Compassion & Empowerment

I want to speak what is true for me.  I want to say what I am really experiencing.  I want to express myself fully and freely, no holding back.  I don’t want to create a drama or wallow self-pity nor do I want to wear the mask of, “I’m fine!  I’ve got it all under control.”  This morning in my bath, I reflected on a conversation that I had with  woman from my meditation group and she commented on how exciting it must be for me.  I was like “yeah, it’s so exciting”  but wasn’t really feeling that way.  Yes, sometimes I am feeling excited, sometimes, I am feeling inspired, sometimes deeply connected, sometimes joyous and I’m also sometimes feeling sad, scared, lonely and hopeless.  I just don’t want to pretend anymore.  This is the full range of what it means to be human and it’s ALL ok.

Leaving Shogo was the hardest decision I have made in my life.  It has been incredibly painful to separate from someone I truly love and spent 14 years of my life with.  We had so many great times together in Japan.  In Canada, things were just falling apart and I couldn’t deny the lack of connection I was feeling with him anymore.  I needed to leave for the sake of my own mental and emotional well-being.  On the last night of my personal retreat, I had a dream and it said, NOW!  I knew that I needed to go straight from the airport to my friend’s place.

For the first couple of weeks after going to stay at my friend’s house, I guess I was feeling like a powerful woman, like “Yeah, aren’t I strong and independent!”  Then I went through a period of regret and panic where I thought, “What have I done?  I’ve made a mistake! This is all wrong!!!  I want Shogo back!”

Then the anxiety started to set in–tense neck and shoulders, mind racing.  It was hard getting myself calm enough to get out of bed in the morning.  I was overwhelmed with emotion and had trouble focusing on what my friend was cheerfully saying at 8am.  She had been so generous and kind and yet I knew I needed to look after ME.  I set boundaries–telling her I didn’t want to talk in the morning.  I put in my earbuds and listened to guided meditations or soothing music and mantras.  I started talking to a picture of myself as a 5-year-old.  Instead of trying to make the anxiety go away, I would ask her how she was, I would ask her what she was afraid of and tell her it was okay to be scared.  There was some relief.

For a while, I frantically went about my mornings looking for a job and place to stay.  I must have sent out thirty emails and messages to people on craigslist offering a room.   I thought I had finally found a place–the cost was low, it was pretty near my work and the room was big and bright.  On paper, it sounded pretty good.  But when I met the landlord I felt completely turned off and scared.  I literally wanted to run out of the house!  When I got home, I convinced myself that I was overreacting and decided to take it.  I went back and put down the deposit.  The next morning when I woke up, I knew without a doubt that I had made a mistake.  My intuition was shouting NO!  And so, I called him and turned it down, without guilt.  A week later, I saw the ad for a Bachelor Suite in the same building my friend was living!  I couldn’t believe it.  I went down right away to put in my application.  When I received the phone call that I had got the place, I was overjoyed and slightly in disbelief.  I went back to put down the deposit and told them when I was moving in.  This was really happening.  It was a huge validation of my intuition.  I was learning to trust myself.

For the rest of the month I went back and forth, going to our old apartment to sort, pack, get rid of stuff and clean.  I did it in manageable short chunks powered by Kombucha tea!  There were moments when I felt so competent and capable and surprised at myself for really handling this all.  I was so excited on moving day! I was so looking forward to having my own place and to not have to worry about listening to other people talk to me.   I needed my space so I could think, reflect, heal and figure out my life!  The moving day went so well and I was on a bit of an adrenaline high, I think.

For the first week, I eagerly went about setting up my place and getting some of the things I needed.  I had my profile up on a couple of nanny sites and I continued to look for work.  One day, I got a message from someone who said they needed a nanny from 10am-4pm Monday, Wednesday and Friday to care for their twins.  It would pay $25 bucks an hour.  WOW!  I was so excited!  I really thought that I had manifested my perfect job just I had manifested my perfect apartment.  Everything really was coming together!  It was working out!  Yay!  I sent my resume and arranged when to start.  Then came the message from the site that this person was a scammer.  I was completely deflated.  I felt so ashamed and stupid.  How could I have not known this was a scam?!  For a day or two, I felt horrible.  It fed my story that I wasn’t smart enough to make it on my own.  But then I thought, ok, this is a lesson.  I need to be more careful when dealing with people online.  I need to protect myself and my identity.  Funnily enough, I realized I was having a bit of an identity crisis.  Who was I without Shogo?  It felt so sadly strange to not have him by my side anymore.  It wasn’t Donna & Shogo anymore.  It was just me. There was a constant nagging feeling like something was missing.

One of the first weekends after moving, I went to a painting workshop that was being offered for free.  The theme was happiness and we painted our image of what happiness was and then wrote letters to “happiness” to ask it questions.  It was exactly what I needed.  I felt so grateful and thanked the woman who held it.  Later I emailed her and she suggested that we go for tea sometime.  Wow!  I had just moved into the area and already I had made a connection with someone who lived just blocks away.  And as it turned out, she was also dealing with grief.  It seemed that I was being supported through all of this.  Thank you, universe!!

