Saturday, April 30, 2016

Learnings From George

Sante Fe offers an alternative perspective of aging. Our friend, George was a healthy 72 year-old when I met him in 2012. His dark long hair clustered around his face. He smiled regularly and was ready at any time for our hugs. His facial expression was animated and varied in emotion.

Paul knew George from the 70’s. They played together in the Ontario band, Perth County Conspiracy. They had a good chance to play music together while we visited and had lots of time to reminisce. George and I connected quickly and, through many conversations over the days we spent in Santa Fe, our connection went deep.

George is a master piano player. During our time he insisted on giving me several 20- minute piano lessons. It left me with great memories and lasting opportunity for growth.

“Put your fingers gently on the keys.” He instructed. “Then just let them dance. The empty space between your fingers and your wrist is what plays the notes. Let that beautiful space fill up with the music.”

George just wanted me to play. He models the playing of the black keys, the pentatonic scale. He demonstrates other options using the white keys. He urges me to just play. I do. By the end of each lesson, if I really allowed myself to let go and tune in to the flow of making music, I was able to create some nice sounds. I experienced a sense of accomplishment and a recognition of my musical self.

I’m not surprised. I know I can learn anything that I want to learn. Learning requires hope. When I feel successful at what I am attempting, I persevere. Once I tap in to my own skills, it is easy to continue to believe in my own creative expression. The knowledge that I can sit down at a piano and play music is exciting!!!

Dr. Rick Hanson, a Buddhist practitioner and neuroscientist speaks prolifically about “hardwiring our brains for happiness”. Through deliberate awareness and mindful meditation we are able to actually change the physical configuration of our brain connections to accommodate new learning.

Rick refers to the acronym H.E.A.L. as a means to learn through positive experiences that rewire and change brain synapses, helping to modify our attitudes and behaviours and create a happier existence. Learning requires, first, Having an experience. That might be facilitated by a conversation, reading an article, seeing a movie, competing in a race, or even simply listening to a lecture. Being aware of having the experience and welcoming the newness of it helps the learner find the joy.

Enjoying the learning experience helps to make it a positive one and inspires the learner to ‘stick to it’ longer. The more we practise new information, the more apt we will be to remember it.

The ‘A’ stands for Absorb. Integrating the new information into our being with multiple sensory stimulus, helps us to find relevancy and reminds us where the information can be accessed when needed.

During my Yoga practise, I make sure to intermittently spend moments in Sivasana so that the postures I have been practising will become integrated into my body. Some people call that ‘muscle memory’. It helps me transfer my practise into my daily life.  How can I become more flexible in my attitudes? What do I need to do to stretch my perspectives more? Where in my life do I require more openness and clarity? Where can I find simple peacefulness and relaxation, even in the midst of an active and rich life.

This brings us to the ‘L’ in H.E.A.L. which stands for Link. Applying the new learning in different ways helps connect it physically to information we already have in our brain and the new learning becomes personal.

George has passed away since I met him, and I remember him with great love and admiration. And whenever I am learning something new, or even getting better at something old, I try to remember to simply “put my fingers on the keys, listen to the spaces in between the notes, and just let them dance”.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Walking on the Sunny Side

My walk down to the ferry yesterday was glorious! The daisies are exploding all over the island. Daisies were my mother’s favourite flower and, every time I see clusters of them I feel her presence.

 When walking on the road, people usually walk towards oncoming traffic. I usually try to abide by this practice. Today, I decided to walk on the other side of the street. The sun was shining on the ‘other’ side and I wanted to feel the warmth of the sun. I thought about that some, and realized, that, when I’m out in the world, I am generally cautious, no matter where I am, and I often do choose the sunny side, even if it requires a little bit more attention and caution. Some would say I live dangerously. I think I just live the way I want, and make sure it fits for me and doesn’t ever hurt anybody else.

