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.

 

 

 

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, 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.”

 

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, gratitude, Women's Work

On how I found a way forward by honoring my ancestors

I am the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter of another eldest daughter.

And so it may not surprise you to learn that I am the keeper of both my maternal and paternal families’ past, keeper of the keepsakes, the objects that mean “family,” “tradition” and “memory” and even “love” have mostly all passed to me.

I have not always wanted or appreciated these items or the task of “keeping” them.

The responsibility of continuity, the weight of time, I didn’t want it.  So I pretended for many years that it didn’t matter, my long, winding Scottish/Welsh/Irish ancestry was not important, the family I was born into was irrelevant. I wanted to be modern, to look forward, to shed the outmoded traditions of the past.

In my desire to walk my path unencumbered by the weight of so many people, old ideas, old outmoded expectations, judgments, and memories – I forgot that there was love and strength flowing to me.

I forgot to be humble and honor the great trust that was being handed to me, I forgot what it meant to be the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter.

Over the years I packed up these items and the stories that went with them – stories of war and love, hardship and loss, and joy. I stored them safely away, agreed to hand them down to the next generation – perhaps unused, unappreciated, by me. Never brought into the light, the flame of memory, of love and continuity.

But I see things differently now.

The strength in the bone and love in the blood of this lineage, my lineage, it matters.

It deserves so much more than my offhand acknowledgment, my casual care.

And so does yours, your lineage matters…because you are here now, singing its future into being, it matters.

“When you proceed on your course, never forget you are not alone. You have friends and family, but you also have your ancestors. Your ancestors sing in your blood. Call to them. Their strength through the ages will come into you.” Patti Smith

I have called upon the deep ancestries of others, I have cherished and practiced the traditions of other tribes and I have found there profound healing and grounding and I have felt rise up in me a loving connection to this land I call home, the forests and fields and hills of the sweet piece of earth I live on now.

But the question was asked: what about your own ancestors?

Are they not the medicine of your bones, is your own being not also rooted in the long line of people from which you spring?

All the ones who came before you in order for you to exist now, as Shona.

Do not dwell only in the borrowed wisdom of another family, dwell also in the sacred ground of your own blood and bone.

And from that moment on, I was able – for the first time – to truly see and cherish my own ancestors. I was willing to root down in to the truth and the customs and the love that was theirs.

I can hear them singing in my veins now…they have suddenly come alive in me. The flame of love and gratitude and reverence has been lit.

What is the story you hold in your being that longs to be told?

Can you let yourself be the bridge, the arc, that binds the past to the present and the light of an unknown future?

Can you, through your own healing, through your own understanding of who you truly are, light the way for all those who came before you and for all those still to come?

Can you call on them in times of need, find yourself and your way forward by resting into the arms of the ancestors who carried you here?

I know now, that to find my way forward, I will need to sing the song of the earth – who is mother to us all, our most ancient ancestor, the song in my very body that is my ancestral past, and the song in my heart that is mine alone to sing, and is the future of my lineage.

We all hold that sacred, fragile and potent potential within us.

I am the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter of another eldest daughter… it is a burden I take up willingly now and with joy. It has become a privilege.

Blood of my blood and bone of my bone, deep river, bounding deer, black earth and ancient rock…bring us all together in all our divine diversity to live again in love…bring us back to the love that carries us forward forever.

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