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I went to a conference of workshops on various topics surrounding spiritual enlightenment this past weekend.  I went alone, as part of my journey into spirituality seems to be that I don’t readily have a gaggle of girlfriends to go to these things with.  Much like my yoga retreats, which I went to alone, while it was sometimes difficult to be surrounded by groups of close friends, laughing and sharing, it was also freeing to be alone.  I could move around as I pleased, listen without interruption, have a singular focus.  

The conference had a somewhat cheesy name: I Can Do It but that message is actually a much needed one.  When it comes to spirituality and really getting down into it, it sometimes feels like a path for “someone else”.  A monk, a hippy, a cancer-sufferer.  I found often over the course of the weekend, I thought Who am I to go more deeply into this stuff?  I’m just a regular Joe.  Is it ridiculous to believe that I have a life’s purpose?  But I don’t think so.  What it all comes down to is a decision.  Either you choose to go deeper or you don’t.  Anyone can make that decision.  But it is a big one, so I think most people just postpone it for later (or never).  They wait until they’ve become a cancer sufferer, or until they find a group of like minded hippies.  

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, I don’t want to wait.  I don’t want to be knee deep in illness or grief or catastrophe, and be struggling to find a connection with God and the answers to the Universe when I feel desperate.  To me, it makes sense to seek these things now, while my whole life is ahead of me and my mind is clear.  Find my place and my purpose in this world.  Anchor myself deeply and then not worry about the waves as they come to toss me around.  

When I signed up for the workshops in December, it was essentially random.  I had no idea who most of the authors were, had read none of their books.  But it was amazing, so much of what I needed to hear, at this exact moment, so many of the questions I’ve been rolling around in my brain, were addressed, directly, by the people I watched speak.  It was kind of unbelievable. 

 Marianne Williamson spoke at length about the difference between denying problems and transcending problems.  The exact topic I spent so much time on in my post The Problem with Perspective.  

Jonathan Ellerby discussed different methods of spiritual practice and talked about something I’d never heard of called Ascetic Practices.  This is the process of finding God by experiencing the lack of something in your life.  I had been pondering and contemplating the benefits of lack in a post entitled just that.  

I participated in a workshop by Sonia Choquette.  In the workshop, she had us dancing, singing, wiggling our butts, jumping up and down and yelling.  She had us complete the sentence “If I were unafraid, I would…” to a stranger who sat near us.  I had never thought of this topic in the realm of my spiritual growth but its also a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to lately.  I have said to numerous people that by the end of my life I want to master the ability to be unafraid of looking stupid.  I’ve noted that the people around me who are willing to look silly, be uncool, are the ones who seem to have the most fun.  I never categorized it as a spiritual strength, but I do now.  According to Sonia, these people are connected to their true spirit.  And when you are connected to your true spirit, you can’t be anything but joyous.  So it went against my nature, but I danced, I sang, I wiggled my butt, jumped up and down and yelled.  I felt stupid, I had no group of girlfriends to hide in, but I did it anyway.  And crazy as it sounds, I believe I took a large spiritual step in that workshop.  Who would’ve ever thought? 

There wasn’t a single workshop, speaker or experience over the weekend that I didn’t feel good about.  Happy I’d experienced and glad that I’d come.

The culmination of the entire weekend, if I were to boil it down, was the following key points that I intend to incorporate into my actual everyday life. 

  • Taking in spiritual information, reading, learning, thinking positive thoughts are all amazing and wonderful and healthy things but they are not a spiritual practice.  If you’re really serious about getting connected, going to the next level, becoming spiritual, then you need to start a spiritual practice.  And it needs to be a daily one. 

I finally felt ready for this information.  Sure, I’ve heard it over and over again, but the difference is now I’m ready.  I’ve decided to up my meditation to 30 min. daily.  I’m going to do it in the evening before bed, if that’s available to me and if not, I’m going to wake at 4 am, do 30 min. and then go back to sleep.  Like everyone, I’m very busy and up until this point, I chose not to have a daily practice as it wasn’t at the top of the priority list.  It is now, and I have set up a plan to find the time.  I’m 2 days in.  