Being aware of danger and remaining open and curious is ideal. I never want to live in fear. My mother used to prevent me from walking barefoot on the lawns of her property in Florida. “ You have to be careful about red ants.”, she would say. “The armadillos will attack you if they see you walking.”  “You never know what you’ll get if you walk barefoot in the grass.” I would listen to my mother, put on a little smile, and then, once I got far enough away, I would gently slip off my shoes. My eyes gazing in front of me anticipate any ‘monsters’ who might be on the ground, or under my feet. But mostly I reveled in burrowing in the thick, warm grass feeling the blades between my toes and the soil molding around my feet as I walked. I would meander towards the river that ran through their golf course property. My eyes remained open in anticipation of alligators and worms and (yes) even armadillos with their very interesting and protective shells. But, alas…I never saw any of these things, no matter how hard I tried. And….I got to walk barefoot and carefree ‘cause that’s who I am.

On Gabriola we have a community Labyrinth and, with others, I share a meditative walk each week. Generally it’s 30 minutes of silence…walking, stretching, pausing, reflecting. Sometimes we process our experience together.

My weekly labyrinth walk places me on the sunny side. No matter which part of the winding, twisting, turning path I find myself, I am able to settle in to letting go of the constant focus on future plans and goals and my general tendency to make sense of the world. Our labyrinth has a beginning and an end, both in view regardless of where you are within. There are no tricks. No dead ends, no unusual passages. It is simple and clear and one step influences another. I don’t get lost. I don’t need to think. It’s a relaxing way of being in the Now by quieting my mind and, ultimately, opening my heart.

The ‘sunny side’ appears as my bare feet gently touch down with each step. Often, I gain a great sense of ‘grounding’ just by removing my shoes! The people with whom I share the space, the beauty of my natural surroundings, the sounds of the variety of birds and insects, the sensation of the sun and (sometimes) cool air on my skin remind me of the simple pleasures that are available for me in my life!

Most often, I experience a great sense of gratitude, contentment and appreciation. Some times I can gently work through issues. Most often I leave with clarity and a joyful feeling of bliss.

I suppose in life, we make choices about we how we want to be. For me, I know it isn’t always easy. Thankfully I allow myself to confront my fears, deal with uncomfortable situations, and resolve conflict with friends, family and life in general. These are the experiences that provide opportunity for growth and my own increased awareness. And it keeps me always searching for the sunny side of the street.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Being Here...Right Now

 “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.” 
                                                                                (Dalai Lama XIV)

Last week we turned our clocks an hour ahead. That’s because we’re supposed to ‘spring forward’. That also means Spring is a coming! Wow!!! That means we’ve just been through Winter!

This winter was different for us! We didn’t travel as we usually do during the winter months. This winter there were so many life events that necessitated my complete presence. My mother’s passing in November occupied three weeks of my attention. For me, supporting my mother as she passed changed my own life. I found during those 12 days of being in the hospital with her offered me a welcomed experience in being completely present. No plans, no expectations, no momentum meant that I was able to remain with her responding to what ever happened next. I put all other aspects of my life aside, even the birth of our third grandchild who was born in Toronto on the second day of my vigil with mom.

I became so acutely aware of the experience of being present. One of my Yoga teachers over the years helped me tune into the fact that ‘our body remembers’. “Have you ever done a headstand before”? she asked me. “Yes,” I answered. “When I was younger.” “Oh good!” said Judith. “Don’t worry then. The body remembers.” And it did. All I had to do is settle in to the body memory.

So, more and more I am noticing similar feelings, and realizing how simple it is to settle in to my daily experiences without planning for the future or thinking about the past. I am learning that, when in my own space, I am the only one who notices! For me, lately, there is comfort in feeling unnoticed and just a little overlooked. Recently someone said “This island is so small. It’s hard to hide.” I think differently. I am often able to find solitude and peace. I just stay at home and settle in. If I am really ‘needed’, people know how to find me either by phone or messaging. Otherwise…the world carries on and I recharge, replenish and strengthen. No one notices, and though I still feel love, I am left alone.

