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

 

 

 

 

There’s another blizzard on the way, or, wherever you go, there you are

Yes, I know that Jon Kabat-Zinn already has that title.   I keep reminding myself of the truth of his statement (which probably wasn’t original with him, either) as the next in a series of substantial winter storms moves closer and closer. But my struggle with winter isn’t just about winter.  It is about being present to reality, no matter whether I like that reality or not.

I have a belief that I only have to embrace winter a little and I’ll stop wishing it away.  And so I do embrace winter, sort of.  That is, I have developed a fascination with the light available in the winter, early morning and late afternoon light, especially when there is something developing in the weather.2015-01-24 07.56.47

I love the way that the light stretches over the land, slicing just above the horizon, lengthening shadows and distorting shapes.  I love the way that the tiny sparkles of drifting snow twist and turn in the wind, eddying and flowing and suddenly becoming sharply distinct in the sunlight of midday.

January dawn over the St John river 2015

I love the red of the sky….the pre-blizzard sky.  And I love being at home while the snow is pounding down, puttering in the kitchen, making the house smell spicy and warm, fingers wrapped around hot steaming mugs, wool socks and fleece shirts and even a warm scarf keeping me cosy in the house.

Red sky jan 15

Somehow that’s not enough, though.  That’s not enough of an embrace for me to stop thinking about how much I prefer taking the dog for his walk when I don’t have to spend 15 minutes dressing myself to go outdoors.   I can’t seem to get past a sensation of being closed in, either because of the overwhelming amount of outdoor clothing I require to stay warm (can you say “Michelin Man?”) or the overwhelmingly high snowbanks along the street and even along the sidewalks.  I understand that I ought to be grateful for plowed sidewalks and I am, I truly am.   And I am also struggling with the claustrophobic fear that winter will never, ever be over.

wpid-img_20140426_123904.jpg

Yup, those crocuses are supposed to be an image of the hope of spring.  I also know that yesterday was Imbolc, Candlemas, Feast of Saint Birgid, all of those holidays which are supposed to mean the same thing…halfway through winter!  And today is the day for ol’ Punxatawny Phil (my American roots are showing) to let us know the rodent perspective on that.  But you and I both know that today’s blizzard is more like what I should expect, not crocuses, for the next, oh, ten weeks.   Depending on how high and deep that old snow gets piled on top of my crocus bed.

It is a continuous practice for me to try to be present to what IS.  Winter happens to be WHAT IS right now.  I watch myself attend and appreciate and then also watch my thinking slip away into fantasies of summer.  Can I be kind to myself around my inattention?  Can I just notice my thinking….oh, that’s what my thoughts are doing….and bring myself back to here, to now, to Winter 2015?  Can I be present with my own claustrophobia and watch that feeling begin, grow, and then lose traction, as feelings always do?

In someone else’s words, “Don’t wish it away.  Don’t think of it like it’s forever.”  Neither one of those thoughts is helpful.  Both are ways to avoid what is happening here and now. (In case you were wondering, those are lines from an Elton John song that was popular in the 1980s…yes, that long ago….see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6KYAVn8ons)

Welcome, Blizzard.  Welcome, Life.

Finding the deep desires of your heart

What is your heart’s desire?  What do you REALLY want?

Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/
Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/

Notice what happens inside you as you sit with that question.   What is my heart’s desire?  What do I really, really want?  Watch your mind generate all sorts of answers, excuses, plausible reasons not to even consider the question, and perhaps even responses that are socially appropriate.

Maybe you were taught that it is rude to WANT something.  Maybe you had many experiences of disappointment in your wants, to the point that you stopped WANTING.  Or you told yourself you didn’t have any WANTS.   Maybe you are very busy trying to make sure other people get what they WANT, and your own little wants have lost their voices.

Watch your thoughts as you start to consider this question.  Notice if you resist the question itself (“I don’t need to read this stuff.”)  Notice if you reject your ideas about what you might want.   How do we get past the mind’s pattern of criticizing itself?   It is hard to know what you really want if you have an inner critic telling you to shut up all the time.

A beautiful place to sit and ponder
A beautiful place to sit and ponder

Now try an experiment.   Get up on your feet.  Yes, you, right now, on your feet!   Jump up and down a little bit, get your breathing going.    Now hop around on one foot, then the other foot, and maybe even wave your arms around up over your head.    Yes, get silly and move around vigorously, shaking your head, letting your jaw go loose, maybe letting some sound out of your mouth….
“ahhhh,   ooommmmmm,  raaaahhhhhh,    bbbrrrrrrrr…” whatever sounds come out as you are jumping, jogging, shaking, and waving.

