She Who Laughs Lasts

Laughter

Yesterday I awoke and noticed snow falling softly outside my window. It made me smile. It was actually gathering on the ground for the first time this season. The cool winds of change I have been feeling of late seemed to have suddenly delivered winter. I decided to change up my regular morning regimen and attend the Montreal Laughter League instead of doing my usual yoga and meditation. I figured the laughter would provide a work out of its own, so I suited up and headed out. I had been meaning to join the Laughter League for some time, having noticed their poster up at Burritoville. They meet on the first and third Sunday of every month and I was glad to be finally dropping in. It was only about a ten-minute walk from where I am living right now. As I approached the door I noticed a gentleman crossing the street headed straight for the same place. We greeted one another and entered together.

Sporadic laughter was already issuing from within. I introduced myself to the few folks already gathered and felt immediately welcome. A few more folks trickled in and we got started. We went around the circle introducing ourselves and breaking into laughter afterwards. We were encouraged to put it forward even if slightly forced, allowing the laughter to become more genuine once it got rolling. I wasn’t immediately fond of the notion of forcing a laugh, but the power of momentum surprised me more than a few times. The phrase ‘fake it until you make it’ came to mind. I was amazed at how quickly forced laughter became real. I occasionally pictured my Mom and a couple of cackling Aunts getting carried away in their hilarity, which consistently spurred me on. Even just looking around at the others in the room was often enough for a laugh. The sheer ridiculousness of the setting and our behaviour became a common cause for continued laughter.

We practiced several specific styles of laughter, interspersed with rest periods. We passed laughter around the circle at random; we partnered off for close eye-contact laughter; we pointed at ourselves and laughed, and we even tried to suppress laughter as if we were ‘little schoolgirls’. My cheeks were hurting early on and I was grateful for our moments of down time. We were guided through breathing exercises and encouraged to shake our sillies out from time to time (laughter often emerging from the silence). We also stopped to study the phenomenon of laughter itself.

We learned a lot about laughter. It seems to be a global language. It is a natural reaction to life. It is not something that we strictly pick up from social cues. Even deaf and blind babies laugh naturally, never having ‘learned’ it. We watched our bodies as we laughed to see where it was coming from, belly, chest or throat. We identified a few basic variations of laughter – the HA HA HA, the HEE HEE HEE, and the HO HO HO – and observed the unique characteristics associated with each.

I got really going a number of times and I was sweating before long. Experienced laughers spoke of the importance of dressing in layers so you could gradually strip down when you got overheated. I was grateful for the pitcher of water on the table in the middle of the circle, but we were warned to drink with caution as it could easily go down the wrong pipe with even the slightest chuckle.

After about an hour or so I noticed that my brain was hurting. It wasn’t exactly a headache but it was becoming slightly uncomfortable. It was pulsating pretty intensely and I felt like new parts of it had been ‘laughed to life’. My neighbour mentioned a similar sensation just as our leader began winding us down for the closing meditation. I was grateful for the rest.

As we fell quiet (for the most part), the meditation melted my body and mind. I felt a million miles wide. Already having a great deal of experience in meditation (often following the exertion of yoga), I was surprised at how deeply I relaxed. I feel it was such a deep meditation because of the stark contrast with the intense workout. All that laughter had been quite a release. It was a different sort of exertion than I was accustomed to leading up to my meditation. As we wrapped up, we decided as a group that ‘she who laughs lasts’. It felt like a valuable nugget to walk away with.

As I strolled slowly homeward I thought about the importance of contrast. It seems we are constantly oscillating between opposites, often to extremes. The very nature of growth seems to bounce us between tension and release. In exercise of any kind we first strengthen before trusting our muscles. Learning to let go of our ‘picture of perfection’ and to simply accept life as it is can be such a skill. We can develop and deepen seeds of peace through active surrender, accepting the fluctuations of life’s various storms and seasons.

