“It is like this now.” ~ Ajahn Chah
I practice and study Buddhist Insight (Vipassana) meditation with a small local group of practitioners once a week. I discovered this form of Buddhism when my daughter was three years old and it has become an important anchor in my life. Vipassana can be translated as “insight,” a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. It is a direct and gradual cultivation of mindfulness or awareness.
Through the process of mindfulness, you slowly becomes aware of what exists below the ego image. Vipassana is a form of mental training that teaches you to experience the world in an entirely new way. It is a process of self-discovery, an investigation in which you observe your own experiences, while participating in them as they occur.
Most of the members of my sangha are seasoned meditators, who have developed a committed and consistent daily practice over many years: sitting for lengthy periods of time, several times a day. They are all older than me, and they are either retired, single, or have grown children, so they are at a different stage and place in their lives. As an independent parent, working full-time, and caring for my aging parents, it can be challenging to fit in a formal sitting period once a day, let alone multiple times. It is easy to beat myself up about it and feel like a failure; or it is an invitation to recognize that this is the place I am at currently in my life. Mindfulness still provides me with refuge. It just shows up in a different form.
At the moment, I am allowed to visit my mom once a week in her assisted living facility. In addition her late stage Alzheimer’s Disease, we are also facing COVID-19 restrictions, so the visiting conditions are very limited. Our allotted half an hour is spent together in a small, boardroom with a large wooden table at its centre. I wear a surgical mask and I cannot hug my mom. We are allowed to hold hands, and as she needs to constantly move her body, we walk in circles around the perimeter of the table. My mom has lost her ability to use language. She talks with a nervous, non-stop energy, and the words tumbling out her mouth are mostly unrecognizable. We cannot carry on a conversation. She stoops and she cannot look me in the eyes. I listen and nod along to her monologue. I rub her back and I provide her with comforting responses and assurances when I think she needs them.
What I am noticing about our time together is that we are firmly rooted in the moment. There is no ability to escape and wander away from where we are with small talk or distractions. We are in this moment together, and then the next one, and the next, until the time in our proverbial hourglass elapses. It is a walking meditation, one which demands that I pay attention to my surroundings, and the subtle changes in my mother’s tone and demeanour. I notice the rhythm of my own breath and the pattern of our steps. We are learning relate to relate to one another in a new and unfamiliar way. There are no recognizable protocols. We make it up as we go. All that is constant is the love that connects us together.
As the parent of a young adolescent, I bear witness on a daily basis to the rapid physical and emotional changes taking place within my child. She is often flailing in deep waters of intense emotions and it is hard not to get pulled under with her. My daughter knows just what to say to evoke a response from me; she is smart and she never misses her target. It is easy to get caught up in an automatic response: a knee-jerk reaction, where I lose my temper and perspective, along with her. It is in these moments that I am being provided with an invitation to take a step back and pause for just a beat: to bear witness to the intense triggering that is occurring. To feel the anger and agitation that arises from deep inside and let it wash over me. To choose not to respond and instead take a moment to breathe in deeply and seek ways to regulate my own body. Once I find my centre, I can then try to locate my child, and pull her into shore. This is my practice in motion.
During a busy day, it is easy to feel like there is no time for meditation, and so rather than doing a little bit, I do nothing. One of the members of my group, who used to be an emergency room nurse, provided me with some good advice, which has helped me to find a path forward. She shared that when she was working full-time she would fit in her daily practice in five minute increments. Much like getting up from your desk and stretching, or taking a short walk, a five-minute meditation is a mental break which can be easily fit in almost anywhere. I do not need a cushion or a quiet space: I only need awareness, the ability to scan my body, and my breath. This can be done while driving, walking or washing dishes. It can be achieved through generating thoughts of love and gratitude. These moments of conscious reflection are like mini-calisthenics for the brain: every little one helps to make it stronger and more receptive. Slowly but surely my capacity for holding this mental space increases over time.
Although I still enjoy the idea of going on a ten-day silent meditation retreat, or finding a way to cultivate a solid daily practice, I also accept that this is where I am in my life at the moment. It is messy and unpredictable and I need to be flexible and adaptive in my approach. Mindfulness provides value in all of its many forms and holding on to a set idea of what it needs to look like, in order to be successful, is unhelpful. Providing myself with love and acceptance is part of my work, because without the ability to extend this to myself, I will not be able to offer it to others.
