Awakening, compassion and trust, coronavirus musings, courage, creativity, Inspiration, Mindfulness and Meditation

Intuitive to-do lists for life in a pandemic

I love working with an ongoing “to do” list, and I especially love crossing items off my “to-do” list – it gives me a great sense of accomplishment.  Especially these days.

I also have these other lists related to my goals for the week, month and year. As the pandemic grinds on, I have had to shift and change many of these goals and my expectations about what I can accomplish. It is often harder, and certainly takes longer, to cross items off of those lists.

I share this with you because I know that writing a “to do” list is an act of optimism.

I also know that writing lists is a universal practice, as it helps us control the chaos in our lives, to compartmentalize vast quantities of information, and helps us mark our progress. On the other hand, I have noticed that lists can cause me anxiety and frustration, especially when I repeatedly see an item that’s been on my list for a long time, that just don’t seem to be getting done — no matter how many times I underline it, or put it in all caps.

And so lists seem to both help and hinder me.  Perhaps you can relate?

One of my favourite books to thumb through when I’m pausing for a cup of coffee is Shaun Usher’s Lists of Note.  This book holds a collection of fascinating lists, including 19-year-old Isaac Newton’s list of the 57 sins he’d already committed, a shopping list written by two ninth-century Tibetan monks, Tina Fey’s list of body parts for which she is grateful, and Johnny Cash’s list of “Things To Do Today.”

As I perused this book I found myself fascinated with what the “greats” (great authors, scientists, thinkers and artists) had on their “to-do” lists. And this is what I found: according to what was on their lists it looked like almost all of them struggled to stay focussed on their goals and aspirations, on the work of honing their talents.

They included on their lists things like “practice piano” (Johnny Cash) and “write a song a day” and “work by a schedule” (Woody Guthrie) and “always keep working on the acting exercises” (Marilyn Monroe – she underlined this).  And even the great Henry Miller composed a list of 11 commandments for himself which included “work on one thing at a time until finished.”

These lists were a bit of a revelation to me.

I had always assumed that the greats of the past and present…just did it.

Although I could imagine that they worked hard to achieve their success, it never occurred to me that answering their calling or creating their art could be an item on a list, could be something they had to keep their mind focused on, to insist to themselves that they work on — but it clearly was.

And although I was surprised, I was grateful to know that Marilyn Monroe struggled to attend all her acting classes, that Sylvia Plath struggled to finish her university writing assignments on time, that Johnny Cash thought he needed to practice the piano more.

So lists certainly seem to be an important part of staying focussed and getting things done – for the most humble to the most celebrated list writers.

If, like me, you are currently finding it very difficult to focus for long on the work at hand, and to find a gentle yet fruitful rhythm to your life that breaks up the monotony of a lockdown day frozen on repeat – I offer the following:

Lists can feel very regimented/left-brained or “yang” in their energy.  If you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by the length of your list or the size of the projects on it, try this “yin”/right brained/intuitive approach to the tasks on your plate:

Take a blank sheet of unlined paper and randomly write your top “to-dos” for the day (or you can do this for the week/month/year) anywhere on the page – not in a list, just scattered anywhere on the page.
Draw a circle around each item as you go.
Now, instead of a top-down list, you have these bubbles of possibility randomly distributed and “floating” all over the paper.
Next, sit quietly with the paper and see which items you feel drawn to.
Give yourself time for this – a snap decision is not required or even helpful.
You may immediately know which items are not calling you that day and can let that help you narrow it down.

You are looking for the task that may not be the most urgent or practical but may be what you energetically feel able or inspired to handle at this time.  The work you choose to do in this way will flow more easily, with the potential that you will accomplish more and work with a more stable mood and sustained energy to get the task done.

Then use this intuitive technique to select your next task for the day or week.  Of course, if something is very urgent, that will have to be tackled first, regardless of what other tasks might be calling you!

May this help you find your own, heart-centred way of navigating these strange times – one day, one thing, one optimistic list at a time.

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, Joy

Lessons from a dog and a worm on the nature of comfort

While out on the big, empty field down the hill from us – playing fetch with my energetic dog – I have been able to observe one completely fascinating thing she likes to do.

And it has to do with earthworms.

With her incredibly calibrated nose, she is able to find – every time we’re there – a worm hiding just under the grass of this immense park.

I know she has caught the scent of one because she will stop, mid-charge in pursuit of a ball, and proceed to delicately pull this worm out of the earth with her sharp front teeth. Sometimes she ends up chomping the worm in two, and happily swallows one half down.

The other piece of worm is daintily placed on the grass a few inches away from where it was discovered, and then the fun starts: Cici throws herself on to her back, on top of this hapless worm, with wild abandon. She wriggles and squirms and shimmies and rolls all over it until it is truly pulverized.

