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

Authenticity, Awakening, courage, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

How I found freedom in not being right

I have only recently come to terms with my pernicious need to be right…all the time.  I slowly started to recognize this tendency in me years ago when a particular person came into my life and mirrored the very same behaviour right back at me.  This provided fertile ground for conflict, as part of wanting to be right is its even darker side of insisting then that someone has to be wrong.  And there is just no kindness in that.

In my best moments, I can view this person with the same tendency as me, as a launching pad for growth, even a gift, for without them I never would have become so painfully aware of this part of my personality.

I would have continued to blindly go around making everyone feel small and wrong in order to serve my need to be right.

I can see now that no one was excluded: children, parents, husband, siblings, co-workers, even experts in their fields, at some point I would wear them down and make them concede…that I was right.  Now, because the need to be right has been flung back in my face so many times (literally EVERY SINGLE TIME I was with this person!), I have been forced to deal with it.

And I am flabbergasted at how long it has taken me to give up this habit but I persevere in the effort to let it go. I have an awareness now of when I am falling into “I am rightness” and I am slowly and systematically working on being kind rather then being right.

And I have noticed that, miraculously, as I made room for myself to not be right, it created space around the tension that had existed with this person for so long.

As I let go of the need to be right and – with a deep breath — embraced the possibility and reality that I could be wrong, this person became or certainly seemed less strident in their own need to be right.

It was like we were both stepping back and there was a buffer or a middle ground that offered a different way for us to relate that wasn’t about right and wrong.  The fact was, this person wasn’t pushing so hard to be right because I wasn’t offering something to push against. As often as I can, I just let this person be right…because it feels kinder than pushing back.

I can’t tell you it’s perfect.  I can’t tell you that I never feel the overwhelming urge to be right taking me over…but I can tell you that I am so much more aware of it now, thanks to the presence of this person in my life, and most of the time I can laugh at it and laugh at myself.

And so I’m not always right…but I’m free.

Free in the presence of this person, as I never have been before, and free to appreciate the grace that exists in all the people I know and love who figured this out a long time ago – that they could step back and make room for me to be right, even when I was wrong, because they were choosing to be kind, instead of right.

Xo Shona

Authenticity, Awakening, courage, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation, Women's Work

My struggle to be grateful and how it changed my life

Six years ago, as I was preparing to leave my corporate job and struggling to figure out how and when and why it was all going to work out, I was moved to rekindle my life- long love affair with meditation.

In my struggle to have it all, and do it all (you probably know this story: I tried to work full time at a demanding corporate job, commute into the city, enroll the girls in every evening activity going, and have the perfect home and the perfect outfit) I had become so detached from who I really was and what I really wanted that I felt almost numb.

I knew that one of the easiest ways to reconnect with myself was through the peace and presence of meditation and that when beginning a meditation practice, one of the best ways in is through cultivating genuine gratitude.  I knew that living in gratitude would open my heart and guide my thoughts through the challenges that lay ahead.

What I had not anticipated was how difficult it was going to be for me to feel grateful…for anything.

So, faced with a troubled marriage, mounting debt, numbing depression and a career crisis (so let’s say it felt like my life was literally teetering on the edge of destruction) I sat and tried to connect with what I was grateful for. And it was so unexpectedly hard.  For so long I had allowed myself to focus on what was wrong: wrong with the house, with my husband, with my children, with their school, with the town I lived in, with my work, with the car, with my life, with everything.

I had allowed myself to get into the habit of looking for flaws, and so my life was always full of problems and nothing was ever good enough just as it was.

I rarely experienced the joy of just resting in the life I had built and embracing it with all it’s beauty and cracks.   I can only guess how difficult I must have been to live with at this time, for I can certainly see now how miserable I was making myself and probably everyone around me in my carefully honed pursuit of all that was not just so.

As I sat on my meditation cushion, sometimes with tears streaming down my face, wondering how in the world I had gotten so off course, I kept reaching for gratitude, because I was determined that I was not going to live this way any longer.

I started with things that seemed obvious, but which I unquestionably took for granted. I started with simply being grateful that I had a place to call home.  That my children were healthy.  That we had great neighbors and lived in a safe community. That I had clean water to drink…and coffee.  These are things we can so easily take for granted, but for many they are luxuries to aspire to.

And I kept listing and repeating in my meditations: “I am grateful for this…I am grateful for that….”  And it took a long time, literally weeks, to actually feel what I could identify as genuine gratitude.  I had really gone to the dark side.

I could list the things I was grateful for but it wasn’t reaching my heart.

In truth, for a long time my meditations went like this: “I am grateful for my home…but it needs new flooring and the front door needs painted and my husband hasn’t fixed the railing on the porch yet and here’s another thing about him that frustrates me…”  Yes — it was ugly. But still, I was not willing to live in my self-created darkness anymore.  Only I could dig myself out of this hole.

So I would replace my thoughts with: “I am grateful for my home, with it’s big windows to let in the sun, with it’s old turn of the century charm, which was restored and renovated by my husband, who worked hard at it and did a good job, and I am grateful for that too.”

And then finally, after weeks, probably months, of working at it, I started to feel the energy of gratitude in my body.  It was a gentle hum.  It finally reached my heart and opened it to all the beauty in my life.  Gratitude slowly lifted me out of the black hole I was in, it loosened the crushing grip of my negative thoughts.

Finally, it was gratitude that gave me the power, the light, and the inspiration to find my way forward.

To realize I already had so much in my life that was so good, and I wanted to cherish every single bit of it.

I tell this story in the hope that it may inspire you, if you are in a dark place, to reach for gratitude.  And also to remind myself of the strength and courage it takes to change – to change our thoughts, to change long-standing habits that no longer (or perhaps never) served us, to change our lives.  And to assert that no matter how long you’ve traveled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around.

With gratitude,

Xo Shona