Authenticity, Awakening, coronavirus musings, freedom, Mindfulness and Meditation

5 ways to find freedom when you’re feeling trapped

Lately, my experience of being “locked down” has changed. I am entering my tenth week of pandemic “sheltering in place” and because I seem to have time, I contemplate both the feeling and the idea of being trapped.

I review all the words I know for “trapped”: restricted, limited, cramped, constrained, restrained, bound, boxed-in, imprisoned.

And in doing so, I am immediately and inexorably engaged with its polar opposite – the concept of “freedom,” which is: expansive, limitless, involving the breaking of chains and wide-open horizons, movement, release, liberty, escape.

I have become aware of how much I value freedom and how much I have taken it for granted, in all the time I was free prior to the pandemic.

Freedom is beautiful.

The season of spring makes me want to get up and go, to do all the things, but in fact there is nothing to do, and no place to go. The grocery store just doesn’t feel like freedom today. On an almost hourly basis I struggle to navigate the choppy waters between freedom and restriction.

So as I roam about my house and yard on this beautiful, sunny Saturday with its blue skies and birdsong, I contemplate going for a brisk walk and once I start I realize that I am tired of walking. I am mostly tired of all the people out walking at the same time as I am.

Oh – how I long to be alone.
But there are cars and motorcycles and bikes and dogs and more people walking.
People sitting by the river and walking on my secret trails in the woods.
Where did all these people come from?!
In my head I am shouting “go away!”
Instead of smiling I am practically growling at people.
I get home and I am not restored by my walk. I am irritated and somehow sorry. Still restless.

It’s as though suddenly, today, it’s all sinking in. Like I just woke up in jail and I’m not sure how I got here or how long my sentence is. I wasn’t in jail last week or last month when the lockdown was even stricter, but somehow – today- I am in jail.

I am trapped – some part of my brain is telling me this – you’re trapped.
You are not trapped – the other part says – trapped is only a state of mind.

And so I can assure you that in an act of pure desperation, I go outside, I sit on a lawn chair on the grass under an umbrella. I close my eyes and breathe. I say to myself: “I am breathing in…and now I am breathing out.”

I listen to all the sounds around me; the neighbor’s dog barking, the motorcycles on the main road, the wind chimes by the back door. I struggle to not feel jealous of the birds going on with their lives and flying far and wide as I am not.

Free, they are so free those blessed birds. Take me with you, I beg the sparrow. Without a backward glance, he flies off without me.

And then, very slowly and very briefly, I accepted my reality, I relaxed into the moment and in that moment I no longer felt trapped. There was space around me, space around my thoughts about being trapped, almost as though I was suspended in time.

Of course, I could have stayed in that place of opening, that place of mindful awareness and acceptance but – as I was having the insight that there was freedom to be found in silence and stillness on a lawn chair in my yard – I found myself getting up and pounding away at the keyboard, afraid that I would forget how freedom felt and how I got there.

I am going back there soon, to my lawn chair and the space I find in being still. I am clearly not going to browse for swimsuits at the mall or visit my friend Allison who shares my love for writing and has a son with asthma, or look forward to a trip out west to see my family in July because my flight was just cancelled.

Instead, I am going to work on finding freedom here. I am going to find ways to balance the two extremes that are pulling me apart – my yearning for freedom, for things to be other than what they are, and the reality of ongoing restraint in the long, slow journey of the pandemic.

Because freedom is a state of mind.

And though I would never have chosen this task, this task of finding ways to be free during a lockdown, this is clearly my task (and perhaps your task) this year. And I am learning new things about freedom: as I mourn the loss of it, I am discovering how vital it is to my well-being, to our well-being…the experience of freedom. I am learning that even if I am not free, I need to feel free – and that’s a crucial part of the balance for me.

I am reminded of something Eckhart Tolle asserts; whenever you are faced with a seemingly impossible or challenging situation, you always have 3 options:
1) You can work towards changing the situation.
2) You can leave the situation.
3) If you can neither change nor leave the situation, then you must accept it completely, just as it is.

So because today I cannot change the fact that there is a global pandemic and that everything is closed or cancelled in my part of the world, and because I certainly can’t feasibly get to anywhere where this is not the case, then here we are, with option number three.  And this, I know, is the key to freedom.

