The end of fall

cropped-red-sky-jan-15.jpgWhere I live in the Canadian Maritimes, late fall can look a lot like winter elsewhere.

This is the time of year that leads people to (frantic?) celebration, lighting up houses and trees, sprinkling glitter in unusual places, more parties, more drinking, more attempts to push back the darkness in any way we can.  But the darkness deepens.   Hours of daylight are few:  the sun is barely visible over the horizon at the beginning of the workday, and by the time supper is taking shape in my mind, much less on the stove, the darkness is encroaching again.  So we dance, and sing, and light our homes and maybe get half lit ourselves.  What are we celebrating?

With the growing darkness two things come up in us:  first, there is a primal fear that the darkness is all.  That there is really only darkness and any suggestion of light  is just self-deception or ignorance.   The world growing dark merely demonstrates the darkness of the human heart.  There is a lot of darkness in the world right now. Our hearts and minds grow dark, and we focus on the violence, the poverty, the problems both public and personal.  We fear that we will be overtaken by dark, there will be no more warmth, no more growing season, no sunlight toward which we turn our faces to soak in the energy of our star.

But there is also something else in us, sometimes a very small something but it is there.  There is also a spark, of faith, or belief, perhaps, but something that reminds us to keep on going. Even when the days are long and dark, when the nights seem to last forever, there is something in our human spirit that keeps us plugging along.  I don’t think it is hope.  Hope is too intellectual, too cognitive a concept.  It is something more like life itself.   Within us there is the fear of the ultimate darkness but more important, there is a push toward the light, toward life, a movement within us that says, “Yes” when all the world looks so much like “no.”

So maybe I need to re-frame my picture of our end-of-fall holiday mania.  Maybe it isn’t really about desperate pushing away of the darkness.  Maybe, instead, it is about our own small lights within reaching out to join with other lights, to band together until the light comes back into the world.

May you join your spark with many others to help bring light to the world.  Now more than ever, your life is needed to bring light into the darkness.

Peace.

candle1

 

 

 

 

Reason to change

Boy, do human beings ever dislike change!  We don’t like it when we have change thrust upon us.    If something changes without notice, well, then, I am unprepared, maybe taken unawares, feeling out of step or off kilter.    We prefer to call our own shots, to have predictability in our lives.   We don’t even like it much when the weather changes, even though it is eminently clear that the weather means nothing personal.

When we see the need for change in our own lives, we often resist it.   Even if we want the change, seek it, work toward it, sometimes we get in our own way.   Obstacles arise, apparently by themselves.   Inertia settles into the body.  We may actively sabotage our own efforts to change our behaviour.   Then we give up, saying, “It’s too hard.   I’ve been okay like this so far;  I don’t know why I think I want to change anything anyway.”   Then we settle for living less than our full lives, sighing with resignation.  “I can’t change.   Things just won’t go the way I want them to. There is no hope…”

I respectfully disagree!   Change is possible.  In fact, change is inevitable.   We work incredibly hard to try to keep things, including ourselves, from changing.  But change is going to happen.   We can prepare for it, try to focus it in a particular direction, and let life change us.   The key is letting it happen rather than trying to force it, or force ourselves.

People come into the office wanting something to change.  Sometimes they want circumstances to change, but mostly they know that the change has to come from within.  Sometimes people want harsh measures, and they are particularly punitive with themselves.   “I have to lose twenty pounds and so I am not going to eat anything good for the next two months…”   Sometimes they want me to be punitive with them;  it may be the only kind of relationship they know.  How different it is to allow change rather than to force it!   How different to set an intention rather than create a goal and rigid steps to achieve it!

Change is happening to you, right now.   It is happening to me, it is happening in all of our lives.  What one tiny step can you take right now to move that change in the direction you prefer?  Maybe you can step outside for a walk, or maybe just a deep breath to change your relationship to your work.  Maybe you can email a friend, to change your social connections.  Maybe you can pick up a bit of litter.  Maybe you can send a positive thought to someone you fear, to change how you relate.

If not you, then who?

If not now, then when?

Metaphor: a link between body and mind

Stories are the way that we make sense of our worlds, at least for most of us. We make sense of our day through narrative.  “Oh, today was a good day, because I got a parking place right away at work, and I had lunch with a good friend, and I was productive at work, and my favorite song was on the radio during the ride home.”   That might not sound like much of a story, but it is certainly a typical way for a person to make sense of experiences.  There is also judgment within the story, an indication of pleasure or displeasure about the way that the experience unfolded.   And that story can have a lot of power.   For example, a story about a “good day at work” can influence mood and social interactions for the whole evening, and maybe even predispose the storyteller to experience the next day in a positive way.

Of course it works in less obvious ways, as well.   We can tell ourselves stories about how we’ve been badly treated, about how the world dispenses injustice, or about the things we would like to do to act out on feelings we’re having.    We can tell ourselves stories about how we can do something or about how we cannot do something.   Stories help us to construct our sense of ourselves as well as our sense of the world around us.

Stories tell us who we are and explain the world to us.

When we hear stories, we often respond viscerally. That is, we have a feeling about the story we hear. There is a set of sensations in the body, responses that happen just as a result of hearing a story, reading a story, watching a movie or tv show. We don’t even need to be “into it” very much to have a response. In fact, distancing can be a response to a story.
The story you tell yourself helps to create the YOU that you are. You can choose the story, though. You are not stuck with the story you have already in place. Perhaps you could tell yourself a story about a person who was stuck in old patterns, who had few different ways to behave, who was not so spontaneous, who didn’t feel feelings very clearly. Perhaps this person was learning about other ways to be in the world, was starting to think about taking some risks to be different than before. Perhaps he or she was getting ready to become someone different. Below is an exercise using a metaphor around this kind of story.