The ultimate contrast we seem to be experiencing is between being and becoming. Though it can seem chaotic at times, the wisdom of a wider perspective can help us to embrace this strain with a smile, perhaps even a laugh. A favourite teacher of mine, Nisargadatta Maharaj, said that “it is in the nature of being to seek adventure in becoming, as it is in the nature of becoming to seek peace in being.” This feels intuitively true and it has certainly been the case in my life. What we can come to appreciate as we bounce back and forth is the strengthening of our centre. Our balance can become both broader and stabler as we continue learning and growing, oscillating between the extremes of rest and adventure. Patience and persistence are ever our allies on this journey. But it is helpful to remember that resistance to life’s vicissitudes can halt our development. Simply accepting what is seems to be the wise way forward (as difficult as it can be).

As I look out my window again this morning, I smile to see the softly falling snow. I am reminded of all I love about winter, knowing also that summer wouldn’t be what it is without it – the cold affords the warmth. I am willing to suspend, for the moment, thoughts about winter’s less attractive traits, grateful to laugh and see that this snow is beautiful in itself. I accept this gift as it is right now, looking no further forward.

winter-snow-fun

Reflect On What You See

Poppies

This is a time for reflection. It need not be loud. It need not be wordy. But with an earnest heart, this time of reflection can lead us to see more clearly. We can come to see ourselves more clearly, as well as our place in this world. We can come to see just how much has been sacrificed for us to live as we do today. Realizing the incredible freedom so many fought for, we can begin honouring it by living lives of integrity and service. They need not be flashy. We can even serve in silence. But before running around ‘putting out fires’, I feel we would be wise to take this opportunity for remembering.

I started this blog on Remembrance Day last year.  My first post was about Remembering. I talked about the two sides of memory and the importance of remembering wisely – remembering with perspective. I won’t say much today. If you really feel like reading, look at last year’s post. There are a lot of words there. They are heartfelt, even if a bit pointed. But right now I am more interested in inspiring silence. This is where the real work of remembering is done. Silence is the invisible ground we’re all standing on, so to speak, whether we know it or not. This is the space we all share. We each have equal access to this silence in our own hearts. There are no borders or boundaries here. I am not speaking metaphorically. I encourage you to take ten minutes to unplug and listen to yourself. Remember who you are. This is perhaps the most powerful way we can honour the fallen. By remembering ourselves more deeply we broaden our capacity for service.

As we remember more of ourselves we become freer – freer to see and freer to serve. By allowing ourselves to see into our own hearts more deeply we release the chains of ignorance and reclaim our clarity and strength. This is an effortless process – which can nonetheless be very hard work. The willingness to be truly still is rare, but if we try we’ll see this willingness grow – and it is vital to carry on.

If we allow ourselves to be truly still – in heart, mind, and body – everything we have failed to face will step forward. This may be frightening at first, but the more light we shed on these shadows the stronger we’ll grow, building courage with every step. As we face these neglected parts of who we are, allowing ourselves to remember more fully, we gradually become freed from the clutches of fear.

So I encourage you to brave your own inner-silence, facing whatever battles you must face to break free. In this brave endeavour we can remember that the wind is forever in our sails. All we can truly do is allow everything to unfold for itself.

The Giver Never Lives in Lack

GenerosityHeals

Sometimes I like doing something for someone else that nobody knows about – something that nobody can find out about. I enjoy when it is completely anonymous. It is important that I never get any credit for it – it ensures my motive is pure. Even mentioning it here feels almost like ‘cheating’, but I bring it up simply to encourage anyone reading this to give it a try. I suspect many of you already have. And for those of you who do practice generosity on a regular basis, it might be interesting to shake it up and try it in such a way that you won’t be found out. Why not? It could be a fun little experiment.

One interesting side-effect is that this practice can shed light on our face-to-face generosity. Often there are subtle layers of politics operating in our day-to-day generosity. Over time these can become obstacles to deeper service and self-sacrifice. Perhaps acknowledging and examining these patterns can help us to break them down and let them go. I am not claiming any incredible personal track record here, but simply speaking from my own experience. I have learned that generosity offered without any possibility of getting something in return can open the heart to overflowing joy. Even the slightest trace of personal credit can block this boundless love. But with just the simplest selfless action, this love can blossom into the deepest gratitude for life and an understanding of our intrinsic connectedness. There is a peace in this which beats any other high I’ve ever tasted.