So, if you are feeling my pain in any way, then I offer this list of 5 ways to feel free when quarantine/lockdown/sheltering in place/social distancing are making you feel trapped. I have tried them all, most of them today:

  • Meditate– lawn chair, umbrella, breathing, willingness to be bad at it. This is the part where we accept the way things are (without a mental story about how it’s good or bad), we make our peace with it, moment by moment.
  • Walk somewhere you’ve never walked before, take a different route, if you’re like me this is ideally where there are no other people – let me know where this is, I promise to keep it a secret.
  • Write. Draw. Play the piano. Bang the drum. Sing. Dance slowly in your kitchen. Doing something creative to express your experience of all the muck we’re wading through right now will be healing and…freeing.
  • Take a shower – I know this seems ridiculous but it will make you feel better, I promise. For a few minutes it can almost make you feel free.
  • Go outside tonight and howl at the stars. Or howl now.
    Like a wolf.
    Like a hound dog.
    Like someone who knows how it feels to be free.

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, compassion and trust, courage, freedom, Mindfulness and Meditation

This is what I learned when I stopped drinking wine

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how this past year I have been working on noticing what triggers some of my behaviors around consumption – and by “consumption” I mean shopping, drinking wine, eating whatever is in the fridge, and escapist Netflix watching.

I started with what I had noticed about the relationship for me between food and fear.

And as I reflect on this theme, I realize that really, all my mindless consumption has it’s roots in fear.

The famed and no doubt fearless writer Elizabeth Gilbert espouses that “your fear is boring” — which is likely true, but I also believe that it serves an important purpose.

When I turned my attention to my habits around consuming alcohol, here’ s what I noticed:

Whenever I crave a glass of wine on a Friday or Saturday evening (or, let’s be honest – on any given night of the week), it is usually because I am having trouble relaxing and allowing myself to flow with ease into the evening or weekend, because I feel like I haven’t been productive enough.

I didn’t cross off everything on my to-do list (today’s list, for example, has 16 items on it).

I didn’t tackle that project that will be hard because I’ve never done it before so I might fail (fear) or just not be good at it (perfectionism).

In short, I didn’t do all the things, so maybe I don’t deserve to rest.

I feel like less, like I’m not enough.

As though my to-do list is the criteria by which I am to be measured by, as if my success as a human being depends on my output, my productivity. I want the wine to help me forget that I’m a failure.

This is a battle with fear and perfectionism that I have long waged and I am slowly relinquishing my tight grip on it.  I can tell you that whenever I am able to be self-aware and notice my triggers (mindfulness), I do choose differently.

But this has not been easy, my habit of turning to wine to relax me is so ingrained, has been with me for so long, that I have had to really work at not casting about for a different thing to consume as a distraction (like the t.v., or way too much coffee).  Instead of a glass of wine, I make the effort to go for a walk outside, I play a board game with my kids, I write. I offer myself compassion whenever I can because some nights I have to sit on my hands to keep them from reaching for a wine glass.

And as with any habit, the more I choose something kinder, including offering myself kinder thoughts, the more often I am happy to forgo the glass of wine.  If I’m completely honest, I can see that the wine doesn’t really help in the end anyways. My “not enoughness” is still there to greet me in the morning…now accompanied by a sulfite-induced headache.

A friend told me that her glass of wine at the end of the day gave her “something to look forward to.” Another has told me that she is able to justify her habit of having a Manhattan every evening because she only ever has one.  I don’t know what the answer is and my intention here is not to offer permission or judgement or advice of any kind, only to share my own experience with alcohol at this time in my life because I suspect I am not alone in my habitual and often mindless relationship to it.

I don’t want to do things mindlessly anymore. I don’t want to be chased through the long dark winter nights by my habits, with my fears and insecurities snapping at my heels, driving me to the liquor cabinet, to the Amazon website, to the endless episodes on t.v. where you never have to come up for air.

I want to turn and face the demons, to understand them, to put them to rest…with love.

I want to be able to relax in my own home at the end of the day or the week without a glass of wine.