She gets up to check if it’s mashed up enough and – wanting the job done right – she usually throws herself back down on it and wriggles and rolls some more – just to be sure.

Then, when this joyful task is complete, she positions herself precisely and – stately as a queen – she pees on the worm.

And then she looks up at me, wondering why I’m just standing there and not throwing the ball – because now she’s ready – the Ceremony of the Worm is complete.

I have watched her do this for months, in all kinds of weather, with a kind of wonder, amusement, confusion and I confess – distaste – because I think she is convinced that we will love her new wormy smell as much as she does, and want to welcome her on the couch once we’re home.

She just makes me laugh. I think that apart from eating, this is recently her most favourite thing to do.

So here’s my deep insight about life based on observing my dog do this;

sometimes we just love what we love.

We do the things that bring us comfort even if they’re a little weird, the things that answer some need or call inside us. Things that are just about delighting in our own body, being an animal, and embracing the simple joy of it.

And just as I would never tell my dog to cease and desist with the worm rodeo (not when I see how happy it makes her!) –

I would not suggest that now is the time to deny yourself small, earthy comforts no matter how “weird” they might seem to others.

Like drinking excessive amounts of herbal tea, or taking a hot bath in the middle of the day, or deciding to stay in bed all day and eat only buttered toast, or wearing your bootie-slippers to the grocery store, because, as Sheryl Crow tells us –

If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.

I will pause here for a moment to ponder the fate of the poor worm in this story – minding his own business on a blustery fall day. Which makes me want to end with this: embrace all the good little things in this life, for if this year has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you’re the dog, and sometimes you’re the worm.

Roll on, my friends, roll on.

Xo Shona

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, Inspiration, Mindfulness and Meditation, Mystery and Magic

3 situations when a walk in the woods is the best solution

If 2020 has confirmed the truth of one thing for me, it’s the healing power of the natural world.

I have never felt more attuned to the vibrant energy of the river, the quiet presence of the trees, the beauty of the changing seasons and the comforting cycles of the moon than I have been this year.

I have the pandemic to thank for this intensified awareness, a silver lining if ever there was one.

And I have also noticed that there are certain recurring circumstances when a walk in the forest, by the river or through the fields is often the best and sometimes the only solution that works: that is when I’m stuck, when I’m bored, when I’m tired.

  1. When I am suffering from writer’s block, which right now can go on for days (OK…weeks), or I am working on something that really requires focus and I just can’t get past a certain point with it…I move. Sometimes a stretch and throwing the ball for the dog in the yard is enough. But more often what I really need is a walk by the river to clear my mind and be in my body.

    To simply take my problem into the peace of nature.

    Whether on a walk among the trees, a few minutes sitting on a riverbank, moving quietly under the moon and stars…always, it just comes…the free flow of ideas, the first sentence, the topic, the missing piece to the project.

    I’m telling you the answers and the inspiration are out there in the woods. We just have to be willing to go out there.

  2. Last week I spoke with my neighbor and asked him how he was doing and he said this: “To be honest, Shona…I’m bored.” I so appreciated his honesty because at this stage in the pandemic game we can probably all admit to being a little bored.And then it occurred to me that when I am feeling bored, out of sheer desperation sometimes, I get out of my house and head to the park or the woods. And to make it different, I don’t stride across the forest floor. Instead I stop to watch birds, I take my camera, I let myself pause and notice the busy squirrels, the chickadees, the last of the summer flowers.
    And voila!

    I become immersed in the present moment, I allow the outside world to enchant me, and my boredom is forgotten.

  3. I have known for a long time that if I am feeling fatigued, I will feel better and more energized after some exercise. And this has never been more true than now. Because frankly, I am fatigued.I am certainly tired of the news, the masks, the politics, and my own four walls.Weeks can go by and there are no Netflix shows left that I want to watch, no books that call to me, no project that moves me.For all that I am grateful to be healthy and safe and living with my family in Canada, I am also sometimes antsy and grumpy and tired of the marathon that 2020 has become.

    And this my friends, this is exactly when I most need to walk in the forest.

    It is restorative.

    When I am depleted, it fills me up with energy, with calm, and with love for life again.

So in essence, what I am really suggesting here – in all of these situations – is that you allow yourself to be enchanted by nature.

A walk in the woods or on the shore or through the fields is never the wrong answer.

And with all that is happening with our world on fire, it is past time we went outside, listened to the river, touched the bark of the trees, inhaled the smell of cedar in the fall and root ourselves in the knowledge that we are part of her and part of a greater cycle.

We belong outside, we belong to the earth.

In seeking her magic and healing energy we will find our way through, and our way home.