The next couple of weeks, were a little tough.  I felt sad and unmotivated.  I felt very alone.  Even my friend who lives in the building had not come by say hello.  I as beginning to wonder if I was expecting too much from people.  I knew they had there own struggles to face.  Yes, it was sad, yes it was tough.  But I wasn’t just a little sad, I was grieving a significant loss;  the death of a relationship.  Some days it was hard getting myself out of bed.  I felt overwhelmed simply with going to the grocery store and cooking myself something to eat.  One morning, I wondered if I should quit my nanny jobs, fearing that I couldn’t handle it.  But that day, I got myself going and caught the bus as usual.  As I looked for a seat, a woman said, “Donna!”  It was another mother from the same school the kids I look after go to.  We sat and chatted and she asked me why I had moved.  I explained that I had left my husband.  She told me her story and said that she had divorced her husband due to his addiction problems.  She had gone to Alanon as well.  She seemed to really get it.  I thought, wow, this cannot just be a coincidence.  She said, “You are not alone.”  And I think that’s exactly what I needed to hear.

Some days I felt a wave of hopelessness and went about my day in a slightly dissociated, state.  I would forget things.  My brain felt like it wasn’t working properly. Kind of in shock, I think.   One Saturday morning, I got up, determined to go to the Laughter Yoga session.  As I walked I cried, thinking of the impermanence of everything.  Nothing lasts.  “What’s the point?”  I thought.  It was over, like it had never really happened.  I realized that the only way to deal with the pain was to move through it.  I could only think, “Let this serve Awakening.”  I went to the Laughter Yoga and soon after letting the laughs come out, I started feeling more present and open.  I sensed that allowing myself to laugh was bringing some deep healing to my heart.

For the rest of November, I put away my to-do lists and just focused on a few things to do each day, giving myself time to reflect and cry and heal.  I continued my inner child work, speaking to little Donna;  comforting her, letting her feel whatever she felt, letting her know that she was okay.  I also wrote letters to myself from my higher self, offering the compassion I was wanting.  I was realizing that I could take care of myself emotionally, that I didn’t need to depend on others to empathize or understand.  I could do that for myself.  I also realized, though, that I wanted to develop deeper kinds of connections with people;  relationships built on vulnerability, openness, empathy and compassion.

My Life Coach Course provided me with that.  Not only was I learning how to be a coach but I was learning what it was like from a client’s point of view to be going through a major life transition and transformation.  What I was experiencing would help me to understand my clients down the road.  I was learning a new way of relating to people.  Not judging, advice-giving, minimizing feelings or reassuring but really trying to put myself into someone else’s shoes and imagine what it was like being them.   Each week,  I listened and I shared.  I grew and expanded.  Everything about it felt right.  Everything I was learning related what I had been contemplating for the last few years.  I knew this is what I wanted to do, what I would be great at doing and what would fill me up.  I am so grateful to ME for making the choice to take the course at the time I did and so grateful for my classmates who are on this journey as well.

I found an Alanon group just a couple of blocks from my house.  Again, I felt so grateful!  It was a very small group;  only 6 or 7 people showed up.  But it was a room where I could be real;  where I could speak in an authentic way;  where I could let down the mask and just be myself and “tell it like it is”.  It was an anchor I knew I could count on every Friday night.

Other feelings that were showing up were inadequacy and shame.  Particularly at work, I sometimes felt this sense that I just wasn’t doing it right, that I somehow was lacking the capability that other people had.  When I did well, it seemed to bolster my self-worth but when I felt like I had made a mistake, my self-worth plummeted.  How did people work full time jobs?!  I often asked myself.  How did they do it?  How did they handle it all while appearing so confident?  Was there something fundamentally wrong with me?  It was taking me half the day just to get going sometimes.  Or was this just part of the story I told myself?  What was I really scared of?  What was holding me back?  I continue to dig to unearth my fears, my comfort with mediocracy.

I began doing affirmations more.  While I was walking or working out I said to myself or out loud, “I am healthy.  I am strong.  I am enough.  I am powerful.  I am capable.  I trust myself.  I trust my judgement.  Life is getting easier.  I am always succeeding.  I release anything that no longer serves me.  I invite joy into my life.  I am a beneficial presence on this planet.”  Most times, after one of my physical/mental workouts, I feel amazing, like I can take on the world!

I also have been listening to guided meditations before I go to sleep.  It seems I always find just the right one to make me feel better.  I feel so grateful for the people who have uploaded these because they have made such a difference in my life.  There are guided meditations on so many things–healing, self-love, being present, bringing compassion to feelings like anxiety.  These have been treasures to me.

I’m starting to focus on abundance.  I”ve started to study the law of attraction more. I’ve been watching Lisa Nichols.   I started to focus my mind on what I wanted.  I want to have all the energy and stamina I need to support myself financially, emotionally and spiritually.  I want to bounce out of bed, excited and eager to start my day!  I want to earn a good living for myself doing what I love AND have time for self-care and relationship building.  I want to feel enthusiastic, passionate and joyous.  I want to feel confident and boldly follow my dreams!!!  I want to live life FULL-ON!!

It’s scary stepping out of the old stories.  It’s scary to leave the “small me” behind and begin to live from a larger sense of Self.  I feel my compassion growing.  I feel my sense of purpose getting stronger and clearer.  I want to help heal this world.  There is suffering and I want to help ease the suffering that we, as humans, face every day.  I mean the suffering in our minds–the fear, the hate, the jealousy, the judgement, the shame, the guilt, the despair, the resentment, the resistance.  To me, a spiritual path is not about angels or soul mates it’s about EVOLVING.  It’s about LETTING GO.  It’s about empowering myself to choose my own thoughts and to RESPOND to life rather than live in a reactive way–blaming, complaining.  It’s about having the courage to take responsibility for my life in every way and to have for compassion for myself when I am suffering.