The real challenge for me is finding and sustaining love for my self. When I look inside lately, often what I find is an empty pit. I’ve been hammered these last few months with life’s lessons. I use my Yoga breath to heal and soothe, dissipating the dark clouds of the pit and creating clarity and brightness again. Finding the possibility to be here right now allows me to consider yesterday and perhaps even plan for tomorrow and at the same time, revel in the presence of my now.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Which Body of Water Are You Most Like?

It’s raining still. The heavenly water flows from the skies. It fills us up and nourishes our earth and, ultimately, our bodies. It is God’s way of sharing the richness of heaven with our bountiful earth.

The river constantly flows. The waters rhythmically crash against the paths that have been naturally molded to contain the waters within and direct the flow. Nothing can stop the movement. The waters just flow. Only draught sucks the life energy from the earth and dries up the living cells. 

The ocean is infinite. I’m not infinite. So, I suppose I’m not like the ocean. The ocean is playful and enticing! There’s a whole different world under the ocean with diverse life and vibrant activity. Exploring beneath the ocean is rich and exciting, and even sometimes scary.  It’s a little like being on Mars.

Ponds just sit there! It’s a nice place for little animals to gather. I suppose birds might choose to land in a pond, but, I think it’s mostly a place for frogs and worms and even leeches. It sits so still that the surface becomes scummy and I step back, preferring to just look.. The floor is mushy and warm and just doesn’t feel welcoming. Nah….I’m not a pond, and anyway, I really don’t like leeches!

I am most like the rain. I come and go with anticipation and resignation. I feed the earth and hydrate life. I make sounds in the hollow of the trees and fill the oceans, rivers, steams and lakes. I am the source of all water! I can be very, very powerful and, I suppose, sometimes annoying and powerless.

It’s raining still.  That’s good. I can always depend on the rains that God offers. And, thankfully, it’s raining still!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Grieving....Just Grieving...

“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.”

My life has changed drastically in the last 6 months. My mom’s passing in November started a tidal wave of events and ideas that hit me hard, throwing me around, and leaving me feeling confused, lost and helpless.

At 61 years old, I feel grief for the first time in my life. My valued Rabbi and good friend, Tina said to me “This is not new grief, Amy.” I didn’t know what that meant when she first said it to me. I am beginning to think I do now.
I have come to understand that, for me, grief is about loss. My mom’s passing created an explosion that grew into a massive sense of loss. I will never have a verbal conversation with my mom again. My brothers and I will never share sibling play and have fun together without screens. My son and I will continue to struggle to relate to each other with any kind of depth and meaningful authentic conversations. I will never win the “Teacher of Year” award. I will never finish a marathon. I probably will never see China or Japan. There just isn’t enough time in my life to do those things that I might love to do, and that aren’t necessarily a priority.

I’m guessing that grief takes many shapes and forms. It happens at all ages and in various ways. How we experience grief varies depending on who we each are and what we’re ready to embrace and feel.

Grief is mostly about dealing with loss. When my dad died in 1999 I experienced a tremendous sadness. I suffered for many weeks. I cried a lot then and found so much comfort in my familial and spiritual communities. I think, though, that, at that time I was not ready to really experience grief. Grief is different.

People say “Grief subsides with time.” “It gets easier.” I am finding that this is not to be true. In fact, I’m finding that this is a unique characteristic of grief. Grief is forever. It’s about loss and, in fact, mostly the loss of those things that I never really had in the first place. In terms of longings that I’ve held onto for my whole life, grief presents the realization that I never will have them. As I age into my elder years, mortality presents itself and I must let go of those things for which I no longer I have the time or the passion. My teaching practice has grown into a series of workshops and a commitment to school boards for training. My marathon run has morphed into Yoga, swimming bicycling, walking, and climbing and maintaining physical strength. My relationship with my children is no longer daily, but involves constant attempts to gather together at some time during the year and ongoing visits with individuals when we can.
As I let go slowly and surely, I leave myself open to receive. And, as I transition into older age, there is so much left to embrace. Changes, yes! Changes that will enhance, fulfill and help me grow. Grief doesn’t go away, and, in some ways, it can help me to feel more complete.