“Present moment, perfect moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
I have not been able to bring myself to post onto the blog for a month now. Every time I sit down to write, I have been at a loss for words. All I can think is: “What can I possibly contribute at this moment?” A virus threatens the health and security of millions of people across the globe. Many of us are quarantined at home and physically separated from one another, with no end in sight. The world is in turmoil. Why does my one little voice matter?
As I have struggled with these doubts, readers continue to visit my site, despite there being a lack of new content. I am humbled to imagine a person sitting in Australia, India, Russia and Israel taking the time to read my words; and it reminds me that love, community and connection are the lights that will guide us through this this dark time. It gives me the courage to show up again on the page. I want you to know that I am here for you. You are not alone.
As a naturally anxious person, the last few weeks have been difficult. The human brain is wired to project itself into the future; it prefers to imagine the worst case scenario, and anticipate what is coming, rather than sit with the discomfort of uncertainty. The truth is that I do not know what will happen next or when this current situation will end. I do not know what life will look like on the other side. All I know for sure is what I am experiencing in this very moment; and it is hard.
The child-like part of myself desperately wishes for things to be “fixed” and to go “back to normal”. The wise part knows that life is complex and messy: not just now, but always. It is important for me to meet life on its own terms. I must make space for the difficult and uncomfortable emotions that I feel about our new reality: grief, sadness, fear and anger. They are all valid and true. They each need the opportunity to show up and to be heard.
In her recent podcast, Brené Brown speaks to the damage caused by comparative suffering in a catastrophic situation such as COVID-19. This is the belief that you are not allowed to feel upset and afraid, when many others face much worse: the front line workers; marginalized and vulnerable populations; countries with no infrastructure. The reality is that pushing your own emotions away only results in guilt and shame. Shame is the opposite of empathy. It is constricted, self-focused and finite, whereas empathy is boundless. You can hold emphatic space for your own difficult emotions, as well as for the suffering of others; and it is important to create space for both. This provides us with the strength that we require to make it through a time of crisis: both as an individual and as a part of the collective.
Right now, my daily work is to bring my mind back into the present moment. The wonderful writer, Liz Gilbert, recently shared a technique that she uses to ground herself, and I am finding it to be very helpful. It is called Five, Four, Three, Two, One. First, you look around and identify five things that you can physically see in your immediate surroundings (e.g. green grass, street lamp, red shoes, mail box, flower pot). Then move onto identifying four things that you can hear (e.g. garbage truck, robin chirping, person talking on their phone, wind in the trees). Again, it can be even the smallest thing, but it needs to be something happening in the here and now. Then move onto naming three things that you can feel (e.g. woollen scarf, cold fingertips, watch). Follow it with two things that you can smell (e.g. fresh cut grass, a daffodil). And lastly, one thing you can taste (e.g. remnants of morning coffee).
In a time of great uncertainty, this simple exercise will help to ground you in your body, as it brings the mind back to the present moment. This is our work right now: to feel; to notice; to show up for ourselves and each other; to keep putting one foot in front of the other; to take it one day at a time. As a wise woman once said to me: “The only way out is through.” I have always held this close to my heart and it has served me well. Take my hand and let’s keep going. We can do hard things together.
I recently finished reading Michael A. Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul; and it is one of the best books on spirituality that I have ever read. It is deceptively simple guidebook to connecting with your inner essence. By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, Singer shows how the development of consciousness enables us all to dwell in the present moment: releasing painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization.
Copublished with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) The Untethered Soul begins by walking you through your relationship with your thoughts and emotions, helping you to uncover the source and fluctuations of your inner energy. It then delves into what you can do to free yourself from the habitual thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns that limit your consciousness.
Although it is hard to boil this wonderful book down into a few key messages, here are five that resonated with me:
Instead of identifying with the incessant chatter in your head, you can bear witness to it. In doing so, you create awareness and separate yourself from it, rather than get caught up in it.
Singer states that if see yourself as an observer of the voice, you can view it more objectively. You can say to yourself, “These are just my thoughts. Just because they are doesn’t make them true. I don’t have to identify with them.” Awareness is key. Singer encourages you to live in the “Seat of Self”— the space where you allow events, thoughts, and emotions to pass before you, without drifting off with the current.
We try so hard to avoid pain that we construct a life designed around it.
