Scatter Joy

Today feels like another off the cuff kind of day. I am staying at my parents’ condo in Mississauga for a few days, having arrived on Friday. I will be away from my room and routine in Montreal for about a month. My writing has been up and down in waves in the past months. When I got somewhat settled in Montreal six months ago I imagined I might soon be done revising the book I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. Nope. Just a bit more than 10% of the way there. Time to shake things up in the New Year, I think. Perhaps a new approach. I can’t say I’m all that concerned about it, either way. Those old feelings do pop up from time to time, but I don’t take them too seriously. I’ll just keep chipping away at it. I trust I can find a way to increase my efficiency.

A friend recently suggested I look at it as if cleaning out my drawers. I don’t need to fold every shirt meticulously in my first pass. Maybe I would be wiser to dump everything out on the floor first to see what is essential. I like this idea. I think taking a step back to look at the bigger picture is helpful. No need to get every hair in place if you’re about to cut it all off.

But enough about that. I am heading off on Wednesday for another 10-day silent meditation retreat. Vipassana. It will be my third sit. I finished one just six months ago. It will let out on the winter solstice, December 21st. I feel as though it is a nice way to lean into the wild Christmas season. I just guided a breath-centred meditation here in the condo building this morning, and many in attendance expressed their gratitude for this taste of ‘calm before the storm’. I think it is important to keep in touch with this fundamental silence, especially when life is about to ramp up into full gear. Everybody seems to get a little bit crazy this time of year. I am inclined to honour the calm at the heart of the season, no matter what else may be buzzing around the periphery.

As we sat together in meditation (along with a number of ‘first-timers’), I felt subtle vibrations emanating from my body. It felt joyful. It also felt intuitively ‘right’. I can’t pretend to understand it, but I simply sat there in a state of surrender allowing everything to be ‘as it is’ moment to moment, as I encouraged everyone else to do the same. We made a connection. It was a great start to the day.

Walking around my parents’ condo later today I bumped into a card on my mother’s bookshelf which declared “SCATTER JOY” in big letters on the front. It is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He has long been one of my favourites. When I first encountered his writing it hit to my very core, and it continues to stir me from the same depth to this day. Bumping into this phrase today felt like a little reminder.

I went for a walk in the cool air and felt like I was doing the simple work of scattering joy all around me, nodding and smiling to those I passed, even stopping to chat with some. It was all so effortless, so natural. None of it was planned. It just popped up in the moment.

It’s been a strange week – packing up shop in Montreal for a month and coming back here. I have had a busy few days with a variety of events since coming home; I attended a basketball game with friends on Friday; I attended a funeral for a friend (far too young to leave us) on Saturday; and I attended a family Christmas party yesterday. It’s been quite a broad range. But all the way along, scattering joy seems to be the best work I have done. Tonight I am off to meet a cousin in the east end of Toronto for some groovy, soulful organ jazz.  It’s called Funky Monday at a bar called Sauce. I trust I’ll have the chance to scatter some joy there, too.

Maybe if we all scatter some joy in our wake, wherever we go, life will brighten up for everyone around us and reflect back for us. That seems to make sense. It even sounds obvious. No need for any profound insights or ‘big ideas’ today. I’m just encouraging myself (and anyone else up to it) to scatter some joy. Get at it!

ScatterJoy

I won’t be online next week as I am heading off for a meditation retreat. So it looks like it will be my first missed Monday post in six months. See you again on Monday the 22nd!

:)

The Wisdom of Simplicity

RiverCanoe

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.

* * *

A wise old owl sat in an oak,

The more he saw the less he spoke;

The less he spoke the more he heard;

Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

* * *

Looking back, it seems that the wisdom of simplicity was freely offered to us in our childhood. Through various nursery rhymes and songs, we were shown what was already intuitively known in our own simple silence. We sang along and celebrated this simplicity – and our freedom – without giving it a second thought (often without even a first thought). Fun was natural and effortless. We didn’t have to try, we just played. We flowed along with life, whether happy or sad, simply moving with the current.