Gold chrysalises
  • You can bring your body into this exercise, or just attend to your thinking and notice that your body comes along. For example, you might imagine that you are going through a change process, perhaps like the one that turns caterpillars into butterflies. You could imagine yourself all wrapped up tightly in a chrysalis, change happening but not yet visible to the outside world. If you want to, use your body to help your mind in this imagining.
    • Feel the tightness of the hard case around you; feel your own desire to break out and begin to move freely.
    • Notice how your face and head feel, how your back and legs and torso feel, while in this tight casing.
    • Notice your own awareness of the changes in your consciousness as you have been learning more about yourself.
    • Notice the parts of your body that particularly want to expand and open.
    • Then using your powers of mind, imagine the hard casing of the chrysalis easing open, gently splitting to reveal …. what? Now just let that opening happen and allow whatever is there to emerge, providing a welcome to whatever is present for you at this moment. Welcome the new sensations, images, feelings, ideas, with compassion. If they are not what you wanted, still welcome them with kindness, knowing that there is something there for you, even if it might not be what you decided in advance should be there.

Acceptance of what is allows things to change.

Many thanks to ” Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org ” for the insect photos, and to Brenda on Flickr for the books.   My apologies for using an old saw…the butterfly metaphor….but it works.

How do you see yourself reflected in the stories you tell yourself? What would it mean for you to know that you are not your stories? How might your life open up?

So tired…..

I’ve been sick this winter, actually, officially sick with a diagnosis and antibiotics and all of that.   While I am healing well, I am left with lower-than-usual energy and a sense that fatigue overtakes me quickly.

One of the mindfulness practices I learned while taking Dr. Bill Cook’s Body-Mind Awareness program back in 2009 was about attending to where in the body intention arises.   That sounded terribly foreign to me at first;  if I intend to get up from my chair, it seems to me that the intention arises in my thoughts.  But no, if I am careful, take time, and bring attention to my body with the question, I can actually sense into my body where and how that intention arises.

So with this fatigue, I have been using this practice to locate “tired” in my body.  This is probably easier than the intention to change position.  What I notice is this:   my mind will say something like, Oh, I feel tired….then I turn my attention to my body.  Where in my body do I sense this “tired?”  What is it like?   When have I felt something like this before?   What does it remind me of…and what else might be there, along with “tired?”

That last question is a good one.  What else is in there, in this felt sense that I have labelled, perhaps too quickly, as “tired?”  On Saturday, I took to the dog for his weekend walk along the river.  We plowed through shin-deep snow, watching the sun come up through snow clouds, and feeling the barely freezing temperature rise a bit and fall a bit, shifting the nature of the precipitation.  When I turned to walk back to the car, calling for the dog, I was suddenly aware of sensation in my calves, like melting butter, achingly draining to my heels….there it was!  That was my fatigue.   Internally, I named it and asked, what else is there?  As I breathed into my belly and let my attention rise from my legs to my abdomen and diaphragm and chest, I realized that there was more there.   I felt a sensation that I labelled tears;  tension that I wanted to discharge in my core, tension in my pelvis that hard sobbing would release.  So there was more than tired;  there was a deep tension of holding back sadness, right there.

Tired happens when you have been sick.  Tired also happens when things feel like just too much, and when you need to cry and you don’t give yourself the space to really experience those feelings.  Having to “hold in” and “hold on” to yourself to keep those tears in check is a really exhausting way to live.

When you feel tired, where in your body do you notice it?  What else is in there?

It doesn’t take much for me to feel wiped out these days.  But how do I know that I am tired?

Bioenergetics and Mindfulness

Bioenergetics and mindfulness

You have probably heard of mindfulness in many contexts. It is a popular term for a very old concept. This old concept refers to something that people do spontaneously; we become aware of the present moment, with all the subtleties of that moment. This happens many times each day. However, we also may spend a lot of time in unawareness, or mindlessness. This can happen when we are “lost in our thoughts,” caught up in some internal story or conversation, struggling with memories or worries, or otherwise on auto-pilot and out of touch with what is happening right now.

Bioenergetic bodywork helps us to focus on the present moment by focusing on body sensation, movement, patterns of tension and relaxation, and even emotion. These experiences of the body are sometimes ignored or even pushed out of awareness. Bioenergetics allows us to locate ourselves in our bodies and, perhaps for the first time, really experience who we are, right here, right now.

A mindful state can be attained by simply paying attention.  Right here and now, stop reading and pay attention to your body sensations.  Feel your feet on the floor, your seat in the chair, your hands in your lap.  Notice how much of your weight you can let down into the chair.   Notice the breath as it enters your body.  Notice where it goes, and how it leaves your body.  Notice how much of your body moves with the breath.  Now just let that breathing happen, giving it about 25 percent of your attention, letting the rest of your attention just float.  Notice what it is like to let your attention rest lightly on your breath.  Notice what it is like to allow your attention to float.   Notice what it is like to be fully attentive to whatever is happening with your breath, with your body, in this moment…this moment…this moment.  This is mindfulness.  This is being with what is, right here and now.