This isn’t to say that practicing generosity where we will be credited for our good deeds is wrong. That’s crazy. Clearly any form of generosity is still good for all involved. I am simply suggesting that trying to share in a new way might show us something more about ourselves – something more about life. I’m not trying to suggest that we’re missing out on anything if we don’t practice this brand of generosity, but I know we can deeply enrich our lives with even the simplest kind turn. We can only try it and see for ourselves what a gift it is. If it feels strange to try this alone we can even conspire to commit random acts of kindness with a good friend, or a partner. This sort of collaborative generosity can be great fun too!  (But still try it in stealth mode…)

The title of this piece, for example, was such a gift. Although I know the source, my friend (who came up with it) offered it to me free of strings. He didn’t want any credit. I suppose he is putting trust in his own words – practicing what he preached. I don’t want to deny him the joy of his anonymous generosity so I will simply tip my cap in gratitude, not taking any personal credit for the lovely rhythmic and rhyming title of today’s post. It strikes me as a mantra. The giver never lives in lack. I have found it running through my heart and mind ever since he shared it with me, repeating itself frequently. The giver never lives in lack. It has a beautiful quality to it on purely an aural basis. It feels good in my mouth, too. The giver never lives in lack. It is entirely pleasing, even before considering the message it carries. This, of course, is where the real juice is found.

So I hope it can plant a seed in your heart – or water one already growing – and lead you out into the world with the will to share a little love. It’s not complicated. Maybe you’ll even try a few new ways to give it. I am sure you will be glad you did!

Happy Monday all!

:)

Generosity

Here, have a piece of fruit…

Time – Fixed or Fluid?

It’s Monday again. So I’m told. As I watch our pair of young brother kittens wrestling on the rug I wonder whether it really matters. They don’t seem to notice. Is their life worth any less as a result? Are we any better than they because we know so much? I’m taken back to a thought I jotted in my notebook from the road – did dinosaurs have weekends? It sounds ridiculous, and perhaps it is, but it points out our collective obsession with time. We learn very young to name the days, counting out minutes and hours, plotting months in blocks. Does this in any way add value to our lives? I don’t know. I’m not insinuating that it doesn’t, I’m actually asking.

Obviously a day is a noticeable event. The sun comes up and it goes down. Similarly, a year is one full journey around the Sun. The cycle of the seasons is not to be brushed aside. But what I am getting at is our ‘knowing’ of these frames and the possibility that this apparent certainty might be blinding us to something we wouldn’t want to miss.

There seem to be a lot of people pulled into these frames and dragged through time as if they had some great obligation to it, as though they were indebted to time itself. As kids we didn’t take any of this nonsense seriously. It was all imposed upon us. Now, again, I am not claiming there is anything wrong with our awareness of time’s passage, but I sense that taking it so seriously can hamper our lives. Living happens right now. This is effortless. No frame or scale is required. There is no other arena for life than this very moment.

This sort of talk is perhaps becoming clichéd these days but it does not diminish its truth. Taking time too seriously actually limits our lives. It limits our happiness by cramping our availability for the magic of the present. If we are constantly trying to reach the next moment, anticipating the future with either excitement or anxiety, or caught up in the past, looking back with fondness or regret, we are ignoring what is actually real. Living like this, the truth of the present moment is being hidden by the illusion of time.

What do we actually know about time, and in particular, these cycles? If we are totally honest with ourselves we have to admit that we take it on faith. We look at our past experience and assume it will continue as it has. Sun up, sun down, repeat. But there is no guarantee. We also invest a lot of faith in information given to us from outside. Have we done any personal research into these matters or do we simply accept what is given us? Just because everyone else has bought into the same story doesn’t make it real. Are these cycles static? What if our years are even incrementally (almost imperceptibly) growing longer? What if these ‘hard and fast’ frames are actually fluid? What are we sure of then?

I don’t want this to come off as otherworldly or anything. I admit to playing a bit of devil’s advocate here, but only to get us thinking about what we really know to be true. If each of us investigates our experience of life in complete honesty we will come to see the same truth – and it only exists right now. Time is purely conceptual no matter what sort of collective momentum it has gathered in our culture. All I am suggesting is that perhaps our so-called certainty of it is actually blocking us from our infinite potential.