I want children to know that they are okay just the way they are, that they are enough, that they are worthy and that whatever they are feeling is perfectly normal.  That they don’t have to “be good” to be accepted.  Working with children has been such an incredible healing experience for me.  Seeing the innate goodness of children has enabled me to see my own Buddha nature.

With one family, I see how each child is already suffering.  The older child reacts to her brother’s teasing.  The youngest child gets upset when he loses at something.  The middle child worries when she needs to make a choice or do something new.  (And the second arrow of shame comes when they are told they are overreacting.)  I could so identify with the middle child and her anxiety rooted in her desire to do things perfectly.  Spending time with her helped me to have more compassion and understanding for myself.

I aim to have compassion and acceptance of myself and all of my emotions, to stop the labelling of “good” and “bad”, to not take things personally and to reduce the victim language I use like–He made me feel angry!  Because another person’s behaviour really isn’t about me at all.  They are busy trying to protect themselves just as I am!  What a crazy world we live in!

I know always have a CHOICE!  I have a choice about what I think, how I feel and how I  respond.  That being said, I am also human which means my brain is wired to judge and find error.   I have the inner critic, as we all do, that is constantly on the look out for anything that seems like it could be dangerous.  It does this to protect me, but in the mean time I hear things like–You screwed up again!  You should’ve done A instead of B.  You’re a failure.  You shouldn’t try that, you’ll make a fool out of yourself–Or I am judging my loved ones, “He shouldn’t be so critical.  Oh, my God, how can she be so annoying!  Why can’t he just listen to me!  If only she would be more empathetic.”

In our culture, we are taught to be hard on ourselves and to be hard on each other.  We think if we aren’t, we’ll be lazy and get nothing done.   In my experience, the more compassion I bring to myself, the more self-worth and self-love I have.  And the more I love and value myself, the more I have to GIVE and the more I WANT to give!!  I realize that I am POWERFUL and that in itself is frightening.  I DO have an effect on the people who cross my path.  I do have an influence in this world.  When I am kind towards myself, I naturally want to offer that kindness to others.

I talked to a person on the street today who was playing her violin in trying to get money.  She said she had lost her home and had been kicked out of her car.  Homeless people litter the streets here in downtown Vancouver.  I sometimes think to myself, “What the heck is wrong with this city?!  Why isn’t anyone helping these people to get a home and get employed?”  But this is the reality.  I want to find a way to bring about some change… I don’t know what I can do yet but I will keep my mind open for answers.

I did my laundry today and as I was heading down to the laundry room I was thinking that I would like someone to meditate with.  I thought of putting up a notice.  A woman was in there folding her clothes and she said hello.  As I was about to leave, I asked, “Do you meditate?”  and she said “yes, a little, why?”  And I explained to her that I was looking for someone to join me in meditation.  She was open to the idea and as it turns out she lives on the same floor as me.  I will talk with her more Monday morning!

These amazing things keep happening!  I seem to keep meeting the people I need to meet at the exact right time.  I do believe that I am exactly where I need to be.  I will likely fall into suffering again and again.  I will miss Shogo, I will worry, I will doubt myself, I will lose motivation, I will tell my old stories of how I’m not capable/strong enough. AND I will keep bringing myself back to my breath, to what is true, to what is really going on. That is the endless practice of mindful living.  That is why I meditate.  So I can remember to be present.  So I can connect to myself.  So I can hear that voice of inner wisdom underneath all the other chatter.

I will live with gratitude and compassion.  I will act with integrity.  I will keep waking up, remembering what is really important to me.  I will empower myself and others as often as possible.  I will be vulnerable and open-hearted.  I will welcome abundance into my life knowing that I am worthy!!  And I will write, expressing my uniqueness and my truth!!!

 

Thank you for listening!

 

Namaste!!

 

 

 

 

 

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From Pain to Power

I have been reflecting on my expectations of people.  I suppose going through a separation, I am a place where I am wanting support from those around me.  My first disappointment was a friend who suddenly expressed that she wanted to do her own thing and she stopped contacting me.  Another friend, who I was sure would be there for me (I now lives in the same building as her) hasn’t come to visit since I moved in two weeks ago.  Other people kind of gloss over it saying–that must be sad, it’ll get better, you’ll get through it, people change…I’m sure all with the good intention of giving me encouragement.

The person who I loved more than anyone and had not lived up to my expectations was my husband.  A man I had expected birthday presents and anniversary celebrations from.  A man I had expected to be there for me for emotional support.  A man who I had expected physical touch and connection with.  A man who I had expected to hold me when I cried.   These were the deep hurts that I felt.  The pain of not getting what I wanted in relationships.

As I investigated these feelings more deeply this morning, I realized how much sadness was under the surface of the disappointment.  I listened to a guided meditation, fell back asleep and the awoke to weep and release these emotions.  I also realized that these feelings led back to a familiar story that I had been telling myself for years–“People just aren’t really there when I need them”  And perhaps under that–“I am somehow unworthy of being loved”.  And also tied into my need to prove that I can make it on my own.  Our stories can be twisted and tangled together forming a false identity that we desperately cling to.

