Cleaning is Loving; Respecting Our Spaces

cleaning

I learned a lot while cleaning. I was only working with Zenith for a couple of months but I had ample opportunity to explore the practice of revealing beauty. I sense that every space has an inherent beauty of some kind. But without our care and attention these spaces so easily become dusty and cluttered, often falling into decline. Of course, if left to nature, a beauty of its own would take over, but for as long as we build self-contained spaces we are also left with the responsibility to maintain them. This can be taken on as an honour. We can become stewards of our spaces, a job so widely neglected, cleaning not only tangible dirt but generally preparing spaces for purposeful and productive use.

As I touched upon in my first article about cleaning, the title of custodian is actually one of great dignity, despite what our society may have come to think about it. A custodian is not merely someone to pick up trash. They are guardians of spaces. A true custodian cares. This makes more difference than we could ever know. An appreciative presence goes a long way.

In whatever work we may be doing, we need not act as if we are robots, locked in a strict task-oriented mode of operation. We can be carried by a spirit of wonder and love. This gives life to our activities, subtly perfuming the spaces we perform them in with love. Living like this can become an act of service. When we move through spaces with the wisdom and will to serve, working with patience and persistence, our entire landscape changes from the inside out. We become calmer and more present. A natural extension of this attitude expresses itself in the form of more caring behaviour, benefiting the very spaces themselves.

See for yourself. Take time to appreciate the spaces you move through in your day to day life. Your attention will create a stronger connection with the spaces and thus a greater care for them. After some time you may find yourself seeing through new eyes in every space you inhabit. You may also begin to notice things you once overlooked, gaining valuable insights into your own life.

I found that as I cleaned – occasionally catching myself preoccupied with speed, working in a mechanistic frame of mind – simply stopping to appreciate the space again found me working more smoothly and efficiently. Since coming home to my parents’ condo in Toronto, my sharper eye for detail has spotted little bits of dirt in various places I had never before noticed. And my care for this home space has found me moving from awareness to action, if only simply and briefly, gently tending the vessel holding the life of my family.

The act of cleaning can change the lens through which we see life. I encourage you to clean something and see for yourself. Make a new habit for a few weeks to clean spaces you usually don’t. Experiment with this and see what you reveal in your home and your life. I’d love to hear what happens!

🙂

The Beauty and Wonder of Being

It’s quite a gift just to be here. I am blessed to frequently find myself ‘stunned by wonder’. I have surely shared that before and I trust I will do it again. But it’s pretty wild just to be alive. In the midst of whatever the world may hurl at us there remains this incredibly calm centre – a spot to set up shop and just watch it all, even while apparently partaking.

It’s a party, this life. We’re all invited. None are judged. Nobody will be turned away from this door. It’s inside, so to speak. But all such distinctions fall apart here. Inside or outside, up and down, far and near – all of these words will be seen for what they are – just words. They are symbols. They attempt to express feelings. But we can easily become encaged by these words. Even enraged. When we take them too seriously, definitions will wrap us up. We choke ourselves for nothing. But I digress.

Though who doesn’t? Maybe I’ll carry on. Couldn’t life itself be seen as a great digression? So many of us get distracted from the simple truth in our hearts to chase trails of memories and expectations, reaching out for approval and acceptance, instead of just enjoying what we already have – everything! That feels like a digression.

But we can always come back. To where we never left. To where we already are. Though so many don’t see it. It takes time, it seems, for some of us to step out of our stories to see how free we have always been. And it can be an enjoyable journey, for sure, this life. But when we start pressing and squeezing it – scratching at the very heart of life itself – asking it to be something else, we are wrestling with what simply is. How can we fight reality? It seems ridiculous to even ask. It’s been said that the ultimate truth of life can neither be courted nor shunned. We can’t pursue it any more than we can avoid it. Consider that. How might this understanding lead us to live?

It’s all so simple that most kids already get it, only because they have yet to be convinced otherwise. It’s not to be figured out in our heads. It’s so natural. It pours out of our hearts. It’s just life – play – lila, some say. Yet so many of us are running around wildly bumping into ourselves, or walls we have imagined into existence, you would never know how fun it is. Just being here is a gift. Existence is inherently positive. Yet so many of us live in hiding, waiting and wondering why. It’s as though we’re hoping to break through to somewhere else.

It’s already all here. Patience and process is a part of that, too, mind you. So we can be very forgiving with ourselves as reality becomes clearer and clearer to us. A tree doesn’t struggle as it grows. It may lean and creak in the breeze, but it lets life unfold. A river rolls along as it is allowed, as it is able, demanding nothing. Whether growing wider or deeper, or once in a while running dry, it goes with the flow.

Our intellect, seen as such a gift (which it is), comes with a flip-side; it is an unruly master. Much better to let it serve. Come back to the centre – our heart-centre – and let everything stored up pour out. Then the silence can guide us forward. It may be wise to stop once in a while and check in. But know that life is supportive. Trust it and you will be shown the way. Humility is unavoidable on this path. Walking without it leads to a fall. From there we can dust ourselves off again and carry on.

Walking toward the light, we can set everything else down. Love is tending itself.

Light

Guess Who’s Back?