Oh, yeah.  Just let ‘er rip!  Let your body move, let your voice come out, get energy flowing all through your body.   It could be a dance, could be cheer-leading, could be gymnastics or calisthenics  whatever works for you, but it needs to be vigorous, free, and energetic.  Yahoo!

Now let your body come back to a still place.  Feel your feet firmly on the ground, feel the breath in your body, notice your heartrate, still elevated, and notice what is happening in your thoughts, in your mind.   And now, just standing there, let your answer come….What do I really, really want?   What is my heart’s desire?

Let go of any judgment, any self-criticism.  What do I want, now that I have let my body start to have its voice?  Just notice what ideas come up for you, and see if you can make note of them without commentary.  What do I want?  What does my heart want most right now?   Nothing is off limits…whatever arises for you, that’s what you want.

And your job is to let it be okay that you want what you want.   That’s all….you can want whatever it is that you want.  Just wanting is a big thing for many of us.  This  exercise is a beginning. Your heart’s desire is there waiting for recognition.

What did you find out when you tried the little experiment?   I wonder what would happen if you did it several days in a row?  Could you get more skillful at letting the body’s truth come out?  Could you start to recognize self-criticism and learn to just let that go?

Starting over. Starting over. Starting over.

The sun comes up every single morning.  What a gift, what a blessing.   When we conceive of the new day as new opportunity, everything opens up.

Sunrise over Cundy's Harbour, Maine, Dianne Carrick 31 Dec 2012
Sunrise over Cundy’s Harbour, Maine, Dianne Carrick 31 Dec 2012

  Today is just beginning.   That means that my experience of today is also, yes, just beginning.  So I have choices.  I can choose to make this a new beginning or a continuation of what was.   Actually, of course, today is always both of those things.    Taking a leap into something new can be frightening.   We shrink from fear, pulling ourselves inward, like an everlasting snail withdrawing his tiny horns from an aversive stimulus.   But once pulled in, once shrunken into myself, pulled away from the world, I am tight, tense, afraid, anxious, then actually interacting with the world becomes difficult. I am constrained from acting as I might want to act.  I am unable to feel my own experiences of the world because I have shrunk away from them.

What if?    

What if?    If only I realized that I am always and everywhere interacting with the world, actually am part of the world, taking in the world through my breath and my eyes, my ears and my skin, and adding parts of myself to the world just by being alive and being present, well, might that awareness not help me to know that fear itself is an illusion, just as separation is an illusion?

Starting over
Solstice dawn.
Solstice dawn.

Well, it’s a thought, anyway.   I was talking with my friend and body-worker Kathrine Walker about this miraculous interface between the human body (MY human body, your human body) and the world.   We were working with a meditation on the breath, visualizing the lungs right down to the alveoli, the location where the amazing happens:   air from the world interfaces with the body and becomes part of the body.   I recalled the other places where this occurs:  in the sensory organs and within the digestive system.   In each system, there is a specific place, specific part of the body which developed for its particular interface with information from the world….the retina gathers light energy and converts it to something your brain can understand.  The hair cells of the basilar membrane of the ear can take sound waves and turn them into neural transmissions.   Inside your nose are receptors that collect molecules of substances that waft in on the air you breathe, and those molecules are turned into information for your brain to interpret (“Hmm, apples….that reminds me of fall and our trips up river to pick apples.”)   The world is coming to us every moment of every day, and the world is becoming us.

When I breathed into that awareness, when I actively sought to notice air becoming me, sound shaping my mental experience, feeling the sensation of really deeply looking at colours, I could just barely begin to touch this reality.   But it meant something.   It meant that I could let go of a lot of my striving.   No matter how hard I try, I can’t keep myself safe from the world.   No matter how much I try to control myself, my future, my life, things are happening every single millisecond that I cannot control.

The good news about that was this:    I don’t need to set goals, to create rigid structures for Self-Improvement, to follow somebody-or-other’s plan for getting a better body, more spiritual soul, sharper intelligence.  I just need to breathe and to be, and in so doing, I am becoming more part of the world and letting the world become part of me.   

Could be a scary thought.  Or it could be extraordinarily freeing.

On this last day of the year, I think I’ll choose to find it freeing.