Last week, after a Life Coaching class, I became more acutely aware of the expectations I was placing on the people in my life.  I was reminded that in reality people are just struggling and trying to find their way through their own difficulties, hurts, confusion and pain.  This morning I thought again about my friends and family (and my work as a nanny, too) and how lucky I really am to have all of their love and support.  Family members have called and offered their words of concern and empathy, people in my coaching class have listened with attention and care, and the woman who let me stay at her place stood by me through all of my tears and fear and freak outs.

A deep wave of gratitude came over me.  How truly fortunate I am! Their are people out there who have my back.  They are not perfect and neither am I.  This is where understanding and forgiveness comes in.  If I can forgive myself for my imperfections, than I can extend that forgiveness to them.  For how many times have I disappointed someone?  How many times have I glossed over someone’s emotions or made it all about me?  Seeing it from this perspective, I can drop the old stories.  the “Oh, poor me” story doesn’t hold up anymore.  From this point of view, I can take my power back and make some choices.  I can choose to accept people as they are, I can choose to voice my needs or I can choose to let them go.  It’s up to me.

The reality is that people will not always way what I want them to say or do what I want them to do.  I only have control over myself and my own words and actions.  And the truth is I can’t fully trust another over time–people do change.

What I have found deeply empowering is being vulnerable.  In our culture, we hear the word vulnerable and think, “weak”.  And perhaps it can be confused with feeling vulnerable such as when someone speaks to us in a harsh way or we are alone on a dark street.  Being vulnerable is a conscious decision to be open-hearted and authentic.

Being vulnerable starts with myself.  I realize that the person who always has my back now is ME!  It comes hand in hand with developing a deep trust in myself;   trusting that I can BE open and real with myself and that I will be there for myself.  I think for the first time in my life, I am being my own best friend–listening to myself, empathizing with myself, offering myself compassion, forgiveness and grace, being patient with myself and even hold myself when I cry.

So, I think a few really important insights have come out of all of this.  The first one is moving from disempowering victim language to the powerful language of a person with freedom and choice.  For example:  He disappointed me./ I was disappointed by him.  He broke my heart.  He made my feel angry.  –We use this language so commonly in our everyday lives.  We hear it in pop songs on the radio.  To me, these are the surface feelings, like a scratch on your arm.  We have learned through our culture to blame other people for our feelings.  I believe we do this to protect ourselves.  We have learned that it is easier to point the finger than to look within ourselves for the roots of the emotion.  It can be blatant or very subtle if we are not aware of it.

I think that feeling words like:  disappointed, disrespected, ignored, neglected, betrayed, are all subtly pointing the finger of blame.  To really get past the judgement, blame and victim mind-set, we need to dig deep.  We need to dive into our inner worlds, into our bodies, into our hearts and see what’s there;  the bruises, the pain in whatever raw form it takes–sadness, anger or fear.  It’s not easy to do this.  As humans, we naturally want to avoid these more difficult emotions.  We have been conditioned to escape the present, run away from the truth and leave our bodies.   Doing the opposite, turning toward our feelings and befriending ourselves takes effort;  a lot of effort, compassion and patience.  And in our rush-rush world, how many people can find the time to meditate, investigate and go within.  (Well, that is for another post!)  It seems difficult but I would argue that it’s easier to feel the feelings than to hang on to worry or resentment.  As the saying goes–the only way out, is through!

What other strategies, besides blaming, do we use?  We numb out.  My two common ways of numbing out are under-eating and buying stuff.  I noticed yesterday my resistance to eating as much as I need to.  Last night as I was going to bed, I was already slightly hungry and yet I didn’t feed myself.  Don’t eat, don’t feel.  Sometimes it is still tempting for me although I am aware of this as it has been a pattern with me for years.  So I can usually get back on track after a day or two.  My other recent avoidance technique is shopping.  I search the internet for the perfect desk, I go shopping for a parka, I look at a bunch of shower curtains before finding the one I want.  I have found it interesting that sometimes what I am shopping for is symbolic of the emotion I am not expressing–like the shower curtain that catches water and keeps it from spilling over the tub (sadness, tears, loss of control)  or the down-filled parka that protects from the cold (feeling vulnerable, unsafe, wanting protection)  Don’t beat yourself up if you catch yourself numbing out in some way.  We all do this.  We drink, we smoke, we overwork, we get caught up in obsessive thoughts.  Be aware of it and be gentle with yourself.  When you are ready to face the feelings, you will.  Trust your inner wisdom.

Another big insight has been that people can only connect with others at the level they are connecting with themselves.  I realize the more connected I am with myself and my feelings, the more I am able to be vulnerable with others.  Again, it’s the vulnerability that leads to this deeper connection.  And I believe we all want this kind of deep connection with others.  We just haven’t been taught how to do it.  This understanding also helps me to be more forgiving when someone isn’t empathizing or connecting with me the way I want them to.  They are at where they are at.  I can see through eyes of love and appreciate what they are offering rather than on focusing on what they are “doing wrong”.  Really, they are just being themselves and when we can accept this in a profound way, there is no pain.