Singer provides an example of having a thorn (pain) embedded in your body. If you do not remove it, you start to avoid bumping into things, so not to disturb it. You do not get too close to people because you do not want it to be touched. You have difficulty sleeping because you might roll onto it. In order to live with it, you construct a contraption to keep it from touching your sheets. You order specially tailored clothes to fit around it. The pain that you are trying so hard to avoid dictates all aspects of your life. If you instead face the pain and fear, you grant yourself permission to be free.
We tend to either cling to or resist things, rather than accept them.
What we focus on expands. If we cling to something, we are operating out of fear. We are not allowing it to pass through us so we can be fully present in the next moment. We hold on and get stuck instead. When we no longer cling or resist, we witness our fear and pain without satisfying the impulse to protect ourselves from it. This frees up energy and enables us to be present, not caught in the past or paralyzed by what might happen in the future.
We unnecessarily expend a lot of energy reacting and recovering when we could be enjoying freedom and happiness.
A lot energy is wasted swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other—reacting and recovering. A healthier response is to notice a reaction and then choose to relax and release it.
We are most effective when we are balanced. If we forgo the extremes, we naturally have more energy available to us to live our lives fully and with purpose.
We qualify our happiness.
Singer states choosing happiness can be simple. He provides an example of a starving man who is asked what kind of food he wants. The starving man simply answering “food” rather than requesting something specific. He is not picky about the kind of nourishment that he receives.
When we are too particular regarding how we define happiness, it becomes less available to us. If we choose to embrace it in its broadest sense, we let go of our parameters, and we find peace with more far more ease and frequency.
If you would like to learn more, here is an in-depth interview with Oprah and Michael A. Singer on The Untethered Soul:
You can access free audio highlights from the book here.
In astronomical terms, the Winter Solstice (20-23 December) is the single moment when the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky (or its northernmost point if you are in the southern hemisphere). Solstice means ‘sun stands still’, and for three days at this time the sun appears to rise and set in the same southeasterly position on the horizon, before beginning its gradual incline north once more.
It is a spiritual event as much as an astronomical one, calling in the rebirth of the year, as the day on which the Winter Solstice occurs is the shortest of the year, and the night the longest. From now on the sun will gradually arc higher and higher in the sky until it comes to another standstill at the Summer Solstice, on the longest day of the year, when it rises in the northeast.
The Winter Solstice has been of deep spiritual significance since the Neolithic era and was marked by the stone circles and rows, passage tombs and temples left by the first farmers ever to till the rich earth. There are a number of sites aligned to to the rising or setting of the sun in the United Kingdom and Ireland: the ancient monuments at Maeshowe on Orkney, Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Newgrange in County Meath.
Newgrange, also known as Brú na Bóinne (Palace of the Boyne), is a majestic structure dating from 3200 BCE. This circular cairn or passage tomb has an exterior of white quartz and rounded granite boulders, and its impressive entrance stone is famously carved with intricate spiral designs, referring perhaps to the wheel of the seasons or the journey through life, death and rebirth. Its entrance also includes a small roof box through which the first rays of the Winter Solstice sunrise penetrate the deepest recesses of the tomb and illuminate the triple spiral carved on its back chamber.
In the Celtic calendar, the Winter Solstice is a time of stillness and rebirth, when the wheel of the seasons completes its turning, only to begin again. At this time of year, I like to light candles in the early morning hours and spend some time reflecting. What are the seeds of intention that I wish to plant? What are my hopes, dreams and aspirations? How can I be of service? This is a quiet, inward time. It is a wonderful opportunity to slow down, express gratitude, and cultivate focus for the year ahead.
*Passages quoted from The Magical Year by Danu Forest.
“Now is a time to lay down your tools, the symbols of your productivity, and light a fire to honor not only what has been done throughout the past year, but also all that has preceded you — in this life, and in all the lives lived before. Now is a time to make space, in your heart and in your mind, for the stillness and silence of death.” ~ Teo Bishop
Irish and Scottish ancestry roots runs deep and wide in my family; and I have always been drawn to the magic and mystery of Celtic traditions. One of my favourite books growing up was The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I still love it to this day. I recently discovered a wonderful book, Walking in the Mist, by Donald McKinney. It reflects upon on the subtle nuances of Celtic spirituality.
The Celtic Fire festival of Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”) is commonly known as the Celtic New Year. Samahin is a time of growing darkness and introspection. It is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in the dark half of the year. Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world are thin during Samhain.
Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals, taking place at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. During this time of year, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn, while the harvest was gathered.
Since the emergence of Christianity in the British Isles, the festival of Samhain became overlaid with the Christian festival of Halloween or All Hallows Eve, on October 31, followed by All Saints Day on November 1.
Although I do not formally celebrate Samhain, I like to practice simple rituals to acknowledge its presence. I burn candles and keep my fire lit. I create a small alter on my mantelpiece, with seasonal items such as: colourful fallen leaves; interestingly shaped sticks and twigs; nuts, gourds and mini pumpkins. I meditate and journal. I rest. I remember loved ones who have passed on. I feel their continued presence in my heart.
Samhain is an opportunity to pause and reflect: to grow a practice of stillness, silence and listening. It marks the transition of the seasons and helps to prepare the mind and body for the winter ahead. There is something powerful in marking the transition of the seasons and reconnecting with one’s ancestral knowledge. I enjoy the quiet introspection of this time of year and the chance to open myself up to the unknown.
“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.” ~ Masaru Emoto
This week, I have been paying attention to feelings of expansion and contraction. There are days where I feel open, joyful and a part of an energy greater than myself. I easily connect with other people and I make great progress with projects. I am creative and full of ideas. Everything feels streamlined and fluid. I experience ease and flow.
And then there are days where I feel small, vulnerable and afraid. I second guess every decision that I make. The world around feels large, frightening and menacing. I cannot see solutions. I am stuck in the mud and I cannot move forward.
There is little tangible difference between the two kinds of days in terms of form: I wake up; I go about my business; I return home; I sleep. The cycle of activity is essentially the same. It is the outside situation that changes and my perception along with it.
On the days where I feel expansive, things are going my way. There are little wins or moments to celebrate. I receive praise or acknowledgement. I am facing no obstacles. On the days where I feel contracted, I am reacting to a situation or a person that is unpleasant. There is an issue to be overcome. I am grappling with a challenge or inner battle. The common thread is that the outside factor controls the inside response.
Equanimity is defined as a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. It refers to the power of observation and the ability to see without being caught by what you see. When well-developed, such power gives rise to a great sense of peace.
“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.” ~ Ajahn Chah
In Buddhism, equanimity is a protection from the “eight worldly winds”: praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute. Becoming attached to or excessively impacted by success, praise, fame or pleasure can cause suffering when life changes direction.
There are seven qualities of mind that are recommended to help cultivate a sense of equanimity:
- Integrity: When you live and act with integrity, you feel confident about your actions and words, which results in the equanimity of blamelessness.
- Faith: If you have confidence in your own abilities, then you are more likely to meet life’s challenges.
- A well-developed mind: Much as you can develop physical strength, balance, and stability of the body in a gym, so too can you develop strength, balance and stability of the mind. This is done through practices that cultivate calm, concentration and mindfulness, like meditation.
- A sense of well-being: It is easy to overlook the well-being that is easily available in daily life. Taking time to enjoy a cup of tea or time spent with your child can be a training in well-being.
- Wisdom: Wisdom is an important factor in learning to have an accepting awareness, to be present for whatever is happening without the mind or heart contracting or resisting. Honest awareness of what makes you imbalanced helps you to learn how to find balance.
- Insight: One of the primary insights is the nature of impermanence. In the deepest forms of this insight, it becomes apparent that things change quickly that you cannot hold onto anything: eventually the mind lets go of clinging.
- Freedom: This comes as you begin to let go of reactive tendencies.
There is power in knowing that I can break the cycle of expansion and contraction. I can live more intentionally and cultivate an inner peace and equanimity. The first step is to take on the role of observer in my daily life. What is triggering me and causing a reaction, both positive and negative? How can I start to sink beneath the waves, rather than riding on top of them? How can I locate my centre and stay grounded, despite what it taking place around me? These are some of the questions that I will be investigating in the weeks and months ahead.
“The centre of the energetic body is recognized in various healing sciences and traditions. In the Chinese Qigong it is known as Dantian, the Japanese name is Hara, and in the Sufi tradition, the Kath.
The location of the Dantian is in the lower belly, just below the navel, sitting a few centimetres below the skin’s surface as an orb of organized energy. In modern society, so many of us are constantly flooded with expectations and emotions. We have lost the ancient wisdom of living from our true centre: where peace and calm exist, rooted in our inner wisdom and knowingness. When we operate from this place, we are grounded, patient and free of anxiety.
