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

 

 

Awakening, courage, gratitude, Joy, Mystery and Magic

This is what happened on my way home from Mexico.

Last April I was in Puerto Vallarta for 5 days for my cousin’s wedding. The trip had been filled with the usual family joys and tensions, and while I enjoyed the beach and the pool and the margaritas –  I was at the same time having incredibly vivid and strange dreams, and was missing my husband and daughters, who had not been able to join me on this trip.

On my last day in Mexico, a feeling of foreboding had been haunting me, but I made it to the airport and had no sense of trouble when I got on my flight home to Toronto at 3:30pm that Sunday afternoon.

We knew at takeoff that there was stormy weather in Toronto. For whatever reason, our plane arrived early in Toronto air space, just in time to catch the tail end of the storm.  And so, since we were early, we had to circle the airport in rough turbulence the likes of which I have never experienced.  I am a seasoned flyer, and turbulence does not generally upset me, so perhaps it was because the turbulence went on so long (I think about 10 minutes although it felt like hours) and was so unrelentingly rough that in the midst of it, I started to cry. Not just a few tears, but hot streaming tears down my face and quiet gasping sobs I tried to pretend was coughing.  I buried my face in my book to hide my tears, embarrassed for anyone to see how upset I was.

As the turbulence went on and on, I took a moment to look around and I saw white knuckles clenched on arm rests and people with their eyes closed and their lips moving, and I heard people using their air-sickness bags.

So in that moment I was actually afraid for my life.

And I knew at one point that it didn’t matter to me if I died, I just wanted to see my children and my husband again, to tell them I loved them and hold them in my arms.  I knew they were waiting for me on the ground below…and dramatic as it sounds now, I didn’t want my girls to grow up without a mother.

It may not surprise you to hear that in that moment I started talking with God. Praying.

Mostly I hoped he would help me to stop crying.  And I promised him anything if he would make it possible for me to see my children again.  And then I heard these words in a loud, clear, almost booming male voice:

“Write the words, speak the words, write every single word.” 

And I heard this over and over again as the plane was tossed through the air. With every plummet and creak on the plane, every jolting movement I heard: “Write. The. Words., Speak. The. Words., Write. Every. Single. Word.  Hear my roaring words in your heart and write the words.”

So loud and clear and so unexpected were these words that I looked up and down the aisles to see if someone was speaking, I looked around to see if others were hearing what I was hearing.  They were not.  These words were for me.

And so, as you do when speaking with God on a storm-tossed airplane over Pearson, I promised him everything.  I whispered to him through my tears that I would write the words, write every single word, that I would speak the words, that I would hear and write and speak the words he has placed, like a roaring storm, in my heart.

And so I write…because this is not a directive that you ignore.

Certainly, when we landed (and everyone on the plane with me clapped and cheered when our wheels finally touched the runway) I was overjoyed to see my family, I laughed and cried to see them and I hugged them so tight they couldn’t breathe.  And they laughed at me because it had only been 5 days. But I have a renewed sense of gratitude for them.  I am less willing now to be parted from them.

And I wasn’t sure that I was ever supposed to write about this experience, which happened 8 months ago.  And perhaps today as I post this I will be able to laugh at my fear of writing about the very experience that drives me to continue writing. And since that day in April, in my moments of doubt, in moments of meditation, when I ask the Divine how I can serve not myself but a higher purpose, the answer is always the same: write. Write every single word. Write what’s in your heart.

I do not get the sense that I am supposed to write fiction or poetry although I am certain that I could.

I am supposed to write what’s in my heart because someone, somewhere is supposed to read it, to hear it…perhaps it’s you.

Perhaps you too have had a direct encounter with the Divine, and your purpose or the way forward has been revealed to you in a beautiful and transformative way.

Perhaps you have made changes, small or sweeping, to your life based on that encounter, so filled with wisdom, truth and love.

And perhaps, like me, you know how blessed you are, you know you have been changed by your encounter with the divine storm. In a moment of terror or grief or pain you were cracked open, and the light got in.

And so I strive to remain open to further direction and guidance.  Whether flying through a storm, or safe on my meditation cushion, or walking the forest trails…I listen. I write. I speak.

Every word.

And I am so very grateful that I can.

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, courage, freedom, gratitude, grief, Joy, Mystery and Magic

This is what happened when I burned all my journals

Several years ago, as I was leaving my corporate job and dismantling my former life in ways both sweeping and subtle, I felt drawn to look through the many, many journals I had filled over the years, that were lined up in neat rows on my bookcase.

Some were coiled note books, others were bound in pretty covers with ribbon place markers.  There were dozens of them.