To move from a place of pain to power takes courage and kindness, no doubt about it.  Notice the language you are using.  Are you saying, “She is really annoying!”  or are you looking inside to investigate your anger.  Are you blaming or taking ownership of your feelings?  Notice the stories you are telling.  Does anything ring a bell from your childhood?  Do you see any patterns?  Notice your numbing out strategies.  What are they protecting you from?  What emotion might you be avoiding?  Take time to be with yourself in an intimate way.  Get naked emotionally.  Show yourself that it is safe to explore these feelings, that you can be fully present with them.   And another big thing to remember:  self-care!  That might mean cooking a meal for yourself, taking a day off, standing up for yourself, setting a boundary, spending time doing something you love, buying a parka!  The more you care for yourself, the more your self-worth will grow.  The more your self-worth develops, the more you will genuinely love yourself.   Then it will become clearer that you ARE worthy of love, care and deep connection!!  Start giving it to yourself and see what happens!  Take it easy, take it slow and love yourself no matter what!

 

 

Meditation – It’s more than you think

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of meditation:  it reduces stress, improves sleep and increases focus.  Many people, like me, are drawn to meditation because they are experiencing some kind of discomfort and they want to feel better.  I started meditating about 5 years ago in order to relieve the anxiety I was having.  I found that even a short 10-minute meditation helped me to feel calmer, more grounded, more in my body.  As I continued on my meditation journey, I discovered that there was so much more to meditation than simply feeling relaxed.

Good Evening fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests.  Tonight I’m going to share with you how mindful meditation can lead us to mental clarity, emotional stability and more satisfying relationships.  I’ll show that meditation can help us in responding more wisely and compassionately to both our internal and external worlds.

A couple of years into my exploration with meditation and I really began to see how thoughts would come and go.  In just a minute or two, my mind jump from planning my dinner to worrying about my next Toastmaster speech to rehearsing a future conversation.  Gradually, there was more space around my thoughts and less attachment to them.   Instead of letting my mind go off in a spiral of negativity–I could switch channels to thoughts that were more positive and uplifting

Neuroscience expert and psychologist Dr. Rick Hansen, who wrote Buddha Brain, says that the mind and the brain are a unified system and when you repeat a thought, you strengthen the connection between the brain cells.  Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together”.   Over time, you can actually change the structure of your brain by interrupting old patterns and replacing them with new ones.

Not only is meditation empowering me change my mind’s mental patterns but it is also getting me in touch with my emotions and giving me some perspective on them.  Before I started meditating it was easy to be blown about by the winds of my emotions–I could get latched onto a feeling of fear, anger or sadness or repress them altogether.  Now, when an emotional state arises, I realize that I have a choice.  I can continue to feed the harmful feeling or I could feel it and let it pass.

One morning, as I sat having my morning oatmeal, I noticed some anxiety coming up.  This time, instead of trying to push it away or create a story around it, I simply felt what was going on in my body.  Okay, queasiness in my stomach, heart pounding, sensation in my throat.  In a minute or so, the anxious feeling had passed!  Wow!  My meditation teacher had just been talking about the 90-second rule a few nights before.

Neuroscientist and stroke survivor, Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor says in her book, “My Stroke of Insight”, that when we have a reaction to something in our environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body.  If there’s still an emotional response after that, it means that we are choosing to stay in that loop.

Imagine a child who is upset and crying one minute and happily playing the next–this is how our emotions can naturally flow through us, if we let them.  We don’t need to be afraid of of feelings.  In fact, we can learn from them if we are open to them.  Pema Chodron, a well-know Buddhist nun, says, “…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy and fear instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back.

It unfortunate that we don’t learn this kind of mental awareness and emotional regulation in school.  But through meditation, we can learn how to witness thoughts non-judgementally and deal with our feelings, responding with intelligence, creativity and compasssion.

And that brings me to my second point which is how meditation can help us develop deeper relationships based in acceptance and compassion.  From my own experience with meditation, I’ve discovered that my mind can be a pretty chaotic place.  I was humbled by the truth of what was really going on up there–not always the wholesome place I thought it was!  As I became more compassionate with myself, I became more compassionate with others.  I could see how we are all experiencing suffering of some kind whether it be frustration, grief or despair.

A study published in Psychological Science in 2013 showed that meditation increased compassionate responses to suffering.  The group of people who had meditated were more likely to assist someone than the non-meditators.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, agrees that mindfulness and compassion are inextricably linked.  He says what mindfulness and meditation are really about it presence of heart.

I’ve definitely noticed that in my interactions with people I am now more present and making an effort to listen more carefully and respond with empathy and understanding rather than giving advice or trying to figure out what to say next.  I can sometimes pause and breathe before reacting in an unskillful way.   In general, I have a greater sense of connection with others.

Marsha Lucas, author of “Rewire Your Brain for Love”, concurs that a meditating mind creates better relationships:  She lists seven skills that we gain from meditation that are powerful in creating and sustaining healthy, happy relationships:  1. Management of body’s reactions  2. Regulation of response to fear  3. Emotional resilience  4.  Response flexibility  5.  Insight or Self-awareness  6.  Empathy and attunement to others  7. Perspective shift from “me” to “we”.  These characteristics which are seen in people practicing mindfulness are the same as for people with healthy attuned childhood relationships.

So beyond helping us to relax and feel better, meditation is an invaluable tool that can lead us to a new way of living–a new way of relating to our own inner world of thoughts and emotions and a new way of  relating to the people in our outer world.  It’s clear that meditation has both intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits.  But you don’t have to take my word for it…try it for yourself and see!!!