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, compassion and trust, courage, Mindfulness and Meditation

What to do when you feel so afraid

Long ago, when I was 30 years old, I ended a relationship with a man I thought I would spend my life with.  And so for the first time in a long time, I found myself living alone – in a high rise apartment building on the edge of a park in Calgary.

This time in my life was emotionally hard and sometimes dark.
I was, quite simply, brokenhearted.
For months I found it difficult to sleep at night – partly because I was feeling so fragile and sad, but mostly because I was afraid. Not necessarily afraid of being lonely or afraid for my future (although there must have been moments) – no this fear was based on a belief that I was not safe by myself.

I believed that in the dark of night someone would break into my apartment while I was sleeping alone and rob me or assault me.  I was convinced that I was vulnerable, in this apartment on the seventeenth floor, by myself. I think that this kind of fear is very familiar to women everywhere when they are alone, to some extent, and I could probably write pages about that topic.

But this story is not only about being fearful and alone, it’s about how I found my way through that time, and how what I learned then has served me ever since.

When I look back on that period in my life, I can almost laugh (with some compassion) and see that much of my fear was unfounded. I was not actually ever in any real danger – just the danger posed by my own wild imagination, and the power of fear itself.

To be clear, I lived in a relatively safe neighborhood, there was a large and alert security guard posted at the front entrance of my apartment building 24/7, my sturdy apartment door had a deadbolt, and a chain. Despite this I was so scared that someone was going to try to break in that around 9PM each night I regularly wedged a chair under the door handle, and pushed an ottoman and a trunk full of books in front of the door…just to be safe.

Perhaps you’re not surprised to hear that it was during this time that I took up meditation in earnest, teaching myself different techniques and using books such as Stephan Bodian’s Meditation for Dummies and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are (both of which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in making meditation and mindfulness part of your daily life.)

Over several weeks of meditation, I started to get a recurring vision of myself resting on the earth between two large pine trees, looking up at the night sky.

I would see stars, and hear the wind in the pines. Sometimes animals would join me in this setting – a bear, a large hare, an owl. It was a beautiful place to be, full of peace and safety.

One night I was particularly fearful, I paced around unable to settle, unable to relax and afraid to go to bed and fall asleep, the trusty trinity of chair, ottoman and trunk pushed into place.
I literally wept with frustration at my fear while all the while still feeling afraid.
This nightly ritual and the sleepless hours that followed had been going on for months.
I was so exhausted, and it felt like this fear was literally taking over my life.

That night I was somehow able to meditate in this fear storm, and again found myself between the pines, looking up at the night sky and feeling all the fear.

And during my meditation I begged the Universe to simply help me, help me, help me (this is not actually a part of the meditation practices outlined in any of the books I was reading but it was certainly part of my own personal practice that year. And sometimes still is.)

And almost immediately after I asked for help, to my left appeared a giant silver-grey wolf. And in my ear I heard, as though he was standing right beside me, these words in a warm, deep voice: “you are safe.” These words were so clear.  They resonated, they FELT true.  And so when I heard those words I knew it in my bones: I AM safe.

For a few moments I let the beautiful truth of it sink in. I felt it, I felt safe. I was grounded and sure. There was no need to argue with this wolf. I knew he was right.

And then I quickly got up and removed the chair and the ottoman and the trunk from the front door and with a sigh of relief I went to bed. I had a good, deep night’s sleep, my best in many months. And from that moment on, I never felt afraid in that apartment again.

If that’s not medicine, I don’t know what is.

And so I would say to you now, especially now in these strange, turbulent, fear-filled times we are living in, that if you are feeling afraid (and how could you not be?) then meditation and mindfulness have something real to offer: calmness, clarity, love and compassion for yourself, even a voice in the darkness that promises peace.

These are the things that make me return to my imperfect practice again and again – the unfolding of love in my heart, and the feeling of light in my body.

You may or may not be visited by a wolf during meditation, and I would suggest that it doesn’t really matter. Spirit or your “higher self” is always seeking to connect with you – it only matters that you make space for it, that you are listening, even when and probably especially when you are afraid.

Since that time in Calgary, wolf comes to me only occasionally, usually when I am afraid, specifically when I am needlessly afraid.

His appearance is a signal to me that I am conjuring fear in my head, that my dragons are made of paper. That I AM safe.

May you find your way to safety in these hard times. May you actually be safe, and know that you are. Whether you see him or not, may the wolf walk with you and whisper in your ear the words you need to hear, exactly when you need to hear them.

May you know in your very bones that you are safe and loved.

 

 

Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, compassion and trust, courage, Mystery and Magic

On how a crow gave me the courage to be myself

Recently, with all that has been happening in the world, I find myself scrolling through my news feed and on social media much more than usual, certainly much more than I like to be.  I try to limit my exposure because I don’t always come away from my time on social media feeling great.