So how did we ever lose touch with the simplicity of our childhood? How did we let life get so heavy? Where did our innocence and innate curiosity go? (It could be noted here that our compulsive ‘need to know’ or our presumptuous ‘right to know’ are far from the natural curiosity of childhood.)

In exploring our changing relationship with this sense of simplicity, we need not feel as though our innocence or curiosity are all-or-nothing affairs. Many of us keep in touch with these parts of ourselves into our later years. It feels quite natural that these characteristics wax and wane throughout our lives. It seems foolish to limit them in any finite way. Even complicated ‘grown up’ lives still have occasional pockets of peace and simplicity. But I sense that if we cherish these virtues, prioritizing our peace and honouring the simplicity of our lives, we can see our innocent curiosity continue to flourish throughout all our days, no matter whatever else may be clamouring for our attention.

Our exploration of growing complexity and fading innocence need not be a witch hunt, either. But it can be helpful to shine some light on a few probable culprits, if only to open ourselves to rekindling our sense of childlike wonder and gratitude. As kids, the joy of exploration was sufficient to inspire us. The fact that life is an incredible gift needed no explanation or qualification. Like many other joys of life, it was entirely self-evident. I feel it to be as true today as it was then, whether or not we have all kept in touch with it. For many of us, however, the magic of life fades at some point and we begin to want more. We carry on feeding this desire unchecked, most often unconsciously, seeking happiness outside of ourselves (the only place we’re guaranteed never to find it!). How did this ever happen?

Is it possible that we began losing touch with our innocence and simplicity when we started feeling like life owed us something? Is it also possible that some sense of obligation to the world began draining our joy somewhere along the line? Is not the gift of life freely given? Can we not receive it with the same simplicity? How did we tangle ourselves up in means and ends? Can’t we enjoy life for its own sake, connecting and creating together without trying to squeeze something more out of it?

Perhaps we can point out obstacles to this inherent joy and simplicity, and just by seeing them clearly as the illusions they are, we can restore our freedom and independence. The idea that we owe something to life can become quite a burden for us. This feeling of debt becomes easily tangled up in guilt and fear. These are two particularly tough walls to break through, and they seem to have built-in mechanisms for ongoing self-reinforcement – feedback loops of warped beliefs and behaviour.

But if we are left to our own devices, simply learning from our life experience, we’ll come to understand and respect balance quite naturally. Rules of ‘proper conduct’ need not be imposed upon us. Reaching out and supporting one another arises quite naturally on its own. Mandating any behaviour sows with it seeds of dissent. Just as when we were children, we want to be free to behave however we wish moment to moment. Being told to act a certain way, even if it makes perfect sense, triggers at least subtle frustration. We need to find out for ourselves. This is the only way for our behaviour to be authentic.

Imagine you are just about to go and shovel a heavy load of snow for your parents, purely out of the good of your heart. You are getting all suited up by the door and feeling glad that you are saving them the back-breaking labour. Just as you are about to open the door, your parents catch you and say, “Before you go playing in the snow I want you to get out front and shovel the driveway!” Just like that, a gift becomes a chore. You’ve suddenly been completely stripped of all spontaneity and generosity. Now you are merely complying with demands.

Freedom is important. It’s pretty simple. Understanding this in our interactions with one another – especially in relationships where we hold authority or influence – is vital to our collective well-being. Love grows all things. It’s not complicated. Modelling righteous behaviour is more powerful than mandating it. Ideally we would all be responsible for ourselves and thus better-equipped to serve and support our neighbours. I feel that we can grow into this self-responsibility while still cherishing our childlike instinct for play. Curiosity and innocence need never be lost. We can follow our hearts and do our part, playfully and freely.

Does this seem crazy? Is it a sign of a culture’s warped priorities when such simplicity sounds so radical? I don’t know. Honestly. Fortunately I don’t feel any need to solve it. I’m just curious. I hope you are too.