POWER IN THE PRESENT

depositphotos_redpurpleflowerSome days are so bright–filled with beautiful moments, touching words, joy, fun, ease, miracles and magic.  Other days seem dim–filled with the mind’s suffering, complaining, aversion, resistance, self-pity, wanting and fearing.

Just yesterday I was dressed up as a pirate with Harrison to celebrate our birthdays.– With bandanas on our heads and moustaches and beards painted on, we played and danced and walked saying “Rrrrr…” to people on the street.  Smiling, laughing, engaged in the moment.  Feeling strong, feeling happy, feeling good.   I read this story to him,  “Bunjitsu Bunny”.  We read the Chapter called, “Oh, thank you!”  There’s Jack Rabbit who wants to fight the bunny but the bunny is not interested.  So Jack Rabbit tries to provoke him.  “Your ears are too long!” he says.  Bunjisu Bunny says–Oh, thank you! and walks away.  Jack Rabbit in frustration says, “I wasn’t being nice!”  Jack Rabbit tries again and again to get a rise out of the bunny–“Your feet are too big!”  Bunjitsu Bunny says–Oh, thank you!  and walks away.  Jack Rabbit exclaims, “I wasn’t being nice!”  Finally Jack Rabbit finds he can only say nice things to Bunjitsu and they become friends.  I laughed at this story until tears came to my eyes.  What an amazing lesson in such a simple tale.  A lesson that I have been learning over and over for the last couple of years.  How to not take things personally.  How to be humble.  How to detach.

Today, there was just a stream of mind chatter and I felt unconnected to the reality that was right in front of me.  I notice the suffering.  It goes on.  It stops for a while.  Then comes back.  I cook.  I say positive affirmations.  I feel like giving up.  Why am I allowing this to go on and on!?  The same negativity that I’ve heard a thousand times!  I feel like a failure.  And then I feel guilty and depressed for letting this suffering take over me for a good part of a day.  A precious day.  A day that is unrepeatable.  I could have used this day to do so much more!  I could have enjoyed myself, learned, laughed, loved, surrendered.  Not sure if I want to scream or cry but tears don’t seem to come.  I give myself some compassion and acceptance.  I say, “I love you, I trust you” to myself in the mirror.  I breathe.  I tell myself that I am exactly where I need to be, that these lessons will help me in the next chapter of my life.  I start feeling like I am almost back in the present.  I am determined to keep going no matter what!  I sense some patience.  And now I write.  How to get out of this loop.  How to make tomorrow different.  Better.  How to take my power back and start doing things that fill me up.  How to begin a new;  have a fresh perspective on things.  How to cultivate more joy, more love, more peace.

I read that transitions are a time of unrest, discomfort and questioning.  That sums up what I am experiencing pretty well.   There’s a restless feeling, like I need to be doing something else but not sure exactly how I can get there from where I am now.  Discomfort at the unknowing, the uncertainty, the fear of failure.  Questioning what my purpose is, how I can serve this world, using my natural gifts and talents.

I suppose I haven’t been writing posts because I would have to admit to this pain.  But perhaps just admitting it has power, has healing.  I am in transition.  Well, yes we are always in transition, that’s true.  I do believe, though, that we all have periods in our lives when things feel less settled than at other times.  How to surrender to this process.  How to trust that I’ll be able to find my way again.  How to believe that everything is really going to be okay.

Embracing Each Moment.  That was the title of the book I won as a door prize at my sangha’s gathering.  Stop trying to steer and control, Donna.  Let go.  Embrace the Moment.  That’s all you have anyway.  Open your heart.  Let go some more.  Be grateful.  Trust.

I am reminded of Karen’s talk on the FLOOD OF BECOMING.  It is the suffering that arises out of the illusions of time and identity.  I was someone in the past.  I am someone now and I will become someone in the future.  The truth is that it’s all happening NOW.  Nothing ever happens in the past or future.  And as for an identity in the present, well that falls away too when we realize that everything is constantly changing.  That whatever mind state I am in now will pass.  The flood of becoming comes with wanting and fearing.  I want to become someone, gain a certain status, feel fulfilled, earn more money, be more independent.  It’s a craving like any other.  A desire to be more than I am right now.  The belief that who I am right now is not enough.  That I am some how lacking, insufficient, inadequate.  And there’s the fearing.  I fear that I won’t develop into the person I want to be.  I fear feeling stuck, not making progress, not living up to my potential.  But potential only exists in the future.  Instead of trying to “become” someone who is more empowered, connected, loving, compassionate and authentic, I can choose how I want to be today.  I can choose words and actions today that are honest, kind and wise.  I can choose to have patience and resolve.  I can choose to use my energy to move me closer to my goals (without attaching to the outcome).

This is what I need to keep reminding myself.  My POWER is in the PRESENT!  As much as my ego would like me to believe that if I just complain and analyze enough in my head that I will escape the suffering, really the only thing I can do is BE WITH whatever I am experiencing instead of trying to push it away with a flood of thinking.   To sit with wanting and fear is not easy.  That is why I tend to flee to the false refuge of feeling sorry for myself or trying to figure things out.   I know that the only real way out of suffering is to feel the deeper pain.  The pain of feeling powerless.  The pain confusion.