As I leafed through them, I was shocked at the level of anger, vitriol, desperation and sadness that I found on the pages.  In many cases, I couldn’t even remember what it was that I had been so upset about, what situation or person or personal belief had inspired so many pages of furious writing.  Now forgotten.

And then the light came on.

These journals were full of pain, full of self-doubt, self-loathing and anger, full of the story of me trying to control the uncontrollable, railing against the way things were, wanting my life to be different, wanting me or my boss or my husband to be different. I didn’t want to hold this pain anymore, or to make room for it on my bookshelves or in my home or in my life.

Why, I asked myself, are these journals still on my shelf?

And so, one October afternoon, following a spontaneous urge, I gathered all these notebooks up. I had several boxes of them.  I lugged them to the car.  I took a lighter with me.  Without being absolutely certain where I was going to go, I drove them to a nearby conservation area and found a picnic spot with a fire pit.  Needless to say, there wasn’t another soul around on this cold, dreary October day, I had the park to myself.

I admit that I was half expecting the Journal Police to stop me, to say “Hey, we know what you’re up to, you can’t burn those journals, who do you think you are?  Everyone knows journaling is so important, you’re going to have to keep them, forever. No one can escape their past, lady.”

So with this voice in my head, I felt like I was being furtive somehow, sneaking away, or (quite literally) breaking out of the jail of my past. I was determined that I was not bringing this past into my future, I would claw my way to freedom if I had to.

I piled a bunch of the notebooks into the fire pit and taking a deep breath, I lit them on fire.  They ignited quickly, and I felt an intense rush of emotion while they burned, something like grief, and at the same time also like joy, like liberation, and absolutely like a great weight was being lifted from me.

I felt that maybe I should pray, or dance around the fire pit singing, but I felt exposed, vulnerable and somehow lonely, so I did neither. I knew this was an offering, a sacred offering – and I cried.

In the moment when my grief abated and I could feel something like gratitude for the urge to burn these books rising up in me, as I stood there, feeding the fire with more and more notebooks, watching them burn and smoke, a single crow flew overhead.

It felt as though she was looking right at me. She saw the fire, she saw the notebooks burning.

This black crow was the only witness to my old life, my former way of being, going up in flames. 

The only one who saw what it meant for me to sacrifice the old so I could claim the future. I realized then that I wasn’t alone, that by her presence she implied that my offering was seen and received with love.

And because I saw the moment when the crow saw me, it was as though my higher self was acknowledging this liminal moment, when out of love and compassion for myself I burned away the old and chose to be reborn, to start anew and follow with hope the new life I saw glimmering on the horizon.

I sat for a while next to the smoldering ashes of my journals, poking at the charred metal coils of the notebooks with a stick…it was all gone, all gloriously gone; all record of the pain, the outmoded habits, the old stories about who I was supposed to be and how my life was supposed to look, had all been transmuted to ash, a sacred offering to the future.

Burned. Cleansed. Free.

I can see now, looking back, that that was a turning point in my life. I started a new journey then, I started walking my way back home, and in many ways writing my way back home.

I vowed then that I would never keep another journal like that and I never have.  Instead, because the urge to write is in my bones, I try to write my way towards the light and not into the spiraling darkness, that having walked through the flames I would offer my humble stories to you, who may also be arising new like a phoenix from the ashes of your old life.

May you know you are not alone.

May we all be reborn in the fire, and may there be a winged one to witness it with love.

xo Shona

 

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, courage

This is why what you have to offer is enough

Above my desk I have pinned up the following quote:

“Forget your perfect offering.”

You may recognize this line from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem and the line that follows is the often memed: “there is a crack in everything, that‘s how the light gets in.”

I am a big fan of Leonard Cohen’s music and poetry and when I listen it feels like all he offers is perfect. In Anthem he speaks of the imperfection of the human condition, and how it is through that imperfection that we find our redemption and our hope.

And such is the nature of Cohen’s work that in this song it also feels like he is speaking directly to me.  And so, I listen and I am inspired.

Last year I was lucky enough to see the Leonard Cohen exhibition on it’s last day in Montreal.  And one of the things that stood out to me was the story of how in order to have his poetry reach more people, to have his “voice” heard, (and indeed in order to continue to make a living writing poetry) he started putting his poetry to music and singing.

And – especially when he started – he was not a good singer.  Video footage at the exhibition of some of his earliest forays into music were cringe-worthy, but even then he sang with joy and with a gentle, almost wise smile on his face, knowing his poetry was beautiful – and that we were finally listening.

Forget your perfect offering – even in a crowded exhibition hall – he seemed to speak directly to me.

He was generous enough to himself and his art to let himself fail.

He stepped out of his comfort zone to ensure that he was seen, that his “music” his poetry was heard. To ensure that he could continue doing the work that was his calling.

He took a risk, did something he wasn’t good at in order to offer…to offer.

