos.

A little aside…..I tend to be drawn to visually simple things. I always preferred the colouring books with the thick black outlines to the ones with more detail. This usually translates into anything I create. As much as I may like the idea of a collage, I’m afraid the end result might make me lose my mind. Also, my goal in taking a photo is often to create or capture something that holds significance to me.

Here are the items on the table we had to choose from.

Item table.....

More items...

The item I liked was a marble carving of a woman. I put her in a few different places, different types of light and took some shots. Here’s my first shot using natural light.

One of my first shots of my 'like' object. Just so you can see her straight on.

Then, I took her into Kaye-Lee’s office, which has a lovely cozy atmosphere, to see what I could come up with. I had the idea of perching her on the edge of the bookcase and taking the shot from below. I wanted to show the idea of ‘putting her on a pedestal’. When I looked through the camera, I saw something that was not merely significant to me, but was a reflection of something that had been part of my life for a very long time.  She was up high, put there, sitting there, resigned, faceless and unknown,  keeping close to herself, on the edge, while being watched, monitored,  judged, analyzed, defined from an even higher place by, quite ironically, a two-dimensional face.

This photo amazes me. It is, in 3.3 MB, a summary of how I felt for most of my adolescence and adult life.

Although this stirred up some significant stuff for me, I was quite excited and happy to have discovered this shot. This stuff isn’t anything I didn’t already know was there. I’ve identified it and me and my stuff visit each other from time to time.  I just love this photo. Which, I think, is a good thing. It’s good that I don’t hate it.

Then I took this one….just to see what it’s like.

So....this is what it's like being way up here. It's kind of hard to really see her from up here, isn't it? ISN'T IT?!?! Yeah.

I know. “Wow, she’s angry.” Sure. But that’s ok. I’m also happy. And excited about life. So it’s all good.

I chose a Bratz doll as the item I disliked. I was a Star Wars action figure kind of kid and have always frowned upon the image that Barbie and Bratz type toys project onto girls. So I chose this fancy, highly made up toy that I thought I completely didn’t identify with. I picked her up and smoothed her hair and was surprised to find myself feeling sorry for her in place of the disdain I expected.  Instead of finding a way to make her photo represent why I disliked her and her kind, I instead wanted to be nice to her. Plus I liked the way her hair was tied back. Mine just doesn’t do that quite the same way. She’s no Han Solo, but I guess she’s ok.

Here she is, the poor thing, posing in front of a window looking out on Kingston traffic on a rainy day.

THEN I noticed the beach glass and had to play with it.

Beach glass - I used to call them pebbles when I was little. I absolutely love this stuff. It's probably one of my favourite things.

After everyone was finished, we talked about how we felt and what we thought about during the process. We noticed and acknowledged the self-talk and chatter that was going on in our minds throughout. My chatter involved the quality of the photo I was taking, whether or not I knew what I was doing, was anyone else looking at what I was doing, and my reactions to the objects I chose. It was fascinating to listen to others people’s experiences. Partly, I was loving the fact that everyone was willing to talk and share their thoughts, a very personal thing. There was such a difference in the way we experienced the same exercise. It was a bit of an eye opener. Robin, one of the leaders, described a situation where a puppy runs into the room. One person may react joyfully, another may be annoyed at the owner allowing the dog to run loose, another may be reminded of a childhood puppy and feel sad. Same puppy, completely different reactions to it.

I will try to identify when situations in life are potential ‘puppies’ running into the room and be aware of the fact that we all experience things differently.

Next, Kaye-Lee led us through a breathing centered meditation that involved us inhaling deeply, exhaling deeply and not breathing for a short period of time. No one was crazy about the breath holding part, but when we were finished, she asked us what happened to our chatter during the exercise. We were a little surprised to note that it was gone. This is part of the value not only in meditation, but in just stopping and taking a deep breath once in a while. When we focus on our breath, the chatter stops and there can be stillness.

Then we were allowed to get at those cookies. While I was eating the delicious Carrot Curry Coconut Soup, I considered taking a photo of it for you, but then I would have had to stop eating it. It looked something like this…

After our lovely lunch, we did another photography exercise. We just had to choose an object and photograph it while being mindful of our inner chatter. If we noticed it starting, we were to let it go. This time I went for the beach glass and some little tags I noticed. Here are my pics….

Sigh. Beach glass.

After this exercise, we compared notes again and most of us (excluding me) found that they had much less chatter. I was, however, able to allow my chatter to pass easily, so that was a good thing. Another meditation exercise helped us to work on training our minds to allow our chatter to flow through and out and to find stillness in its place.

This being a new experience for me, I have to say that I’m proud of myself for trying something new, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in the presence of people that are willing to share themselves with others – not just at this workshop, but in my life. If you’re reading this, then I’m also thankful for you and that you’re sharing this with me too.

During the workshop, there was a lot of discussion and Kaye-Lee and Robin shared a lot of great stuff that I want to share as well….but this post is long enough, so I’ll write another and just kind of throw down the tidbits that spoke to me and that I think will speak to you.

Sunshine Savasana

My yoga class has the extreme privilege of practicing in the beautiful, naturally lit hardwood dojo on the upper floor of Tallack Martial Arts. On a clear day, the mid-morning sun streams in, warming the room and creating an absolutely lovely environment for yoga. Surrounded by wood, beeswax candles, incense and a welcoming atmosphere, you can’t help but feel great.

The beautiful hardwood dojo at Tallack Martial Arts.