I also know that the more I can connect to what I am really feeling, the more I can experience JOY.  I’ve especially been aware of these moments of miracles and magic lately.  In fact, I’ve been keeping a “Journal of Joy”.  I make notes on the times in my day that seemed to be particularly bright.  I’ve been noticing that most of these moments involve a combination of  beauty, wonder, connection, love, compassion, encouragement and just the mystery of being human on this amazing planet we call earth.   Laughter, shared tears, nature, an insight, an expression of love or care, synchronicity, total engagement, perfect timing, pleasant surprises, an honest conversation, a positive vibe, a moment of peace and quiet, a warm hug, a friendly smile, inspiration, spreading joy.

I realize that none of these moments of joy has anything to do with my ego desires of control, power over, success, status, money, material things.  The trance of becoming is seductive, especially in our culture where we are taught to always be getting better and producing more.  Our identities are tied to how much we have, how much we earn and how successful we appear, how skilled we are at something or how good we look.  It’s no wonder I have been caught up in reacting to what I perceive to be criticism.  I can feel my ego piping up with–  Why couldn’t you be more encouraging?!  Don’t tell me how to do it!  I can do it myself!  Let me do it my way!–rather than simply saying, “Oh, thank you!”  like Bunjitsu Bunny.   I always have the power to take what I want and leave the rest.

Well, it’s been a long post and I feel I have clarified some things for myself.  Maybe if you are reading this, something will ring true for you.  Remember you, too, can take what you want and leave the rest!   The buddha said this as well.   Our power is in the present for it is in the present that we can make wise choices.   It is in the present that we can see beyond the walls that our ego has built up.  This is the practice–to open up to whatever is here, be it pleasant or unpleasant.  Open up and be FREE!!!

The Masks We Wear

I’ve been experiencing anxiety for the last couple of weeks.  It feels like an unwanted guest in my body, making my heart pound with anticipation, my mind spin with worry, my neck ache with panic.  As I sat having my mid-morning green smoothie and eggs, my mind went something like this–Ok, Donna, just focus on eating the eggs.  Come into the present. Breathe.  All is well.  I am resilient and strong, peaceful and calm.  This is absurd.  I’m sitting in my warm, cozy apartment, listening to some house music and my mind is all over the place!  It’s creating things that aren’t even true!  Why am I feeling so anxious?  What’s going on beneath it?  I know trying to talk myself out my feelings doesn’t work.

Then I think–What am I going to do today?  What might help me calm down?  Maybe I’ll think of something I can speak about at the next Toastmasters meeting.  It will be Halloween.  Do I want to talk about anxiety?  Hmmm…masks…I could make a speech about the masks we wear, the mask I wear.  Yeah, that could be interesting.  Maybe I could even make it funny. Ah, yes…I am the spiritual, artistic type and so what do I do with a situation like facing anxiety?  I find the opportunity in it!  I create art with it!– I put on a Chipmunk outfit!

So, I grab my pen and journal and start writing what I’m thinking.  This sometimes crazy mind that just keeps chattering on, non-stop.  I notice as I start to write, my nerves calm down a bit.  The words feel a lot less threatening on the page than swirling around in my head.  What’s really worrying me right now?  What am I afraid of?  In the midst of this mid-life transformation I seem to feel both afraid of changing and afraid of not changing.  What if make some changes but I can’t handle it all?  Or worse, what if I end up confined to my box of self-limiting beliefs?

As I stretch myself out of my comfort zone more and more, the pendulum swings from excitement to terror.  Maybe I’m moving too fast or maybe too slow.  Do I need more action or more patience?  Should I be doing more or sitting more in stillness and quiet?  What is it am I learning through all of this?  Compassion, humility, trust.

I long to live a life that is completely true to who I am.  I long to help and heal, to write and create, to share and connect.  I long for a life of passion and purpose.  I long to be open-hearted, holding nothing back.  I long to speak freely and honestly.  I long to drop the mask I’m wearing and simply be completely myself with people, vulnerable and naked, with nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

The costume I wear tonight is not unlike the persona I put on every day.  The persona of Happy, Nice, Calm Woman Totally in Control.  But it’s just so tiring trying to keep the mask on all of the time.  There’s so much energy going into an image that isn’t even real.  This chipmunk costume is like the protection my ego builds around me.  The ego tricks me into believing I need this coating–indeed a furry one–in order to survive the arrows I perceive to be hurled at my heart.  But really it’s a veil that blocks me from directly experiencing the world around me.

Do we want to live our lives behind a veil, a mask, only to wake up to the reality that fear has been keeping us feeling small and separate?  As long as we are busy trying to create and maintain our image by getting stuff, getting ahead, achieving and succeeding, we are robbed of experiencing the present and deeply connecting to what is.  I know for me, when I am seeing through the eyes of love rather than the eyes of fear, I have a much better understanding of what’s really going on.  When I see through eyes of love, I feel compassion for my fellow human beings, knowing they are just like me.

I dream of a world where we can slow down, pause more, truly SEE each other and freely express our joy as well as our suffering.  Imagine the energy we all would have if we could end the pretending and defending…if we could remove these masks we wear!  If we could simply be human.  If we could simply BE.  I dream of a world where we can all be in touch with our own mental suffering and through that deep connection with ourselves, we can profoundly connect to the suffering in others.  I believe if we can connect in this way, we would realize the truth, that there is no separation between us.  That behind our masks, we are all made of the same stuff.