And so I remind my perfectionist self, who is sneaky, pervasive and crippling, who would allow me to stagnate and die inside the walls of my house – a healer hiding in the attic – to forget about being perfect, to forget my perfect offering.

I print off Leonard’s words and tape them, yes scotch-tape them, to the wall by the window. Purposefully not framed in a Pinterest-worthy handwritten script on canvas – just imperfectly there. A reminder.

In this way I remember, to forget my perfect offering.

To just offer what I have to give, to step out and be seen – to speak, to write, to stand in the circle and be counted – to bring it and trust that those who need it will hear it, will feel the genuine vibration of my love rising from my imperfect hands.  Hear the song rising from my broken and healing heart.

May you too know you have something to give – perhaps something you have long denied, or something you might let slip away – may you find a way to share it, imperfectly.

May you and I be brave enough to step beyond our comfort zones and sing.

The broken world needs all the love and light we have to offer.

Forget your perfect offering and bring what you have.

Bring it. It is enough.

Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, courage, freedom

Self-reliance and the powerful medicine of the heron

Twice this week we have been gifted with the arrival of a magnificent great blue heron on the shore of this small lake.

We watched him walk through the fog on long legs, we saw him swiftly spear for fish, we watched him fly away on huge wings, flashing blue, a regal spirit-bird disappearing across the lake into the mist.

We were in awe, seeing the soul of this beautiful bird that came to our shore, a visit from a winged messenger.

I know now the art of connecting the appearance of a bird or animal with an issue I have been wrestling with.  On my mind these days has been a reworking of the expression of my authentic self, of letting go of aspects of myself that just aren’t true for me anymore – those things I do not want to take with me into the future.

So as I gazed at the heron I found myself remembering this: in past careers, I have been lucky to have had a boss or director who saw potential in me and wanted to develop it.  On at least three occasions I had a boss who wanted to groom me for promotion, who beat the drum for me, gave me opportunities, planned my upward trajectory with me.

And while this is something I was and still am very grateful for, when I look back, I see a revealing pattern. In each case, the person with the pom-poms was removed from the picture before the vision for my career leap had taken form.  In one case it became clear, after many years, that the person whose job I was being groomed for was just never going to leave that job, one director was let go due to corporate “restructuring” and another left for work in another city to be closer to family.

And in their absence I was left to wrestle with the fact that I didn’t really want for myself the dream they had for me.  I didn’t doubt my ability to accomplish it, I just didn’t really want it.  I didn’t hunger for it.  Without their enthusiasm behind me the dream just fizzled out.

And I think that’s why, each time, my mentor/promoter/boss was removed from the picture…to help me stand on my own and figure out where my true path lay.

To show me that I had to bring my own pom-poms and that to do the work required it had to be for something I was truly excited about, something I wanted to reach for.

Which brings me back to the heron.  It’s keynote message for me is about self-determination and self-reliance.

“Heron reflects a need for those with this totem to follow their own innate wisdom and path of self-determination. Follow what is best for you, rather than the promptings of others.” Ted Andrews.

I can see now that I am not traditional in my life roles. I don’t want to be.

I want to stand in my uniqueness, with joy and power, dignity and grace, and follow my own path, unapologetically.

Even aggressively if needed. The editing voice in my head says that the word “assertive” would be better received here, but the way the heron catches his fish is aggressive poetry in motion.

Because the heron, when he aims for a fish, is not messing around.  He is spearing with precision and speed, grasping the opportunity presenting itself, while strongly standing in the water.  He is not apologizing for who he is, he is simply his magnificent self.

He stands on his own.

This is his message to me about self-reliance, his medicine so gracefully given.

From out of the mist I hear him, on blue wings he tells me:  stop apologizing for who you are, stop explaining, stop holding back.  The way you want to live is not for everyone.  Shed the burden of others ideas of who and what you are or could be – for this muddies the waters.  To do this work you will have to stand on your own, root yourself into the earth and balance in the currents of life to recognize and seize the opportunities that are truly yours.

An opportunity he immediately taught me to grab is to share the healing medicine of the natural world with my daughters.  My youngest is as transfixed with animals and birds as I am, she has a natural way with them, and may she always treasure this gift.

And so I take this opportunity to be my authentic self, to stand strong in the swift flowing waters of life with the ease and confidence of a heron, that my daughters may hear their own inner wisdom coming forth and know how to answer it.  To help them unravel the medicine and mysteries of all the plants, trees, insects, animals and birds of this sweet earth.  While they are still receptive, before the noise of the world closes in.

My deepest gratitude to the great blue heron who has shared his powerful medicine with me, and sends me forward with more strength and determination and greater clarity than before.

Truly your sweet arrival through the mist was a gift.

Xo Shona