This has been quite a cold season. I hear a lot of people have been hit hard. Apparently I’m not the only one who was laid up for more than a week. And word on the street is that it can pop up again even after it’s gone. I had a few days of bronchitis in the wake of my cold. I figured that was the final wave. And it seemed to be the case for a week or more. I was back to full strength and more or less normal activity, eating what I usually do, and then BAM! Guess who’s back? The pesky old cold. I thought it was completely gone. I don’t know if it’s a different bug or just one more wave of the same. Does it really matter?

I must say I am taking it well. I don’t have an intense fever as I did before. I am not achy. But my throat is swollen and it hurts to swallow. I even wonder if tonsillitis may have been triggered this time around. I am still producing a lot of that thick yellow stuff every morning as I cough wildly upon waking. (Too much information?) At least I am getting it out of me. I feel like I am taking it all in stride.

I hope this isn’t taken as a complaint. I’m just rambling away here, getting whatever this is out of me, not unlike a cold expels whatever it needs to. I’m not wrestling with much. I accept the process as it is, and I even stop to appreciate the body’s natural healing intelligence. I am doing what I can. I am resting more than normal, gargling hot salt water several times a day, drinking honey-lemon-ginger tea, chewing garlic once in a while and eating a lot of soup.

Today, however, I opted to make a juice. It had been a while since I had done so and I felt like having some concentrated nutrients. I juiced a bunch of kale and spinach, one cucumber, twenty carrots, one bunch of celery, six apples, one lemon, one grapefruit, some ginger, and added a healthy spoonful of turmeric after it was all done. It was quite a project. It took nearly three hours altogether.

I cleaned everything up once I finished and poured myself a pint of powerful immune-boosting juice. I sat cross-legged in a large comfortable chair to enjoy it. I rested my whole body, which had been up and active for several hours in grocery shopping and juice preparation, and I immediately felt the juice doing its work. It was as if I could feel the juice spreading throughout my veins. It was a rush. I sat in a semi-meditative state and let my entire body fall into rest. I could see so clearly – my awareness was incredibly broad, and yet single-pointed. It swallowed everything – thoughts, my body, every sensation. It was quite a reboot.

Sitting here writing (having taken a break mid-stream for another hot water salt gargle) my throat is still sore, but I don’t mind. It’s doing what it needs to do, and I will help it as best it can, largely by staying out of its way. I don’t feel contagious. I feel like things are just in process. So I will let it work. And I might drop in to a doctor if this persists much longer.

I’m off to Toronto this week and I am happy to be checking in with my family and friends there. It will be Family Day holiday in Ontario next Monday, so it will be nice to share it with family. I will be writing to you from there next week. And then we’re off to a family wedding later in the week. Should be a fun one.

Well, there is another off-the-cuff blog post. Nothing profound to share today. Just what’s what.

For the moment, though, I am going to enjoy a nice healthy glass of juice. Why don’t you join me? I wish I could share some of mine through the computer…

Juice

(That’s just a stock image… 🙂 My juice is green…)

 

Surviving the Season

All we have to do is keep breathing.

Clark

This time of year can be very stressful for many of us. It is joyous as well, of course, but there is no doubt that it can be quite trying at times. We often find ourselves stretched rather thin. There is so much to do, so many people to see, and so much to eat that we can catch ourselves wondering, in the midst of the whirlwind, how we’ll ever make it out alive. But there is a calm at the centre of the storm, and it’s as close as our every breath.

I am blessed to enjoy the company of all of my family, but even still I have caught myself in moments where my patience is being stretched and tested, wearing thin at points. It’s at these moments that I stop and take a conscious breath, feeling it pass through my nostrils, reminding me that all things pass.  This is a valuable reminder, and can help us through even the most stressful experiences.

As fun as it may be to take a break from work to reconnect with old friends and to indulge our appetites, the flip side is that we can feel as if we are falling behind in our responsibilities, losing touch with people who once meant so much to us, and gaining weight all the while. But we need not add extra stress to the flurry of thoughts and mixed emotions that can pop up at this time of year. We can simply accept whatever is happening at any given moment, coming to appreciate that it is all equally fleeting. This is a beautiful realization. Even if we harp on things or harbour resentments, in the end they will pass. The joys pass just the same as the pains. By acknowledging this we can develop a greater ease with life, enabling us to broaden our sphere of compassion and undertake greater challenges.

With this wisdom, facing a week of excitement and occasional strain doesn’t seem so overwhelming. We can keep the Christmas craze in perspective and instead honour the stillness at the heart of the season. It’s here to appreciate, if only we’ll give it a chance. It won’t assert itself as all the Christmas music, movies, decorations and advertisements will, but it is likely the greatest gift of all.  So take a deep breath and feel your shoulders release as you exhale, letting go of any other remnant tensions that have accumulated. You don’t have to give everyone a Christmas card or a box of chocolates to maintain contact. But if you’re rested and relaxed, you may be able to offer them your real presence when next you meet.

Take it easy on yourself. Enjoy the coming New Year and dive back into whatever comes next rejuvenated and ready to roll.

I wish you all a wonderful 2015, abundant with love, laughter and a light heart!

Happy New Year 2015

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.

🙂

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.

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