These days, I come away from it feeling like I’m not doing enough to help this broken world, and everything seems urgent, the more I read the less I seem to know, and I start to feel smaller and smaller, so that by the time I disengage I am almost completely paralyzed and overwhelmed.

Perhaps you know what I speak of – I want to be informed, I want to be engaged, I want to take guided action and yet for the sake of my own sanity I have to sometimes just shut it all off.

My own particular Achilles heel in this area is that in my effort to stay in the loop, I inevitably start comparing myself and my posts and my efforts to others.

And I know better.

I know that comparison will either make me feel superior or make me feel like less, or not as good as. I start to believe that I’m not trying hard enough, not doing it “right,” not doing all the things.

When this happens, I know I need to re-focus my gaze inward, not outward. I need to look to my own work and my own calling and my own journey. I need to give some healing to my own heart.

So, as I offered myself the rest of the day off from FB and IG and turned off my phone, I prepared to step out into my backyard with a cup of a tea and a good book. I could still feel my sense of “less than” creeping up my back like a shiver, that odious voice in my head telling me “you’re a failure, you will never succeed at this, everyone is doing it better than you are” and just before I pushed my screen door open, there he was.

A little crow baby on the grass just a few feet from my back door.

Because I was in the house and behind the screen he couldn’t see me. I quietly sank to the floor and watched in wonder as he leapt around and crow-walked through the garden, over the grass, under the ferns and around the hostas without any concern.

And I got to watch him, drink him in with my eyes and my heart. I could see a few tiny, light downy feathers near his tail, which looked so sweet and quirky.

I confess that I wanted to squish him and love him and kiss him.

I wanted him to stay forever.

I grabbed bird seed, dates and corn chips. I followed him down the garden path as he hopped slowly towards the front gate, keeping his eye on me and watching as I fought off the resident chipmunks in my effort to bribe him with treats.

I don’t believe in coincidences anymore, and certainly not when it comes to nature. The last time I was crushed by comparison and doubting myself and my work, I had a life-affirming visit from a hawk.

So I knew immediately that there was an important message for me here, and that I needed to pay attention to this crow.

This perfect and comical little crow stayed in my backyard all afternoon and evening as I sat outside. Once I thought he was gone for good but then suddenly he flew past me where I was sitting, so close I could feel the air move on the back of my neck as he swooped in and almost crash landed on a rock a few feet to my left.

He looked back over his shoulder at me.

I opened my heart to him, I beamed love from my heart and eyes into him, I was so grateful that he had come to be with me as I worked to soothe my battered mind and heart.

For certainly the raven and the crow are birds that have walked with me for as long as I can remember.

They are birds of mystery and harbingers of internal change.

This crow child was asking me to remember who I am, who I really am. To honor my own magic, my own true self and my own divine potential.

He was asking me to protect my fledgling confidence, to honour all my efforts and small steps towards new things that felt uncomfortable. To embrace it, to own it, to walk it like one who knows that growing into her potential is inevitable, because she’s already walking it. And, that I need no one’s permission to do this.

Crow made time stand still for me. He said – ignore all the noise that is the world right now and just be yourself. Walk with me, walk like a crow – unapologetic, confident and curious.

And please laugh.

With him beside me on the rock I wrote, I wrote poetry for my family, I wrote the crow, I laughed and cried. I wept for the darkness and the light, for all the pain and suffering and beauty moving in this world, for all the ways that I am the fragile, merciless author of my own suffering.

And I realized then that in my backyard on a Saturday afternoon with a baby crow, I was communing with the divine. In a dark moment had come a beautiful, dark bird to show me the light. To show me the light within me, that is also within all of us.

I so badly want to serve the world in some meaningful way. I ask how I may serve, and it seems that I am repeatedly reminded to be myself, to get out of my own way, to give up my self-doubt and surrender to the immense, unknowable design of things.

And that I need no one’s permission in order to do this. I can assure you, there isn’t a crow in the world that has ever asked for permission from anyone, including the sweet, young crow in my yard.

May we all find a way to serve the world by being true to who we are. May we know we are enough. May we know that our courage is needed now more than ever, the courage to offer what we have, however humble. May we have the courage to do hard things, to have hard conversations, to make changes. In the dark storm, may we realize we are the light – and that in order to bring it the question has to be not “who’s going to let me?” but “who’s going to stop me?”

Divine beloved…
May I know my own value, beauty and worthiness without question
Change me into one who can fully love, forgive and accept myself
So I may carry Your light without restriction
Let everything that needs to go, go
Let everything that needs to come, come
I am utterly Your own
You are me, I am You, we are One
All is well.

Excerpted from “The Full Abundance Change Me Prayer” by Tosha Silver