Right now the sun has begun pouring through my window and I would like to stop writing so I can simply sit back and enjoy it. I don’t know that this post says much but I felt like keeping up with my Monday momentum. Is that a paradox? Honouring the same calendar I was challenging? Maybe. I don’t mind. I began writing somewhat begrudgingly at first, to be honest – mostly due to the sense of duty to time – but it eventually came tumbling out as I felt myself simply expressing feelings and thoughts, totally free of time. Funny how that works. Maybe striking a balance is the ideal? And remembering that we can never arrive at it…

Infinity&Time

Mundane Monday

This Monday will be a quick one. I sense it will roll off the cuff and be what it is. No looking back. That sounds like an interesting exercise. What if I agree now not to edit a single word of today’s post? I have done a few of those, though with minor tweaks here or there. And I have posted many of the opposite sort. But right now I feel like letting it all hang out, hang loose.

I’m a Godfather now. Yesterday little James was baptized, along with his twin sister, Josie. It was a great day. Their Mom, my friend Michelle, shared the sermon from the pulpit, and it all felt very fitting. They are undoubtedly very cute babies and they are fortunate to be surrounded by so much love. It made me reflect on my own childhood, and all the love that I had the benefit of bathing in as I was raised. Yesterday was also my Dad’s 63rd birthday, and we had a nice dinner out with the family, minus brother Stephen, who is still out in Montreal. I will head back there tomorrow.

I plan to dive back into work on my book, revising and editing the occasionally overwhelming mass of words I have gathered. But the story inside it all is so pure and simple. I can feel it. I can see it at times. And I think that is pretty much like all of our lives – simplicity at the centre, wrapped up in clutter and occasional drama. We often oscillate between the extremes. I know I have.

But that’s all just a story, too. The real source is quite silent, so it seems here and now. It amazes me how much music and bright colour issues forth from such a deafening emptiness. On Saturday night I went with a dear friend to take in the Mississauga Symphony. I had won tickets from the radio, having called in one morning last week. There was a young Russian soloist on violin who transported me with his incredible expression of emotion.

I got interrupted during that last sentence. There was a knock at the door. It was my uncle from the condo next door. He was checking that Grandma would get some lunch. So I am warming up the oven and I will put in a gluten-free pizza for she and I to enjoy. It was plain cheese, so I put some tomato slices and fresh basil leaves on top. That’s what’s going on. For the moment.

No great aspiration to say anything particularly ‘special’ today. Just laying out what is going on around me. I feel pretty calm at the centre of it all. In recent weeks I have been feeling a great deal of energy coursing through my body, at times with incredible intensity. And when it is flowing free of any intention on my part it is very peaceful.

But that’s neither here nor there. Maybe it is everywhere. It could be both. As far as I understand that’s all there is here – energy flowing. It rises and falls, vibrating at varying frequencies, taking various shapes, and we are watching it all pass by, occasionally identifying with and investing in shapes and names that are empty vessels. This fleeting nature is rather beautiful. It can be very freeing. Nothing in life need be so heavy. We can let it all fall as it will.

It’s wonderful to watch. The leaves descending. I see out of the window from my parents’ 18th floor condo and look at all of the lovely colours of these autumn trees. Even on this grey day. Even in the midst of what could otherwise be called a ‘Mundane Monday’, there is such peace and beauty. Everything is full of light. We need not see it to know so. We need not know so to feel it. We need not feel it for it to be. We are already here, calm and centred, seeing the play of life dance by. It’s pretty special – this gift of life. There’s nothing we need ‘to do’ to make it all work. Allowing it to be is not an action.

The oven is warm enough to receive the pizza now. It will be transformed by the time it slides out. But I am in no hurry. I think I will go play some music with my cousin today. That feels about right.

I hope you all have a lovely Monday, mundane or otherwise. Maybe take some time to stop editing everything you do and say and think. That said, I look forward to continuing editing my book when I get back to Montreal….unlike this piece, which I have not touched. It is a river of words representative of the feelings and thoughts as they flowed over the past hour or so.

