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, Awakening, creativity, gratitude, Inspiration, Mindfulness and Meditation

What to do when you feel so uninspired

Whenever I think I have nothing left to write, when I feel so uninspired, I make myself move.  And in the cold, icy days of winter, I am not exaggerating when I say that I have to coerce myself into taking a walk outside.

I think of Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, who legend has it would stride across the English moors for hours, in all kinds of weather, finding there the tranquility and inspiration for his poetry.

Movement and nature – at the very least they offer a way to prevent our creative energy from stagnating, and at their best a doorway to infinite inspiration.

It makes sense that Wordsworth would hike, long and often, if his many, beautiful creative works are anything to go by – stirring the pot, moving from yin (passive receptivity, waiting for inspiration to knock down your door) to yang (moving to greet or to seek inspiration).

So on one of my last walks, stirring the yang with dogged determination (a beautiful blue sky, sun on the snow and frigid temperatures– my cheeks red, my nose and eyes watering, yet somehow sweating my way up the hills in my big, down-filled winter coat) and thinking of Wordsworth (as you do), I notice how inspiration almost always comes to me within the first five minutes of my walk, it starts before I’ve even crested the hill…and along the river it unfolds in my mind. And I smile.

I used to worry that I would lose the idea, that I should rush home to write it down – but even when there is a delay between the inspiration and the writing, the words always come back to me.

Perhaps that is the nature of inspiration – it is not springing from my mind but entering my mind from a divine source that does not rely on my thinking mind or my memory – it only needs my willingness to receive…to enter back into a yin state like a fluid dance, to open myself to inspiration through a willingness to move my body and to quiet my mind.

I confess that Wordsworth was never my favorite Romantic poet – as a student I found him too flowery, too earnest, too…cheesy (I prefer Blake or Coleridge).  But he has helped me here in some tangible way, for the Romantics held all of nature dear, in the face of the Industrial Revolution that saw the countryside depopulated, and the rise of science with it’s relentless rationalizing of the natural world –  in their writing they offered us daffodils, a grain of sand, an abbey in the moonlight.

They knew what was being overlooked, lost, and forgotten…they saw nature through the eyes of love and wonder.

They were humbled by her beauty and they spoke for her against the great noise and machinery of progress.

On this walk I imagine Wordsworth, I imagine how- had he lived in Ontario- he may have written in his elegant hand about the humble Humber River that flows near my home.  I take joy -as I am certain he also did- in the movement of my body through the fields, in simply being outside in the cold air, among the trees, next to the swift-moving but silent river full of fresh snow.

In the midst of this natural beauty I am glimpsing the never-ending winding stream of time that brings us all back here – to a moment of movement, vision and eternal stillness.

A perfect present moment under the sky, where hope and inspiration lost are found, where:

I listen’d, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
– William Wordsworth, from The Solitary Reaper

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, Mindfulness and Meditation

There is No Way to Push the River

“There is no way to push the river…” Ralph Blum

This is the story of how I tried too hard to push the river. And how the river brought me back to peace.

Recently I have been insisting, waiting, really impatiently waiting, pushing myself and others to meet self-imposed deadlines that seem important.

I am guilty of trying to show the universe my calendar: “here’s my plan and my timelines, are you listening?” I have been praying with expectations, asking “when will I get?” instead of “what am I called to give?”

And so I have upset and hurt people, I have missed opportunities, I have insisted when I could have assisted.

On a larger scale I have blocked the flow of natural insight and opportunity that the universe always provides.

My default when I am upset is to get outside. I love to be out in nature, and I especially love to walk by the river that flows near my home and listen. Next to the river, I was able to quiet my desperate, grasping mind and gain insight into my dilemma.

I realized that because the work in front of me feels so important, I thought that I had better be in control, in charge of it, to guide and ensure the outcome. My need for control was so strong that an image sprang to my mind of me trying to hold back and redirect the river with my bare hands, my feet planted in the muddy riverbed, straining and pushing.

This made me laugh and as I sat watching the river flow by me I understood the great lesson of the river: I don’t need to try to control how this unfolds and carry it all to conclusion. I don’t need to strain and force and insist.

I cannot push the river, but I can instead “give it up to God” and let the river carry me.

I had forgotten how a river always takes the easiest, most obvious path to the sea.  Water knows that there is time and water does its slow and methodical work, cutting crevices and canyons out of mountains, turning boulders into beaches. Such is the slow power of water.

All in good time, water says. 

If you let go you will find that you have this power too. You have influence, you create ripples and you cannot know whom they will touch or when.

“…control is impossible. We stand in the world as in a great ocean. Who could manage or possess such power? The only way to keep from drowning is to ride the currents. The ocean will support us as long as we swim with the flow.” -Joan Bunning

One of the pitfalls of wanting to trust in the river and go with the flow is getting stuck in a place of inertia.  There are areas of the river that can flow in a dangerous circular motion, places where we feel apathetic and stuck and we can’t see the new horizons waiting for us further downstream.  We must meet the universe half way.