I want to be enough, just as I am, with all my flaws and weirdness and beauty residing happily and soberly together.

I want to live on purpose, to realize that in every moment I get to decide.  To be fully conscious or to go below consciousness (which is where alcohol takes you) – where there is nothing to be felt, or resolved or gained.

Because that glass of wine is simply a way of courting oblivion. And I want to be fully awake to this beautiful life.  My life. I want to hear what pain and fear have to teach me.  I want to welcome them with compassion and love and heal them, not run from them forever into the dark night with a bottle and a corkscrew tucked under my arm.

Now when I feel like I might like a glass of wine, I pause.  I breathe.  I ask myself: why do you need a glass of wine today, what edge are you walking that feels so uncomfortable that you want to blot it out, what imaginary failure are you courting?

Breathe.

Have some tea.

Write it down…with all the love and compassion in your trembling heart, write your way through this habit that numbs you from the pain and then also disconnects you from the joy of your one beautiful life.

So here it is: I am working on understanding my relationship with alcohol and I am slowly changing it, finding that I need it less and less because – and I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating – I really do want to live: fully, energetically and with purpose.

Maybe you do to?

Xo Shona

Authenticity, Awakening, compassion and trust, courage, Mindfulness and Meditation

This is what I learned in my kitchen about my fear of the future

I have spent the last year trying to develop a compassionate awareness of what triggers some of my behaviors around consumption. This includes all kinds of consumption or consuming: everything from shopping sprees to drinking wine, from mindless eating to escapist Netflix watching.

This has required mindfulness, a willingness on my part to bring awareness to situations that I am trying to avoid thinking about (because it’s painful), and sometimes to stop in the middle of reaching for the glass of wine or that third brownie and tune into the emotion that’s driving me.

This is what I’ve discovered around food:

My desire to open the fridge and mindlessly inhale in large quantities whatever looks good (which is everything) has to do specifically (for me) with fear of the future.

It has to do with those times when some aspect of my future life looks uncertain and me being so very uncomfortable with that.

That’s when I find myself standing in front of the fridge.

And I know I’m not alone in this fear.

Because, frankly, the future IS uncertain; elements of both our own personal futures, the futures of those we love and the world’s future – if the climate change crisis has anything to tell us – are uncertain.

So many of us want the future to be predictable – we want to know the how, when and why of the next day, week and year.

All of it.

We want it all spelled out in a memo from the cosmos. “Just put me out of my misery and tell me how it’s all going to be fine,” I say to the sky.

Of course, the future remains unwritten and the present moment, here in my kitchen, is all I have.

And in fact, it’s all I need.

Because now, after a year of practice, if I am gazing into my fridge with an anxious heart I can stop myself and say: “Good, good, you are afraid. It is excellent to know this.  You will not be eating the rest of the leftover lasagna right now, you will go to your laptop and write about exactly what you are afraid of.”

And so here I am, I have just left my refrigerator and write here now about my fear.

And as I do so it occurs to me that I really want to cultivate the ability to deal with my fear mindfully because I have an inkling that this year, more than ever, I am going to do things I am afraid to do, I am going to try things I’m not good at and possibly fail (or succeed, which is also scary!), I am going to push myself to my edge, take risks,  and walk through my fear.

And I mostly feel excited about this — and I definitely know that I do not want to compromise my health and well-being by mindlessly over-consuming anything and everything in the process.

So probably this year I will continue to walk through my kitchen to the pantry where the cookies are kept.  And then laugh at myself and walk back out again empty handed (usually) and write it all down.

And I have also noticed that whenever I am mindful in the face of fear, that I become free to explore the other side of fear, which is trust and ultimately love.

In those moments, which are more and more frequent this year, when I am accepting the great design of things, when I am operating from a place of trust (you could also call it faith) I feel each moment so full of potential and fluidity and vibrancy– which can only be true when there is uncertainty.

Which can only be true when we are in the present moment, and not projecting ourselves into an unknown future.

When we step forward in trust to meet that which is not yet in form. When we remember that we are powerful, that we can take inspired action that leads to a future we have dreamed of.

That the road will rise up to meet us if we take that first step.

