What makes a fire burn is space between the logs, a breathing space. Too much of a good thing, too many logs packed in too tight can douse the flames almost as surely as a pail of water would. So building fires requires attention to the spaces in between, as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build open spaces in the same way we have learned to pile on the logs, then we can come to see how it is fuel, and absence of the fuel together, that make fire possible.
We only need to lay a log lightly from time to time. A fire grows simply because the space is there, with openings in which the flame that knows just how it wants to burn can find its way.
This morning, while digging through my cards stash for birthday cards, I came across this one. It used to hang by my desk back when I was working as a Realtor. It kind of fits, even in retirement, during the ever changing world of today. It’s going back on the bulletin board.
So last weekend I attended a 3 day online seminar on SKY Breath Meditation. S-K-Y makes up the acronym for Sudarshan kriya yoga and is Sanskrit for ‘proper vision by purifying action. It was an enjoyable series of 3 hour classes teaching a sequence of breathing exercises that are specially designed to calm the nervous system and bring relaxed and alert focus to the mind.
Here’s a thought that was new to me:
Our breath changes as our emotions change – yes? For example, when anger rises our breathe becomes faster and more shallow, and when we are happy we breathe more deeply and more slowly. And so it follows that if we consciously change our breathing patterns then we can control our emotions. Hmmm…
For me the most exciting aspect of learning this practice is that it provides enhanced energy and peace at the same time – in the same breath. I guess I had somehow come to associate energy with busy action, and peace with non-action.
This experience of peaceful energy is growing in me and it makes me very happy. I have taken up the challenge of my instructor to do a 40-day challenge to practise SKY Breathe Meditation for 40 days straight. I am curious to see the changes in store for me.
Consider signing up for a course too. And let me know how it goes. Here’s the link to their website:
“Saying Grace” or “Giving Thanks” before a meal used to be a part of our everyday life. Now, it is a rarity reserved for the deeply religious, and endured in uncomfortable silence by the rest.
In Catholic School in the early 1960’s I learned to pray a set of ritual prayers before and after each meal. Then, as a young adult in the evangelical church of the early 1970’s, I learned the art of the extemporaneous prayer (making it up as you go) – the giving of thanks for anything and everything that came to mind, including the food and the hands that had prepared it. These prayers always ended with, “we pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen”. Then there was the traditional protestant Grace at my in-laws family table. “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful”.
Once I left the Church I found it difficult to pray at all, including giving thanks before meals. For years, now, I have struggled with that awkward moment where Grace used to be. Dinner is on the table, the cook sits down, and we pause… “Bon Appetite!”, we might say to each other and dig in without a word or thought of gratitude.
Recently a friend suggested that I read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful book, “Braiding Sweet Grass”. Robin writes from the perspective of an indigenous woman from the northeastern United States. She is a Professor of Botany who delights in teaching others the lessons that can be learned from the plants and animals around them. She teaches us to consider ourselves as a part of the natural environment rather than setting ourselves apart and above.
Robin’s words have opened my eyes to a new perspective on the natural world – the indigenous teaching of an economy of gifts, rather than commodities and ownership.
Mother Earth has given us everything we need to thrive. What has our response been to her gifts? To grasp and hoard, own and sell, scrape and destroy, until She can no longer give, only weep.
What would happen if we made the shift to seeing all of the natural world as a gift?
A gift economy implies reciprocity. What have we got to give back to Mother Earth? How can we reciprocate such extravagant giving?
Let us begin with gratitude – giving thanks. Let us begin with Grace.
Perhaps I can adapt the old version that my father-in-law murmured before each meal:
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful”.
Maybe…but how about:
“For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.”
What the difference? Responsibility.
In the original we abdicate responsibility to “the Lord”. “Make me grateful”, we say, as though we cannot generate gratitude for ourselves.
How can we generate feelings of gratitude from within ourselves?
Through our attention. Where is your attention? Why do we call it “paying” attention?
This giving of our attention – noticing and noting – is the beginning of gratitude. It is the beginning of giving back.
Perhaps it is time to begin again – giving thanks before our meals. Taking a moment to pay attention to the gifts of the earth, the plants and the animals, as well as the farmers and cooks.
Attention will generate gratitude and awareness. Awareness will lead us to more attention. Attention to food sources that are nurturing the earth rather than poisoning her. Attention to supporting our ailing planet as she gasps for breath.
The scale of the challenge to save the planet is so massive that it is easy to feel paralyzed. What if we begin again with the simple act of Giving Thanks, Saying Grace, with paying attention to the gifts of the earth and expressing gratitude?
“For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful”.
Here it is – at last! My lovely little book has arrived from the printers.