Next time you meditate or find yourself in a highly emotional or anxious state, close your eyes and focus on your Dantian. Breathe into it. Hold it in your mind. Feel to coming home to your true nature. You are here. You are enough.”
~ Zach Bush, M.D.
I have recently started to notice a deeply ingrained pattern. When I am faced with a challenging situation, I lose my grounding and I look outwards for the answers. What resource can I consult? What expert or trusted friend can give me advice? How can I confirm that my actions are the right ones? There is a lack of trust and deep feelings of fear that arise within me.
The other day, as I struggled with some difficult issues, I sought advice from a friend. Rather than offering me a solution to my problem, however, she counselled me to stop looking outwards and to start turning inwards. She wisely reminded no one can direct me on path except myself. Her guidance was to re-connect with my inner knowing. To seek the guidance of the quiet, steady core of myself that represents the integrated whole: the Dantian. She assured me that if you are still and you listen, it will show you the way.
Our society encourages action. We are told, from an early age, to be productive and efficient. The idea of sitting in stillness to seek answers from within is counter intuitive to this social conditioning. My instinct is always to “do something” but it is this frenetic doing that feeds into a feeling of groundlessness. Often, the most important thing to “do” is to stop and reflect: to create space for the solution to present itself. As I have been testing out this approach, I have been surprised at the answers that naturally arise from within. It is empowering to discover that I often know what to do in my body before I do in my mind.
Here is an exercise that I have been testing out recently to connect with my Dantian:
First, find a quiet space. Sit and close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Feel your hips on the chair. Settle them in. Imagine strong roots running down from your spine and hips into the ground: creating a solid, flowing connection with the earth.
Allow for any negative or fearful emotions to run from your body down into the rich, dark soil. Release all tension and anxiety. Feel it being received and absorbed. Breathe and sit quietly.
Now imagine the nourishing energy of the earth running back up these roots and into your body. Feel the loving, positive energy fill your whole being. Feel it centre and radiate in the space beneath your navel. Hold it there lightly. Breathe and sit quietly.
When it feels right, ask your inner wisdom the answer to your question. Listen and be still. Be patient and wait for the answer to present itself to you.
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To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.
Mary Oliver – In Blackwater Woods
I am currently in the middle of another period of great personal upheaval in my life. Family members are aging and unwell; relationships and situations that once felt strong, solid and unshakable are shifting and moving. Life is looking me squarely in the eye and saying: “Nothing remains the same.”
My natural inclination is to resist change. My tendency is to choose the familiar over the unfamiliar. I like to create systems, map things out and control my environment through order. This false sense of security works for me until the ground shakes and throws me off balance: revealing that everything is fluid and ever shifting. I am slowly realizing that my resistance is at the core of my discomfort: making a very difficult situation even harder to navigate.
The human brain is not comfortable with the unknown. It likes to create stories and imagine what will happen next, rather than sit in the vast and open discomfort of unknowing. The stories we create do not protect us from what is to come; they only result in generating unnecessary worry and anxiety. 99.9% of the time, what we imagine will happen is not anything close to what ends up taking place.
Almost 2600 years ago, the Buddha uncovered the root of human suffering; and he outlined his discovery in the four noble truths. Here is a brief summary of them, as summarized from this article by Ronald Alexander, and his book Wise Mind, Open Mind:
1st Noble Truth: In life, there is suffering, because of the impermanent nature of things.
Humans have developed great capacity for denying a simple truth: nothing stays the same. Even if we do everything “right” and exercise every precaution, we will still face unexpected loss. It is important to learn to let go, and try to create space for what is actually unfolding, however uncomfortable.
2nd Noble Truth: Suffering is due to attachments and expectations, to grasping and clinging.
Clinging to the past, or avoiding the process of grief or acceptance, creates suffering. Grasping for a future set of circumstances identical to the past holds you back from discovering what better roads lie ahead, outside of your sight. The desire to backtrack or reconstruct will likely result in your walking around in circles, lost in the dark woods, instead of peering around corners to find new paths. When we can completely let go and stop struggling against the reality of the current moment, it allows us to embrace the groundlessness of our situation, and relax into its dynamic quality.
3rd Noble Truth: It is possible to end suffering by giving up attachments (clinging) and expectations (grasping).