This is a lot like taking a leap off a cliff, a way of living always on the edge of our comfort zone, a way of life that takes practice. And compassion.

And so I do practice because I want to live.  I really want to live fully, energetically, and with purpose.

 

“Where your fear is, there is your task.” C.G. Jung

Living is not for the faint of heart.  If I am to live in total trust, I have to remind myself over and over that whatever comes (the love, the joy, the triumphs and even pain and catastrophe) that I will be held, that I will find a way through, that I will be connected and reunited with joy over and over again.

And I know that I have to have compassion for myself in this process. It’s so terribly easy to berate myself for all my mindless consuming while my brain was in the grip of fear and my heart was feeling so anxious and my hand just kept dipping into the chip bag.

So before I eat something mindlessly, before I try to stuff down my fear with whatever is at hand, I try to be mindful.

I ask myself: what is the emotion behind what you are doing in this moment? Are you being kind to yourself, eating all this, drinking all that? What are you afraid of?

I don’t want to be afraid of the future anymore.

Perhaps you feel the same.  Perhaps you too know that right now you have everything you need and that the future, our future, is bright.

And it’s not hiding in my fridge.

Xo Shona

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, gratitude, Mindfulness and Meditation

On being rubbed the wrong way in the Florida Keys

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” – Rumi

I recently went on a glorious, one-week trip to the Florida Keys, where I was “polished.”  And by that I mean that I spent the week with someone I did not know very well, and who at almost every turn was difficult to have a conversation with. She was abrupt, all-knowing, careless with her comments and supreme in her confidence that her opinion was the final say on the matter…any matter.

In short, there were many times that week when I was on the verge of allowing myself to be openly irritated by her behavior. But even as it was happening, and even more so now in retrospect, I can see that I was being polished, that I was being shown something, a reflection of myself, – my past, present and perhaps future self.

I can admit that in the not so distant past I would have allowed this person to grate on my nerves, to send me into paroxysms of righteous anger and indignation, into roadside sermons and coffee shop insights, I would have fully embraced and vocalized my sense of irritation. Convinced that the fault or problem was all hers. When clearly, the issue (my reaction or response to her) was mine.

But somehow, someway, on this trip I was able, from time to time, to laugh at my fuming self and the whole situation. As much as possible, with as much presence of mind as possible, I sat back and observed.

And that’s when I had an insight that was both wonderful and awful at the same time:  this person was just like me, she was in fact a near replica of an earlier, younger version of me. I can see how in the past I have been just like her.  I have been a know-it-all. I have been impatient with slower mortals, I have glibly dismissed topics that didn’t interest me and opinions that did not align with my own.

It was even possible, as this person/mirror was showing me, that I could still be that way.

I have been an irritating person, I can still be irritating and I am sure I will be irritating again.

But in the meantime…

I remind myself that this time, I am being polished, that it will take some hard rubbing to smooth my edges and get the tarnish off, that I have something in particular to learn from her because here she is, in an Airbnb condo with me for a whole week.

Her impatience, her dismissive remarks that halted all dialogue or discussion, her insecurity disguised as arrogance – “polishing! polishing!” – I tell myself.

All of this also served to ask me: are you really calm and centered, even when life is difficult and people are irritating? Or just on your meditation pillow?  Are you really as Zen, kind and compassionate as you’d like to believe?

Here she is, a gift from the Universe to confirm if I’ve really got it, sweeping away the hard edges of my practice, of my understanding of my self, stretching my sense of patience and compassion to it’s very limits. Showing me something about myself, about how I am like her and can choose to not be like her, about how I respond is always up to me, about how I am calm and sometimes not calm while being “rubbed” the wrong way.

And perhaps this situation was also an opportunity for me to consider how far I’ve come.  To see how I used to behave and understand with hindsight why people responded to me as they did, and to see how I can choose the way I respond now.

How now that I know better, I can do better.

I can have compassion for the person I was in the past and for the person before me now…polishing away with all her irritating might.

And I have to remind myself that it’s also not my job to change her. That if I cannot love her I can at least accept her as she is.

And that is healing for all.

Certainly, I do not have to bestow my unsolicited wisdom upon her like some holy offering…tempting as that may be.  It is just my job to accept her, and my issues with her, with compassion.