In just a few more weeks, Paul and I move into our new, beautiful house, leaving our Yurtville space open, free for retreat and peaceful sanctuary. In the physical realm, at least, it is a sign for a new beginning. And I welcome that with an open heart and mind



Monday, February 8, 2016

A Naomi Meditation

My life is changed forever! It will never be the same…and it’s all because of you, Naomi! You actually changed my life!!!!!

Meditation takes many forms. For a week in the fall and several days in the spring, my meditation takes the form of oyster shell cleaning. I’ve been doing this for several years now, ever since I discovered a natural and unique way to adorn our outside garden.

It started when I fell in love with your and Eli’s gardens. Various flowers grow wildly all over the property. Fresh vegetables of all sorts and gorgeous lush berry bushes are all encased in unique and creative fencing, lovingly built by Eli. He is such an exceptional and accomplished wood sculptor and as I walk through your property, I am amazed at the variety of little hideaways, each reflecting a special natural commodity. Pebbles pile up the circumference of your trees! Marbles fill in some of the depths of the holes in your gardens. Natural decorations border the lovingly designed bushes. Structures enhance the outdoor furnishing.

But it was the oyster shell garden that really blew me over that day many years ago in the Spring. Hundreds of bright white oyster shell halves, carefully placed around your trees. Bright, white shells, lying carefully upon each other, blanketing the ground create artistic splendour in your yard. I decided then that I wanted that too!

That summer, I collected hundreds of oyster shells, most of them from the bottom of Brickyard Hill, the welcome mat to The False Narrows on Gabriola Island. Many afternoons I walked alone or with friends, gathering shells for the project. That first summer I carefully layered the shells one atop of the other, like shingles on the ground of our garden. A moon-like shape developed there, an area of oyster beauty surrounded by rounds of logs and wild growth of trees and bush. Artwork - paintings on glass and sculptures of cloth, wood and jewellery that I created during the years, accessorized the d├ęcor. It is beautiful and different in its natural expression and its unique presence. We all revel in its beauty and regularly appreciate its uniqueness. What a surprise when in the fall that first year, you told me that each of the shells needs to be removed, washed, and stored for next season!

“No,” I thought to myself. “That’s not gonna happen.”

So, when the fall came and the rains poured and the winds blew and the pearly white shells began to look messy and cold, I remembered your instruction. I visualized you picking up, scrubbing and putting away each one of the oysters from your garden. I felt negligent! I experienced guilt! I called myself ‘lazy’! I wanted to be just like you without the effort! So finally, I just knew I had to do it too! And it began! My Naomi Meditation.

Each year, as I remove, soak, wash and store our oysters, my attention focuses on you - a most unique, eccentric, energetic, smart and productive woman. At 84 years old, you have earned the role of Poet Laureate in Nanaimo, B.C. and you’re busy with presentations and workshops and consulting gigs around Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.  Prolific in your writing and engaged with presentations, you are an inspiration for many.

The interesting thing about you, Naomi, is that you published your first book when you were 60 years old. Since then, you have published over 50 titles, everything from poetry collections to descriptive narratives. You write alone and collaborate with others. Do you have any idea how much you motivate all kinds of people to create, to express and to get out there? You have touched so many!