Curiosity

Happy Monday.

:)

Balance

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

- Albert Einstein

Balance

I used to feel as though I was walking a razor’s edge. I had it in my mind that I was navigating a particularly intense brand of balance. I imagined that my balance was especially broad, reaching out to extremes on either side. This was all a story, of course. It wasn’t necessarily untrue, but it was only a story. I was perpetuating it by believing it (and even more so by telling it).

I imagined that I could increase my freedom by increasing my discipline. While it could be said that I was slowly giving myself more and more permission to exercise my freedom through my discipline, I see now that complete freedom was already my birthright, as I feel it is for everyone. Accepting this simple gift is often the hard part.

I feel now as though real balance is effortless. It’s already here. There is nothing we can do to bring it about. This doesn’t mean we can’t work toward goals, but I think we become less likely to invest expectations in specific outcomes. Even as I work on various projects, I continue to be firm with myself at times and quick to forgive myself when I falter. It seems less and less important to arrive at an end result.

My self-discipline is no longer about expectations, but is based more on standards. I feel if we can set ourselves higher standards, accepting that we will fall short of them at times, we will nevertheless stretch and test ourselves, growing beyond what we thought we were capable of. In this light, being able to accept short-term ‘failure’ can actually strengthen us, helping us develop a greater sense of determination and resilience. This patient persistence, when steadily applied, can eventually bring us into the silence of our own centre – our own hearts – where everything unessential begins to burn up and fall away.

But on our way here, balance is clearly a key to well-being. Living in balance can be seen as a ‘sweet spot’ where we let ourselves move through life without getting tangled up in fleeting experiences. We can cherish and celebrate all parts of life as they pass, but we need not resist nor cling to anything we experience. Easier said than done, obviously, but this is keeping balance – not trying to manipulate events or relationships to unfold as we want them to, but simply honouring them as they are.

At times, however, our balance can appear rather delicate, even slippery and sharp. As I mentioned before, it can feel like we are walking a razor’s edge, rigid and slick on either side. But even this can be seen in perspective. We can stop, take a deep breath and re-frame our narrative, realizing we’re more than likely caught up in thought. Balance doesn’t require cracking some code or figuring anything out. It is more like giving life full permission to do what it will with us.

There are countless ways to look at balance – there are too many frames to fathom and factors far beyond our figuring. It seems then that living life in balance takes a measure of faith. Stomaching some uncertainty seems vital. A tolerance for paradox may help us along the way, while we’re at it. It even feels like being ‘out-of-balance’ from time to time can be a part of anchoring in our overall balance. That sounds a bit crazy, but I feel it is true.

A phrase came to mind some time ago which feels relevant here. When it first occurred to me I intuitively sensed a deep truth in it, even though it didn’t necessarily make logical sense: ‘A return to balance is inevitable. A departure from balance is impossible.’ It seems to point to the fact that nature is taking care of everything. We need not struggle and strain. Life operates in balance, even when it seems to be completely out of whack. After all, what do we really know about the big picture if we’re in the middle of it?

After tasting some of the extremes at either end of the emotional spectrum and realizing they eventually level themselves out (despite ourselves), I have developed both a deeper respect for balance and a greater faith in it. Now I see balance wherever I look. Occasionally I catch myself yearning for more, which seems crazy. More balance? That sounds impossible. I like to laugh at myself when I see a thought like that pass by.

It seems that real balance is beyond value judgements. It’s the centre. How could we possibly amplify it? At best, we can look inside and let it level us out. Despite being drilled with heavy doses of duality every day, our attention often being pulled in opposite directions, we can take time to be still and submerge in our centre. This is a shared space, beyond comparison, beyond competition, beyond conflict of any kind. In this quiet core, when we let everything else collapse, we come to see the balance that never needed to assert itself. It has always been here.  It is beyond measure. How can there be any less? How can there be any more than all there is?

Einstein

Trust balance. Keep moving forward.

:)

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