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.

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

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