Mmmmm…pizza.

Pizza

:)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cornucopia

It is Thanksgiving Monday here in Canada, and indeed I have much to be thankful for. I feel right in saying that we all have much to be thankful for. Even those of us who may not seem (on the surface) to have a lot to be thankful for still have this incredible gift of life through which to dream and create, learn and grow, digest and express. Despite what many would consider difficult circumstances, I feel that every life provides a balance of it’s own. Nobody’s centre is any better than anyone else’s. I won’t get into speculation here about past or future lives or notions of karma and reincarnation, because I simply do not know, but if we are completely honest with ourselves, I think we all must admit that we simply don’t know. This goes either way. It leaves open the possibility of a balance beyond our sight and far beyond our comprehension. Again, if we are honest with ourselves, we can see that most of our ideas of balance and justice are context specific, rarely spilling outside of the frame of a single lifetime. This is a frame we have created, because we simply cannot speak with certainty of anything beyond either side, whether so-called beginnings or endings.

If we imagine affluence to provide security from sickness or sadness, we are sorely mistaken, and maybe crazy. Why would we think people without material wealth are ‘worse off’? What right have we to push the ‘supremacy’ of our way of life on others we consider less-fortunate? This often happens alongside charitable intentions, sharing our abundance while supposing people from less-affluent societies are lacking something. This subtle assumption piggy-backs on our donations and has the power to infect an otherwise happy group of people with the idea that they are missing out on something. As I traveled through the highlands of Bolivia, I saw people living simple lives without much. They had a bit of land to work (whether they owned it or not), simple, traditional (often colourful) clothes, and family by their sides. As I passed by these scenes on various buses, I almost always saw wide smiles and shining eyes. They didn’t seem to me to be lacking anything. It didn’t feel like an iPad would have added much to their lives.

But we can still be grateful for our abundance without feeling guilty or obliged to give it all away. Of course it is healthy to share what we have, but perhaps the simple gift of our real presence is enough for others. Maybe just being an open ear and open heart is all anyone really needs of us. No matter what we may be thinking, or how we may be feeling, if we can be available to those around us, we may find ourselves serving in a deeper way than we had previously imagined possible.

I have been blessed with incredible abundance in my life, and it has been clear especially over the last few days. I have been home with my parents, appreciating their full fridge and cupboards. I look around and see lovely furniture and appliances in their condo. I just now came down from the pool, jacuzzi and sauna (which I use frequently when I visit home). I have access to vehicles and more luxuries than many ever experience. While I am grateful for all of this, I also see that none of it really matters. It is only the love speaking within and through it all which means anything. It is all an extension of love from my parents to provide for us, and for one another. This is all that is actually happening here.

This is the same the world over. No matter what relative comforts or pleasures we may have, only the love has any real value. I am confident of this. My Mother has been reminding me my whole life that “to whom much is given much will be required.” This is simply balance. My Dad said that “life is the great equalizer”. I feel these statements to be deeply true. Neil Young sang that “you get what you bring.” It’s the same story. It is clear to me that only the love we give and receive really matters, regardless of what shape it may take. So as we look around at this time of Thanksgiving and allow ourselves to feel gratitude for all we are blessed with, I hope that we come to see that it is not actually for any of the things around us, and not even the wonderful experiences we may enjoy, but that this gratitude is simply singing the song of the endless movement of love. As we give thanks for this we see our abundance multiply. So I encourage you all to pause and feel whatever gratitude you are able to. Let it overtake you. Practice this often and it will never turn you wrong.

Thanks for reading.

…and Happy Thanksgiving!

:)

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Rodney Falls

I woke up yesterday morning with a rather silly song lyric spinning through my mind, repeating over and over. “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” That’s right. TLC. Who would have guessed?

I couldn’t account for it. I haven’t listened to that song in a long time. I don’t think I ever actively tried to listen to it (though I did just look it up on Youtube to double-check that I had recalled the correct lyrics). It seemed to be everywhere when it came out in 1995. It was all over the TV and radio. My older brother listened to it enough at home that it must have become embedded somewhere in my consciousness. But as it hit me yesterday morning, stirring from a deep Sunday sleep-in, I sensed there may actually be a valuable message tucked into it.