It started in 2009 with an art journalling experiment while I was struggling to cope with my mother’s declining health and her increasing anxiety. Ten years later, I looked over the drawings and and found, to my surprise, that they were powerful reminders of the life lessons I had learned. I began to post them onto this blog along with my reflections on these lessons.
Fast forward through the 2020/21 Covid-19 pandemic – with lots of time to reflect and write – and now I am delighted to have my Life Lessons in the form of a beautiful book.
I have sent these drawings and musings out into the world, hoping that they might encourage others and maybe even relieve some suffering. If you would like a copy of this book please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have given away the first 100 copies. Another shipment is on its way.
They will be $25 CAD each, plus postage. Please email me if you would like a book: CronesChronicles@gmail.com
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about curiosity – curious about curiosity, you might say. I have begun to notice how curiosity, has led me into understanding and then made it easier to access compassion.
The first way I noticed the benefits of curiosity was when I learned about becoming an observer of my own feelings. Once I began to observe my feelings objectively (as much as is possible for me), I was able to see them as a phenomenon that I was experiencing. I began to Inquire into the significance of those feelings, rather than getting hooked by them and going down an emotional rabbit hole.
When negative emotions occur, and a soon as I remember to detach from them, I breathe and observe, waiting for them to pass like the clouds. Often that is all that is needed. Other times, the feelings persist. That is when curiosity is so helpful.
What is this feeling? I see that anger is happening. What is behind that feeling? Is it hurt, or embarrassment, or fear? Is it about what is happening now, or is it something that has been triggered by past experiences?Why am I experiencing this feeling right now? Is it really because of what my partner said or did, or is there something else going on?
This attitude of curiosity about my thoughts and feelings has increased my understanding and compassion for myself. That is a beautiful thing to experience.
The other way I have noticed the benefits of curiosity is regarding the behaviour of others. This applies to loved ones as well as strangers.
What might be my partner’s state of mind? What are they feeling and thinking? What motivated them to say or do that? I see that anger is happening. What is behind that feeling? Is it hurt, or embarrassment, or fear? Is it about what is happening now, or is it something that has been triggered by past experiences?
When strangers behave in a disturbing way, can I be curious? Rather than jumping to negative assumptions can I wonder about other explanations? When an irate driver shows road rage, can I wonder about their emotional turmoil and feel compassion?
Try to cultivate curiosity. It can lead you to better understanding and greater compassion for yourself, your loved ones, and strangers too. This is the beautiful alchemy of mindfulness – turning pain into compassion.
What a weird holiday season this is! Sometimes it feels like this pandemic will go on forever. My mind is so full of questions about the future – when? What if? What will…? Questions about the spring, and questions about tomorrow and next week…
When I sit still and listen in- paying attention to the chatter that’s going on in my head – I can see that some of it is utter nonsense and the rest is just a waste of energy. My Monkey mind.
Monkey Mind gets especially busy at Christmas time, producing all kinds of emotional baggage from the past. Family occasions, whether in person or via Zoom can bring up old tapes in our heads – so many monkeys!
Here’s the thing – you can observe the monkeys without feeding them. Don’t encourage them or they will never leave you alone!
The trick is to see your monkey-like thoughts for what they are – a mirage – without substance. You can acknowledge your thoughts without believing them or buying into them. Try just observing them while consciously breathing, then watch as they pass like clouds on a breezy day. Then carry on with the task in front of you, living in the peace of the present.
Peace and love to you all as we close out this remarkable year.
This morning I was at the dentist getting my annual teeth cleaning. It’s hard to relax when someone is poking and scraping in your mouth, still I tried. Just out of curiousity I would peacefully lay my relaxed hands on my tummy and silently follow my breath. Then, every few minutes, I would check back in with my body and find my hands clenched tightly together. Oops! Relax and begin again.
Clenched hands, clenched jaw, shoulders up around my ears, these are some of the ways I carry tension in my body. These are stress signals to my mind. The body doesn’t lie, but sometimes I am just not listening.
Make sure you check in regularly with your body. How is it feeling? Where do you carry stress and tension? Can you let it go?
Try to connect with your inner sensations, deliberately and respectfully, without judgment – like a good friend.
Knowledge and Understanding are important building blocks for personal growth, but they are not the whole picture.
Experience and Feelings are what gives life its richness.
The head and the heart – both are needed to create a balanced life of mindfulness.
We all spend a lot of time “in our heads”. We fill our lives with a constant stream of inner and outer talk and busyness.
Try interrupting your thoughts for a moment, to take in your feelings. Can you feel without labelling and thinking about your feelings? Ah – that’s a challenge.
Turning your attention to your breath can help you to hit the pause button on your thought train. Thoughts are not bad – they’re just not the whole of experience of being alive. Give yourself the opportunity to embrace the space in between your thoughts. The space where you can absorb the present moment and enjoy its beauty