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

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

 

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation, Mystery and Magic

This is why I walk barefoot in the woods

Today on my walk I did something different.

At the start of the trail, I took off my arch-supporting runners and my sweat-wicking, odour-controlling socks and walked barefoot through the woods.

I had to really concentrate on where I was going, to really look at the dirt of the path, the rocks, find the patches of still tender green grass on the side, avoid the roots and mud.

The difference to walking with shoes was both dramatic and subtle.

Because I could feel every part of the path with my feet, and I had to slow down, it was as if I was seeing this forest and this trail for the first time.

It felt…different…because for the first time the soles of my feet were greeting this landscape. And when I paused, I could sense a subtle change in the way this forest, this beautiful piece of nature reached out to me; no longer disconnected by the insulating rubber barrier of my runners, I felt recognized and yet at the same time undetectable, almost invisible.

As if I had become part of the forest,

a rock on the path,

a fly in the air,

the dancing leaves on the tree.

Birds seemed to startle at my quiet barefoot approach in ways I hadn’t noticed when I walked (probably faster and more stridently) in my shoes.  I had to slow down.  The bugs, the squirrels, the blackbird all got a good look at me.

Near the end of the path I was slow and quiet enough to notice a pitter-patter on the long grasses and low bushes next to me.  The sky was blue, cloudless, and I could see that it wasn’t raining…so I peered closer…and discovered that it was in fact raining caterpillars, from a nest high in the tree above.  I laughed, for this felt like a perfect ending to my barefoot roaming, the fuzzy brown tent caterpillars, in their cozy fall sweaters, free falling and dreaming of flying again, with white wings in the autumn breeze.

I share this because all of my barefoot walks, but especially this one, continue to show me how nature is not for me, it is part of me and more importantly I am part of it.

I am learning to listen when it calls, to walk the forest paths barefoot when I can, so I can slow down, so I can be found again. The forest tells me I belong here, just as I am.

Her dirt is still between my toes, and on my heels, now on my kitchen floor, I feel young and alive and somehow free.  I have found the way home, it’s right outside my door, it’s right outside your door.

My bare foot prints in the dirt are an invitation answered, a longing understood and redeemed, a deliberate stepping into the great cathedral.

Won’t you join me in the woods?

Walk barefoot in the fields, by the river.

Let yourself be found.

 

 

 

Awakening, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

Wake up in the morning and laugh

I have often marveled at the intense emotions that are waiting for me immediately upon waking.  Over the winter, I would find myself waking up feeling angry or at least very irritated.  “You just woke up,” I would tell myself, “how on earth can you be angry already!?”

Sometimes my anger would dissipate in the shower or as I brushed my teeth, but often I carried it with me into the morning, and it would affect my interactions with my husband and my children as they went off to school and certainly it affected my approach to my day.

While I realize that there are all kinds of reasons why I might wake up angry, and that my subconscious could well have been dreaming its way through my anger issues as I slept, I still had to deal with this emotion and come to terms with it in the light of day.

So I fell back on meditation, on the principles of peace and Zen to guide me and I found this quote:

Let me give you a wonderful Zen practice. Wake up in the morning…look in the mirror, and laugh at yourself.
~ Bernie Glassman Roshi

As I read it I did laugh, and I realized how seriously I was taking my life and my anger and that this wasn’t really serving me.

While the anger just needed to be felt, it was what I was thinking about my anger that was the problem. I was…getting angry at my anger. I was taking it so seriously, and I wasn’t accepting that it was there, that sometimes you just wake up mad. And as I stomped through my days trying to deny it, I was just strengthening the grip of the emotion I wanted to be released from.

Laughing at myself in the morning has been oddly liberating.  At first I would look in the mirror and start off with a few “ha-has” and even that made me so aware of how serious I was.  And you have to laugh at yourself laughing at yourself in the mirror because it’s somehow so delightfully ridiculous.

This practice really highlighted how I had forgotten to be joyful (after all, this was a new day, a fresh start) and how I was strangling the fun out of my life.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THIS ARTICLE ON THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF LAUGHTER: LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE AND THIS FREE MINI COURSE: 30 DAYS TO GREATER CALM

I knew just how seriously I was taking my one, beautiful life because at first when I started laughing in the morning I would sometimes cry, which was also a cathartic release of my anger and a sign to me of how long I had been letting my tension around anger build up. It was such a relief to let it go.

So…if you’ve ever woken up mad, sad, irritated, or even full of joy, I can wholeheartedly recommend looking in the mirror and laughing at yourself.

It is one of the fastest routes to joy I have ever found.

xo Shona

This article was originally published in April 2019 at A Life in Progress.