 

 

 

 

The Way of the Bodhisattva

The deeper I go, the scarier, and more exhilarating, it gets!  When I pay more attention to my outer world, I realize there are also ways in which I am possibly causing harm to myself or to others.  And when I turn inward and listen to myself, to my inner truth, it becomes impossible not to make changes.  This, I believe, is the way of the bodhisattva.  It is a path of deep investigation, deep questioning and an endless determination to develop a compassionate, loving and open heart in order to to be of service to the world, to help eliminate suffering and encourage the awakening of  all beings.  There is a constant feedback loop between the inner and outer world, giving guidance toward a life that is moral, truthful, joyous, generous, kind and wise.

Outer things are a little easier to handle.  In the last few years, I have really become conscious of what I am eating.  First and foremost, I ask myself, will this food nourish my body with the nutrients it needs?  Now I find myself leaning more and more towards organic foods.  How can I not when I am completely aware of the pesticides that are used on conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and grains?  Also, I have no desire to drink alcohol anymore because I know that not only is it harmful to my body but it clouds the brain therefore making it more likely to do something or say something that is unwise.  Nor do I want to have anything to do with the sale of alcohol or other potentially harmful products.

What about the products I am using on my body–soaps, shampoos, lotions, toothpaste, mouthwash?  A while ago I switch to soaps and lotions with more natural ingredients.  Now I am changing to toothpaste and mouthwash that are made without fluoride.  It’s pretty crazy that our world is filled with toxic products that are sold on supermarket shelves.  Not to mention fast food chains.  Even the clothes we wear can be produced with dangerous chemicals.

How about the toxic information we are fed on a daily basis, on TV, in the news, in magazines?  I was watching an action movie last night and I literally just fast-fowarded to the end because there was just a bunch of violence, swearing and stupid jokes.  (With even more awareness, I would have shut if off after the first 10 minutes!) . How did I even watch crap like that before?   And what about the clutter and clothes I hang on to when there are people in need everywhere!  Why do I buy more stuff when I could be using that money in more useful ways?

Yup, waking up requires making changes.  Some of them easy, others not so easy.  I have noticed how much I judge others, how often my prideful ego tries to prove itself right or smart or better than someone else.  These are engrained patterns that require diligent attention so that they can loosen their tight grip.  How many times have I let fear get in the way of a deeper connection with someone?  How many times have I listened half-heartedly, in defence mode or while formulating my next response.?  This is not to get down on myself.  We all do these things.  By recognizing my imperfections, I am actually getting MORE compassionate towards others and myself.

Deeper yet, what do I do with the calls from my innermost being?  To write, to speak, to share my wisdom, to heal.  I sense that shifts are happening almost daily.  I have so many questions:  Who am I?  What do I really want?  How can best serve the world?  What kind of work will best serve me?  What relationships are healthy for me?  How can I deepen my relationships?  How can I be comfortable with more intimacy?  How can I be more honest with people?  How can express myself better?  How do I live my life in balance?  What is my heart calling me to do next?  Will I be able to handle all the changes?!

We all have these calls and if we are open to receive them, we will be able to hear them.  There are messages which give us a nudge to take some small step and there are the messages that may require us to make huge changes in our lives:  to leave a job that is no longer satisfying, to move from the big city to the country to live a quieter life, to start a new hobby like singing or painting, to be more vulnerable with a loved one.  These kinds of changes require that we take a risk, a leap of faith.  We sense there will be loss.  But we forget that there will be gains–more fulfilling work,  a more peaceful mind, a life of more creativity and passion, more authentic relationships.

Where in our lives might we be trading passion for security, spontaneity for conformity?  We want to be safe.  We want to belong.  But we cannot find security in money or a house or a high-paying job and we can’t find belonging by trying to fit in and going along with what the crowd is doing.  It’s really connecting to our wild, spirited, open and uninhibited nature that will bring us the sense of safety and belonging we are looking for.  It’s by discovering who we truly are that we come home.

In order to serve the world in the best way we can, we first need to be true to ourselves.  If we are playing small, pretending to be someone we are not or afraid to take some risks, then we are not serving ourselves or anyone else.  Do not underestimate the power you have to make a difference!  We can all help each other out:  a friendly smile, a ride home, a listening ear, a kind voice, a shoulder to cry on, a powerful message, a gentle nudge, a heartfelt song, a speech of inspiration.  We can all listen to our inner guidance.  We can all wake up a little more.  We can all open our hearts.  It begins with you!

Do I sometimes doubt this path?  Do I sometimes wonder if I am not thinking too much, asking too many questions?   Do I sometimes wish I had chosen an easier path?  Yes, I do.  But I know that there is no going back, only forward.  I am on the road to awakening, to seeing the truth, to opening my heart and loving without holding back.  This is a journey and there is no way of knowing where it will lead me.  I can only be awake in this moment, be as true to myself as I can today, be as compassionate, kind and loving as possible in the present.  This is what I truly care about.  This is what matters to me–awareness, truth, love.

Sometimes the fear is winning out over the exhilaration.  But just now as I write this, I feel excited, I feel my inner passion for expressing what is most important to me, I feel my spontaneity as words appear on this page, somehow falling out of the mix of thoughts and ideas in my head.  If I can keep remembering to choose love over fear, passion over security, spontaneity over conformity, I believe I can create a life in where I am living true to myself: loving, elated and fully alive;  a life where I have become a vessel, an instrument for awakening all beings;  a life with a compassionate, open and fearless heart.