A few weeks ago, near the end of class during the savasana (assimilation, integration, relaxation) pose, I found that the sun had moved onto my yoga mat. Rather than shift to keep the brightness out of my eyes, I decided to get into position despite the sunbeam.  This proved to be a perspective-changing experience. As I lay on the mat, letting go, feeling each part of my body relax, clearing my mind, the sun shone on my face and the warmth I felt was like an epiphany. I’ve almost always avoided the sun, being easily burnt and afraid of developing skin cancer. I’m all about sunscreen and sunglasses. But as the light shone through the window, it enveloped me like a gentle, loving hug. No seriously. It was unbelievably pleasant. I felt connected. I thought to myself, “This summer is going to be great. The sun will be out and I’ll get to feel this all the time.”  Then I remembered my fear of sunburn/skin cancer  and rephrased my thought to, “Each time I feel the sun warming me (however short the duration) I will appreciate it and be completely present so as not to miss the opportunity to feel the connection between me, the sun and everyone and everything else that is part of the universe.”

Now I know why they do that.

Insecurity Guard

Insecurity robs us of fully experiencing life. It inhibits the expression of our true potential. It keeps us from starting conversations, participating in activities, singing out loud, acting silly, sharing our thoughts, trying something new, embracing change and being our true selves.

Please don't notice me.

BUT….Insecurity is a fabrication of our own minds. It’s not a condition or a physical process. It is created by you and I.

INSERT LOGIC HERE –> If we created it, why can’t we just destroy it? Or dismiss it? Or ignore it or tell it that it doesn’t belong here, isn’t welcome here, never did us any good anyways so just take a hike?

“Yeah, right,” you say. “Sure, I’ll just tell it to leave me alone and all of a sudden I’ll be all confident.”That’s right, you just disregard it. And realize that everyone around you is so wrapped up in their own insecurity that they don’t even notice yours. They have no idea. In fact, like you, they probably assume that everyone else is totally ‘together’ and that they’re the only one that’s scared and self-conscious on the inside. Seriously.

Don’t be so skeptical. At least give it a try.

I’m not just the president, I’m also a client

I first tried this purely as a desperate means of survival in my mid-20s when I began working as a receptionist at a vet clinic. I watched our office manager greet clients and pets with ease and confidence, asking the right questions, saying the right things, with an easy, friendly air that made people comfortable. I wished I could do that. Then it occurred to me that the clients didn’t actually know that I was nervous and that if I just pretended to be at ease, they might just buy it. It actually worked. And I didn’t have to pretend for long because when I proved to myself that I could act confident, I couldn’t come up with a reason not to be. It just worked and it was genuine.

I guess it’s kind of a mind over matter thing. You just tell yourself something, (I’m totally fine, I’m comfortable in this setting, I’m calm, I’m in an accepting environment), and then you believe it. The second your brain starts its negative self-talk, dismiss it. A firm, “No, I’m not listening to that,” should do it.

Why is it that our brains don’t seem to have our best interests at heart? If they did, they’d spend the days telling us how wonderful and lovable and special we are. Perhaps we’ll just have to do that for each other.

Now get out there and act silly, be brave, be your true self!

Potluck Chi

I consider myself to be on a bit of a quest. I’m not traveling the jungle with a fedora and whip (while looking exceptionally handsome), but am merely seeking a little education and understanding. It’s a lazy quest, really. The kind where the object of desire comes to you. The idea of chi or energy has fascinated me for some time. I know it’s there, but I just don’t totally get it.  I can see how it makes sense that there’s something that flows through, between and among us all. Through people, animals, plants, objects, the planet, the universe etc. An underlying interconnectedness and source of everything. For some reason though, there’s a link missing for me. An elusive spiritual Lego block that will undoubtedly join stuff together into something I can comprehend and begin to effectively apply to daily life. I’ll be able to see it everywhere. Man, it’s gonna be great.

A friend of mine that seems to ‘get’ the concept of chi, said to me that you should never cook while angry or sick because your negative energy will flow into/become part of the food you’re preparing and will be passed on to others. So I, of course, applied logic to the situation and came up with this: since energy can be neither created nor destroyed, it does kinda make sense that the energy used to prepare a meal could become part of the dish itself. How could it not? It’s not still in my hands, not still in the garden where the sun’s energy and the energy released by chemical reactions during photosynthesis contributed to the growth of that juicy tomato. All of these energies have come together to create a dish, so why would there not be some residue of each of them still in it, while it sits steaming on the table ready to be devoured? And it seems plausible, from my uncertain scientificospiritual  perspective, that if one is preparing a meal while in despair, pain or while thinking poisonous thoughts, the meal itself could be affected by that negativity. I mean, if you think about it, doesn’t negativity have a serious infectious quality? Don’t you feel crappy being around someone that’s negative? And don’t you feel lighter and happier being around someone that’s positive? So if just being around negativity/positivity can have an affect on you, why wouldn’t food prepared by that actual person’s physical and mental efforts contain some of their energy?

yummyNow think about being at a potluck. The table is full of various dishes created by friends and family all containing little bits of their energy. It’s a pretty amazing way to share yourself with someone. Taking part in something created by another person, when you look at it this way, is kind of intimate. Let’s look at what energy is actually expended in preparing a dish for a potluck….

How cute is this?

  • a decision is made about what to bring after discussion, thinking, looking through recipes, checking the cupboard
  • a trip to the store or garden is made to gather ingredients which are specifically chosen for the occasion
  • time is set aside for preparation of the dish, perhaps a schedule is rearranged a bit
  • thought is put into an appropriate transport vessel, taking required temperatures into account
  • you might consider the presentation – not gonna use your crappy old casserole dish, but the one with the nice lid or whatever – more thought and searching the cupboards is required for this

That’s a lot of energy. Each dish on the potluck table contains a little bit of everyone…. Aunt Mary’s maternal caring nature and Uncle Joe’s dread at attending yet another family function.

What’s in your dish?

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