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

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, grief, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

How to help when you don’t have the answers

Last spring, my 12-year-old daughter said something to me that has been reverberating in my bones ever since.  She was struggling to cope with a group of girls at school who were being incredibly unkind to her, and I very much wanted to help her.  And so I was constantly jumping in with advice and solutions, speaking daily and at length about how I thought she should handle it.

Finally, she said to me: “Mom, I don’t need you to fix this.  I just need you to listen.”

And so, in the months that followed, I resisted the urge (on most occasions) to jump in and “fix” her situation and I practiced just being present for her, just listening with love and gentle curiosity, grateful that she wanted to talk to me about what was happening in her life.

Usually, I only offered advice if she asked, which wasn’t very often at all.  She really did need me to simply listen.

And this practice, inspired by my wise daughter, has actually changed the way I see my role not only in my relationship with her, but with everyone I know.

To start with it made me so aware of how often I tend to jump in and “help” everyone, offering unsolicited tips and strident words of encouragement and commandments in the face of their tears and turmoil.

I would feel their pain and want to talk them out of it, shepherd them through the darkness to the light.  I thought this was how I could help.

I believed this was the best I could offer…but it wasn’t.
I realized that I could be offering so much more – in fact, we all could.

Perhaps like I did, you believe that this desire to advise and problem solve comes from a place of love, but it is more often a result of what Matt Licata calls “an avalanche of our own urgent, anxious, fixing energy” that likely springs from an unresolved desire to fix our own lives.  It can also be a reflection of our discomfort with the chaos of strong emotions.

So I told myself this: Shona, if a friend comes to you in emotional turmoil and you wish to respond with love you simply open your arms and your heart and close your mouth unless you are going to utter kind and soothing words.

Over and over again I resist the desire to solve or resolve the other person’s crisis/challenge/pain – because I now know that unless they actually ask for my advice, that’s not what they’re looking for.

I know how powerful the act of being quietly present and attuned in the face of someone’s pain can be,  because I am blessed to have someone in my life who holds this space for me.

I have noticed the space that opens up when you feel like you are falling apart and someone simply listens to you with compassion. Not problem solving for you or thinking about what they are going to say to you next or analyzing why you are having this experience but REALLY listening.

Without judgement. Without rushing you to a resolution.

Listening not just to the words you are saying but to the unspoken depth of feeling emerging through the panic, grief, and confusion of the moment.

You are heard.
You are witnessed.
You no longer feel alone with your pain.

You are offered safe space to process what is happening, offered not a sermon but a sanctuary.

And in that moment, you are touched, even healed in a way that well-intentioned advice could never accomplish.

I confess when my daughter asked me not to fix but to listen, part of me was relieved. Because I simply don’t have all the answers and in this mad world, who does?

But I know what I CAN do. I know that no matter what is going wrong for her I can slow down and listen with love, I can welcome her words and her hard story and let her know that even if things are not ok, that that’s ok.

With my quiet, loving, compassionate presence I tell her: “sweet girl, you don’t have to heal or have it all figured out in this moment for me to stay by your side…I am here.”

So perhaps you are relieved along with me, relieved to know that if you are a compulsive fixer that you don’t have to offer any solutions.  Because in fact that is not what is needed.

What is needed is just one moment of genuine, loving, quiet connection to change pain into peace.

We all have the power to be still and let healing come through us into the world, simply by being present with another, without judgement.  To hold a safe space for a friend or a daughter as they struggle to make sense of this messy, confusing but beautiful life.
To help them know that they are worthy and loved. To offer them, in your grounded presence, shelter from the storm.

When you are unsure of how to help — this is how.

Xo Shona