Laying there in bed about to start my morning yoga routine, it occurred to me that perhaps the song was suggesting we take life at its own natural pace. It seemed to be telling me that there was no need to force anything. We can simply let it all flow. The song even suggests that there may be a price to pay for jumping to extremes. Already living with this general ‘go with the flow’ philosophy, I nonetheless welcomed the morning reminder. As the lyrics continued to pop up during my yoga practice, the message continued hitting home.

Ultimately, what I saw it pointing toward was balance. I had just fasted for another couple of days and though I try to observe the importance of easing back into eating after fasts, sometimes my first bite back makes me want to gorge on something. I often joke about it with my roommates, my bouncing between feasting and fasting (although my snacking tends to be relatively innocuous – rice cakes and carrots dipped in hummus, or mixed nuts and raisins). Either way, taking it slowly seems to be the wise way.

After my yoga and meditation, I checked my email and Facebook and soon found myself clicking open a number of tabs and reading various articles. As I read about some of the ‘chaos’ happening around the planet at present, I noticed my stomach tensing up. How could I avoid the waterfalls in the midst of all this? In our noisy and fast-paced world, tuning in to the calmer waters can be pretty tricky. I decided to switch gears and began watching a bunch of Bob Ross clips on Youtube. I watched him paint a calm pond and a few happy little trees, bathing in the patience of his endlessly soothing voice. What a sweet soul he is, I said to myself. He reminded me that we can choose what to focus on. If you don’t know him, or even if it’s been a while, I highly recommend checking him out.

I then met a friend for an autumn walk up the mountain at the heart of Montreal. I felt the good of the woods reaching into me and settling my soul even more. The sweet peace of the open air and colourful fall leaves put me at ease. It reminded me at times of my six-day summer hike in Killarney Provincial Park. Much like I had then, I was enjoying the simplicity of nature and casual companionship. I was doing my best to stay out of the way and let it all flow.

Later in the evening, my brother and I met with our parents in the Old Port, arriving just ahead of them to the hotel where they are staying the next couple of nights with our dear Austrian friend, Edda. As I made my way through the meal, declining offers of alcohol and sweets, I felt myself honouring the calm waters, no longer chasing the waterfalls of a sugar rush as I would have done in the past, or the buzz of a beer. Though I have no particular problem with either of these substances, I feel it is important to keep our relationship with them in check. I know what they do to my body and mind, and I don’t tend to tangle with them anymore.

We met with our parents again today for a nice lunch near my brother’s restaurant and I suggested afterwards that they go for a walk up the mountain, taking it nice and slow, enjoying the great view of the city. Back at my brother’s restaurant I thought about sitting to write a while, knowing I wanted to compose my Monday blog post. As I was hanging about the kitchen, my cousin asked me if I wanted to join him for a walk. He has been off of cigarettes for two weeks now (I have been a big supporter in the cause) and, going with the flow, I thought it would be nice to hang with him for a while. We strolled down to HMV and I watched the busy city bounce around us as we passed, trying to keep some of my attention on the calm in my core. Don’t go chasing waterfalls…I reminded myself.

When we got back to Burritoville (my brother and cousin’s restaurant), I asked my friend Gabe what I should write about for my blog today. He paused a moment and told me to write about “the central attraction of the Pacific Northwest”. That seemed strange and vague, though par for the course for Gabe. I came home and had a quick peek online, imagining big trees to be a central draw to the region, and nature in general. Waterfalls popped up as a main attraction and seemed perfectly fitting. I’ve been rattling away for about an hour or so now. So here we are.

I have not edited a thing. This has just tumbled out of me as you see it. No surprise, I guess. In the course of my research on the song, I discovered that Paul McCartney released a song of the same name fifteen years before TLC, with very similar lyrics. Whoever sang it first doesn’t seem to matter much – it remains a message worth repeating – don’t go chasing waterfalls, folks. Just relax. Take it easy. Trust life. Have a great week.

:)

Take It Easy