And then I can laugh.  Now I am laughing! Because it was a long week of irritation in Florida which in the grand scheme of things is not so bad. What is important is that I am having exactly the experience I am meant to be having, because I’m having it. And thanks to her, I am being polished to a shine…and for that (and perhaps only for that) I can thank her.

 

 

 

Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, gratitude, Mindfulness and Meditation

When all seems lost I listen to the trees

I know it may seem like a deeply creative act, that is – an act of pure imagination – to presume that I could have a conversation with a tree…but I have.

I have sat beneath Oak, Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Maple, Spruce, Black Walnut, Weeping Willow, Poplar, Cedar, Locust, Birch and Elm to name but a few — and we have silently communed.

Some of the best conversations I have ever had have been with trees and I can assert, like Bob Ross, that “there’s nothing wrong with having a tree for a friend.”

Apart from offering their grounded and immensely healing and peaceful energy, trees have something particular to say to me.  And that is that although I love my time in the forest, and I prefer to go into the forest alone (for those are my moments to commune in joy with nature and the immense design of things) – I am supposed to bring you (all of you) into the woods. “Bring the others” the trees whisper to me, over and over.  It’s like an assignment, my task, the answer to my burning desire to fulfill my purpose.

I am called to bring you outside, into the forest, to the very base of a tree. And let the trees take care of you.

And they already are taking care of you. As my friend, gifted artist and fellow tree-lover Anni Bretschneider  reminds us: “There’s strong growing evidence that trees communicate through their root systems. It’s a thriving community network that includes Mother trees redirecting resources to younger saplings. Trees provide fruit and flowers, food, protection with their canopy, medicine, seeds, temperature control, shelter and habitat for animals and birds. Their roots absorb excess water, provide flood protection and reduce soil erosion. Trees provide the raw materials to build the tables we eat on, the chairs we sit in, the fires we burn and the homes we live in. Your very life and our ecosystem depend wholly on trees to survive. It is a reciprocal relationship where trees filter our air and keep it clean by exchanging CO2 gases and oxygen. And, as a community, trees give us tremendous beauty through captivating forests.”

Science has discovered so much about trees and their role in regulating temperature, weather and climate on the earth. I would like to believe that our salvation lies in science…but I find it easier to believe that salvation can be found in the forests and jungles of this sweet earth.  And I feel that if we do not know and love the woods and trees of the land that holds us, we will not care if it burns.

And if we cannot know the woods and trees of the land that holds us as OURSELVES…we won’t care when it’s all burned down, when nothing is left for our children or grandchildren or their children.

And so many of us are lost.  Not lost in the woods like the children in fairy tales but lost in a wasteland of our own making, relentlessly attached to our technology which pulls us ever further from the calm, healing love of the natural world – a world where we are perfect just as we are – thin enough, smart enough, good enough…enough.

We have forgotten who we are…but the trees know.

They long to bathe us in their love and remember us back into being.  They live, in part, to let us know that we belong in the woods, with them. Although the outdoors may feel like foreign, even hostile terrain to us, gritty with dirt, biting bugs, heat and cold and mud and pollen, and even bears, we belong there.

It’s time to get lost in the woods again.

How can we connect with and have gratitude for trees? Hug one – yes, be a tree hugger. Or at least place your hand on one and feel it’s bark.
Drink in it’s shimmering beauty with your eyes.
Talk to one.
Sit with one.
Paint one.
Write about one.
Love one.
Listen.

And if you will not or cannot go outside and sit by a tree, then at your Maple desk or Pine kitchen table or Mahogany bookshelf, feel that wood grain under your fingers, the vibrant grooves, the way it meets your energy softly, returns your touch in a way that steel or cement or glass never can. Because that wood – it was once alive.

And all that’s left now is for us to be grateful, for all that has been given.  For all we stand to lose.

So will you go outside now and stand with the trees? Will you listen?  Just listen and breathe and be thankful.

For the Oak, she keeps asking me “Where are the others? Bring them and gather here in the forest, beside me. Let us breathe together and be together, again. All the lost children of earth, come to me now and be found.”