Trusting the river, the flow of life, doesn’t mean you don’t have dreams and goals and aspirations.  It doesn’t mean you sit back and wait. You do the work that is in front of you; you work with love on what needs to be done, with no expectation of the how or when or where the ripples of your thoughts and deeds will wash up on a new shore. This takes profound trust.

If you listen, you will hear the river inviting you in to play. To give up the stifling, heart-closing work of control and jump into a place of trust and freedom and joy.

We too are made of water; in fact, over 60% of our bodies are water.  The river can help you know that you are part of nature and its innate flow, to understand that everything will happen in its own perfect time and that the “work” of fulfilling your purpose will not be difficult.

You do not need to push the river.

If you let it, it will flow through you like a song in your veins and guide you to receive the promise of cool, fresh, undiluted love.

If you’re struggling to let go and jump into a new way of life, a new purpose, I’m here to help.

Together we can explore the joy of swimming in the river.

Shona

Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, Women's Work

Quiet the Voice of Fear

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear” George Addair

This week I have been a true student of procrastination.

I recently embraced minimalism and decided that before I can possibly be expected to sit down and write something meaningful the kitchen drawers must be de-cluttered.  The linen closet pared down (how many hand towels do we really need?!).  I asserted that a clear and uncluttered work space opens the door to clear and uncluttered thinking…yet I knew I was just avoiding the hard work of putting my butt in the chair and writing.

You could argue, as I did for all the hours I spent cleaning out my walk-in closet, that “this is good – I am making space for creative energy, I am letting things go so that new ideas and opportunities can enter into my life, my mind, my soul….so it must be ok then, right?”

What I was doing this week was in fact a mini version of what I have been doing for most of my life.

Working at jobs that seemed “good”, productive, especially when I worked for a not for profit, I told myself “I am doing good things, how can this be bad?”.  And yet all the while there was this nagging feeling, growing more and more powerful in me, that I was avoiding the real work that needed to be done.  Work that only I could do and yet it seemed so hard to turn myself to it.

If you listen to the voice of fear you’ll hide from the real work of your life and miss out on the challenges and the joy awaiting you, just on the other side of fear.

The work I’m talking about is this work, the work of embracing my true calling and helping other women to awaken to their own true life purposes.

The reason I clean and de-clutter is out of fear.  The fear of using my gifts, however humble.  The fear that no one will understand.  The fear of failing in my work AND the fear of succeeding.

Thanks to this week, my fear is now crystal clear, with a honed edge, it has become a weapon in my hands.  In the face of this fear, I have in fact been incredibly hard on myself, heaping criticism on myself, berating myself for a lack of commitment, lack of discipline, lack of work ethic and vision.

I am lazy.

I am a coward.

As I scoured and scrubbed the surfaces of my home, I left myself not one measly scrap of compassion.

Then, in a moment of quiet clarity, I was reminded of what Byron Katie says in her book Loving What Is: “No one can hurt me, that’s my job”.  I seem to be very good at this part of the job.

I suspect you are too.

No one has ever said to me out loud the hurtful things that I have told myself in my head. We are our own worst enemies – and so the house is clean, and I feel like a turd.

All around me though, if I remember to look, is the calm, grounding support of the natural world.  All week, in my yard (more de-cluttering) or on walks, I was joined by one or more raucous blue jays.  The blue jay is noisy and hard to ignore.

So finally, I listened.

Blue Jay presents the challenge of not showing up as your authentic self, or in fact of not showing up at all.  So the Blue Jay, with his blue crown of feathers, asks if we want to be a pretender to the throne, or to develop the innate royalty that was always, already ours.

Our “royalty” lies in the unique, divinely given gifts we each have and are asked to take up and gift back to the world.  That’s where our true power lies, in authenticity, and he reminds us of the proper use of our power.

He shows you that the choice is always yours to make.

For years I was a pretender and the sight of a Blue Jay would create a kind of anxiety in me…as if I could hear him loudly telling the world that I was an impostor in my own life.  This lasted only so long as I denied the true expression of who I was and stifled the desire to do the healing work I yearned to do.

There is always another closet to clean out, another pot to wash, another task that needs doing.

In stillness, and especially in nature, you can quiet the voice of fear and hear the call to awaken.

Hear the voice of love speaking to you in birdsong…asking you to bring forth your authentic power for all to see.

If you’d like to explore how self-criticism, doubt and compulsive de-cluttering may be keeping you from answering the deepest yearnings of your soul, I am here to help.  We can walk this path together, I’ve been there, and I’m ready when you are.

 

Blue Jay

Lend me your fearless flight, your confident power, your startling blue

Lend me wisdom to take on the responsibility that comes with walking a path with heart

The path that calls from a higher self, a divine wisdom

Lend me your laughing heart, your bounding joy as you soar from branch to branch with your brothers

Lend me your voice in blue to tell of the way

To tell of the one who will be crowned in all her glory at the end of the day

When the choice is made to take up the gifts we have been given and gift them back to the world

Our power made manifest in service to our souls

 

It’s time to quiet the voice of fear,

Shona