There is no such thing as a permanent sense of happiness. We must broaden our definition of what we need in order to be happy; this includes letting go of habits of clinging and grasping to the past and expectations for the future, as well as the need to control external circumstances.
4th Noble Truth: The way to end suffering due to clinging and grasping is through balance and living in the present.
It is important to balance a thirst for something better with an acceptance of what is taking place, right here, right now. Balance allows you to live in the present moment and trust that your acceptance will clear the way of confusion and distractions: showing you how to move forward into happiness again. The paradox of change is until you can accept what is, you cannot move into what might be.
There is much to be said about the power of gratitude. It helps to focus the mind on the tiny, beautiful things unfolding in front of you, rather than to allow it to jump into the unknown. Lately, when my thoughts start to rush ahead, I make a conscious effort to bring myself back to the present moment, and to really notice what is around me: the sound of birds calling outside of my window; the beauty of my sleeping child’s face; the enjoyment of walking my dog. I remind myself what I am grateful for in my life and what is working well. It does not take the fear away but it does help to anchor me in a groundless situation.
The one guarantee in this life is change. I cannot influence or control this reality; but I can determine my reaction to it. If I can begin to allow for the discomfort of not knowing what the future holds, it creates space for me to be present in the current moment. This opens up the possibility of discovering solutions and a path forward. Putting one foot in front of the other, I trust that this difficult period will eventually end, as everything eventually does; and I will emerge out the other side, back into the light.
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As I have written about in previous posts, I love the work of Dr. Brené Brown. I recently watched her new special “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and it is a great reflection of the her decades of research on shame and vulnerability and the path to living a whole-hearted life. I highly recommend that you check it out.
In watching the show, I was reintroduced to a concept that I have been thinking about all week. I would like to share with you, as it really resonated with me:
When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.
When experiencing overwhelming feelings of love, we are at our most vulnerable; and it can trigger a dress rehearsal for tragedy. Brené outlines the example of a parent standing over his/her sleeping child. In that moment, the parent is filled with deep joy, followed by feelings of terror that something will happen to take the child away from him/her.
Worrying about things that have not happened does not protect us from pain. These thoughts only prevent us from truly experiencing the beauty of the moment before us. The next time you are worrying about “what ifs”, Brené suggests that you follow it with an acknowledgement that: “I am feeling vulnerable.” This creates space from the worry and brings you back into the present moment: revealing it to be a thought, not reality.
She encourages cultivating a regular practice of gratitude, as the most grateful people are the most joyful. When fear is triggered by joy, she suggests making a conscious effort to remember the things you are grateful for: then speak your gratitude or capture it in a journal.
Lastly, she outlines how to appreciate the ordinary moments. In a culture of scarcity, we are taught to seek the extraordinary; this leads us to miss out on the beauty of the ordinary moments unfolding before us on a regular basis. Take note of the small things that you appreciate about your family, work and friends: the fresh smell of your child’s hair after a bath; laughter at the family dinner table; the enjoyment of a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It is these things that help us to connect with joy on a regular basis, appreciate the present moment, and lean into the discomfort of not knowing the future.
The good news is that joy, collected over time, fuels resilience—ensuring we will have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen; and the remedy for fear is gratitude.
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When I was a child, I loved running around barefoot in nature; it made me feel deeply connected to the earth. I believed in fairies and unicorns. I dreamed of true love, myths and fairy tales. I was confident in myself and connected to the strong beat of my own heart. I loved to sing and write and draw; and I did these activities voraciously and without inhibition.
As I moved through the school system, I was often teased for being too sensitive, naive and trusting. I was laughed at for believing in magic and mystery. And eventually, I came to devalue my gifts of creativity, communication and insight. Being a highly adaptive person, I soon learned to camouflage myself and assimilate with the group of the day. I lost touch with my core sense of being; and for most of my adolescence and early adulthood, I was very skilled at being just like the people around me.
Now that I have tipped over the edge of forty, and survived my marriage falling apart, I have spent the last year taking stock of the remains: and I discovered that under the ashes is me. The authentic, real me. She is a little cramped and sore from hiding all of these years; but there is love and hope shining brightly in her heart, and she still believes in magic. As Glennon Doyle Melton so eloquently describes it: “You have been offered the gift of crisis…the Greek root of the word crisis is ‘to sift’, as in, to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important. That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most. The rest falls away.”