Interesting, dynamic, beguiling, dramatic, funny, genuine, simple… this is who you are to me. And each year, as I rearrange and create our oyster garden, dear Naomi, you are the focus of my intent.
And I also want to let you know, Naomi, that I have come to embrace the task of cleaning our oyster shells, mostly because it brings me closer to you! My Naomi meditation, a chance to absorb the energy that you put out! Thank you!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Holding On as We Learn to Let Go

My birthday is here yet again! I turn 61 tomorrow. The plan is to celebrate with two of my daughters and Paul. They are taking me away for the weekend. I remain in the background as they plan, organize and pull together a weekend for me! I feel so special, cared for and loved!

This past year, my 61st, was challenging. It began with disappointments regarding my last year’s birthday celebrations. I experienced several physical issues resulting from a scooter accident in the spring. Complicated dental procedures kept me focused on healing. And of course, coming to terms with how my body is aging and ‘acting’ differently has become a constant reminder of the inevitable changes that come with getting older. My mom passed away this year and the experience of grief has been profound. Several relationships in my life have changed drastically. My work is settling in to a comfortable niche that no longer requires the same kind of energy and focus. The past year has created shifts in my dealings with my world and myself.

I have meditated intently, practiced Yoga with enthusiasm and purpose, and engaged in workshops and programs to assist me in learning ways to grow up. I have pondered, reflected, and processed. I feel an emergence into a new phase of my life with a new refreshed outlook.

Following the wisdom of great spiritual teachers, family, close friends and colleagues (not to mention the brilliant posts on Facebook), the term that repeatedly comes through is “Let go! Just let go.”

I have come to believe that “letting go’’ is a great skill. And it’s definitely not easy. As social beings and inhabitants of this grand Earth, the initiation into our journey of letting go begins with the physical disconnect that occurs when the umbilical chord is cut. As parents we learn to ‘let go’ of our offspring, hopefully with appropriate speed and at the right time. I remember the first time I left my first newborn baby with a babysitter. Or that first day of kindergarten. I reflect back on the time when my children, one by one, left our home and went off to create a life. Challenging and rewarding all at the same time! Paul and I remind ourselves often that we brought up our children to be independent and self assured. They are no longer in our backyard, yet they are strong, confident, healthy and happy. We miss them sometimes, and, feel good about who they’ve become. And, for the most part, they still like us and each other, and enjoy our infrequent and wonderful gatherings together.

Sometimes, in describing that process of ‘letting go’, I press the palms of my hands together at my belly. I slowly expand the space between my hands symbolizing how much we let go. By the time my arms are completely spread out, the child’s life I am describing is well into adulthood. And I explain, “My arms are still there to fall into if necessary. But they’re far enough away to allow for complete independence.”  Sometimes they will even come closer together in a gentle embrace. “I’m here, and you’re okay on your own,” is the message. “I got your back!” is the reminder. I am still “holding on”.

I have come to believe that the process of ‘letting go’ is not quite enough. What’s the point of ‘letting go’ if we flounder through space unattached to anything meaningful and real? “Holding on” is just as important.

What I have learned is that letting go becomes easier when we ground our selves to what we already have. Lately I strive to accept the way things are, “It’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just the way it is.” I have found it helpful to change the way I think, shifting from “I want” to “I hope” or “I wish”…. Finally though, it’s just about accepting the way it is!

So…what can I hold on to as my 62nd year looms?:

Focusing on my physical health and establishing and maintaining balance in my life is essential. I hope to continue to learn and grow, read, watch and listen, both inwardly and out, and to continue to seek the love…that inner child that I have inside.

I hope to spend precious time with my children and growing family. I love teaching teachers! So many are amazing human beings who profoundly influence ‘our future’. Sharing my Yoga practice with others remains a priority. So is sharing my love with authenticity and skill and focus, so that those around me feel the love!

Our universe needs our help! I want to remind myself about the simple things that make a difference in the world. Taking care of the earth. Using water frugally. Smiling to others when I’m out in the world. Somehow connecting with people and letting them know I care. I do care. I really do!

That’s the best gift I have to offer! And I intend to keep going…”Ad mea v’esrim”!