During this difficult time of transformation and change, I have tried to approach my journey with curiosity and an open heart. As a result, I have discovered a range of healing tools that defy reason and logic; and they have reconnected me with the magical thinking of childhood. These little practices serve as a touchstone. They connect me to universal energy and flow. They give me hope and comfort; and through them, I have learned that everything does not always have to “make sense”. It can just feel right and give joy. And so, I trust my intuition, and I keep on exploring. I let myself play and laugh and believe.
Here are some of my favourites to date:
Crystals: For thousands of years, ancient civilizations have utilized the power of crystals to release mental, physical and spiritual blockages: facilitating the free flow of energy throughout the body. Mined from deep within the earth, these stones are believed to contain unique properties and support energetic healing and well-being. I like to wear them (necklaces, earrings, bracelets) and I also like to place them throughout my home and office. Some of my favourites are: moonstone; aventurine; carnelian; sunstone; citrine and labradorite.
Aromatherapy: This practice uses natural oils extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots or other parts of a plant to enhance well-being. There are literally hundreds of scents and combinations, which provide many different therapeutic benefits. Some of my personal favourites are rose, geranium and lavender. They can be enjoyed in a number of ways. I like to use them in a diffuser in my home and in the bath at night.
Oracle Cards: Oracle cards provide insight and guidance for any situation. There are many different kinds of cards, with varying themes and intentions. I often like to use angel cards if I have a specific question or I am looking for a nudge in the right direction. I also enjoy having a set of cards on hand that simply provide positive daily affirmations and inspiration.
Spirit Animals: Many cultures believe that spirit animals are sent to give specific messages. I always take note when animals unexpectedly show up in my life. For example, when I first had my daughter, I suddenly started to see hummingbirds all of the time; they still continue to visit me in quite often. I have had owls and hawks fly in front of my car (in the middle of the city); and the other day a crane unexpectedly landed right beside me at the pond. I love this beautiful set of animal spirit cards by The Wild Unknown; it touches upon about the spiritual meaning behind them many of them.
Angel numbers and feathers: Angel numbers are a series of repeating numbers — like 333 or 1212 — that appear in your everyday life, on a clock, on a billboard, or even in a magazine. But unlike regular numbers, many believe that these numbers are specific signs provided to us by our guardian angels. Coming across a feather in your path, or finding a feather in an unexpected place is also thought to be a message from the angels.
Sage Burning: Burning sage is one of the oldest and purest methods of cleansing a person, group of people or space. The Latin for sage, ‘Salvia,’ stems from the word ‘to heal.’ The other qualities of sage when burned, such as giving wisdom, clarity and increasing spiritual awareness, are also indicated in the name. The ritual burning of herbs and herbal resins is common to many cultures in the world. From the ancient Celtic druids who used sage as a sacred herb alongside Oak Moss for burning as well as medicinal purposes, to the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon whose Palo Santo (sacred wood) sage burning ceremonies are still practiced to this day.
How about you? Are you open to magical thinking? If so, I would love to hear about your favourite practices.
This past weekend, I took part in a one-day Desire Mapping workshop, facilitated by my talented friend Jennie Alexis. We created a meditation alter and set positive intentions. We journaled. We wrote letters. We noted gratitude. We laughed – a lot. We ate good food and walked the beach. We created a despacho to honour Mother Earth Day. It was a fun and transformative experience, enjoyed with some truly wonderful women.
The Desire Map process is intended to help you identify what you already have in your life, what you are grateful for, and where you are dissatisfied. You gain clarity on the root of your desire and create a map of how you desire to feel in five key areas of your life. You then work into identifying your core desired feelings (CDF).
The approach is simple but profound. It flips the traditional goal setting paradigm on its head. Rather than creating another “to do” list based on what you want to achieve this year (next year, five years, ten years), this work focuses on identifying how do you want to FEEL in your overall life: each and every day. Every decision comes back to fulfilling your core desire feelings: asking yourself the question, “Will this action / decision make me feel….powerful, loving…etc?”
I really enjoyed my experience and I can highly recommend the workshop. It was exhilarating to work through this process with other like minded people. I left the experience full of clarity, as well as brimming with hope and possibility. And, in case you are curious, my core desired feeling are: abundant; inspired; equanimous; divinely feminine; and nourished.
If you do not live near a facilitator, or prefer to do the work on your own, I encourage you to check out the book.