  • Along the lines of avoiding denial, there was much discussion of authenticity and your authentic self.  Many of the speakers discussed authenticity and essential self and figuring out who that is, and living from a place of authenticity.  

This has been on my mind a lot lately.  Being who I think others want me to be, saying what people want to hear, biting my tongue, it’s all creating an illusion.  What is the point of a conversation where I say what you want to hear and you say what I want to hear and neither of us says what we’re thinking?  It’s fiction, and what point does it serve?  This will be a big one for me.  I’ve been doing this for so long, its hard to stop.  The need to be “nice”, to be non-confrontational, is a strong one but what am I saying if I’m not saying what I’m thinking?  Fluff. 

There will be many places in my life where this will be a difficult change to make, but I think its an important one.  To come from a place of kindness and non-judgment when I speak but not a place of dishonesty.  It’s harder than you think.  I can think of 3 or 4 instances in my life where I know I’m not ready.  But I’ll start small and work my way up.  

  • Live from joy, from spirit, and do what makes you happy, regardless of how silly it makes you look.  

I have had people in my life, on more than one occasion, tell me not to take myself so seriously.  While they usually said it derisively, it is inherently good advice.  When you stop being directed by how you look and start being directed by how you feel, I think you will be truly free.  I want that kind of freedom.  I intend to put this into practice with a rigorous program of silliness.  Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? In the name of spirituality, I am willing to make a fool of myself. 

One last note that I took away.  One of the speakers, and I can’t even remember who because the message was so profound, it didn’t seem to come from a person but from above, was to see people in their innocence.  Look at the actions of those around you and try to discern why they feel the need to do the things they do.  Look beyond, look inside, and you will understand.  The speaker said, if God were looking at that same person, He would say “Hmmmm…I like you.”  Try to figure out what God sees that you don’t.  So simple and yet so hard.  But I’m sure as hell going to try.

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Odds and Ends

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve felt a little disconnected.  I’ve often heard of the idea that there is no good and bad, just closeness to Source.  The closer you are to Source, the easier life becomes.  I think the struggles we’ve been dealing with have caused me to drift a little from Source so I’m making a conscious effort to find my way back.  Wayne Dyer spoke in one of his books (Power of Intention?) of imagining life as being a streetcar moving along and being too short to reach the passenger handles up by the ceiling.  He talked of just floating up to grab one of the handles and being carried along.  I keep trying to solidify this image in my head, I don’t need to drive the train, I just need to get on and trust the driver. 

My sister also gave me a powerful visualization that I intend to adopt.  She told me she imagines putting all her struggles in a backpack and handing it up to her angels.  She imagines them with a big empty table where they dump all her struggles out and then she just asks them to “sort it all out”.  Once she’s done that, she tries to just let go and trust that her angels will work everything out.  I really like that. 

I read “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert with my book club last month. 

It was interesting at the book club discussion.  Most everyone disliked the book but I disagreed.  They thought Gilbert was whiny and self-involved.  They felt like her problems were no different from everyone else’s and that she should stop complaining and “get over it”.  It’s so funny because while I understand where they were coming from, I didn’t feel that while I read it at all.  I found the book honest and unashamed.  Gilbert chronicled her experience with depression without hiding the less palatable parts.  I feel like part of the reason that so many people are struggling with depression in this day and age is that everyone is denying what they’re really going through.  Because no one is admitting to being unable to handle things, everyone thinks they’re all alone in their struggle.  I feel like if everyone was a little more honest about how hard things can be sometimes, society would become a more accepting and supportive place and things wouldn’t be so hard because people would know that they’re not alone.  I thought that it was smart of Gilbert to take a year and deal with her depression, admit it, accept it and take the steps necessary to get over it.  I think that made her extremely brave.  A lot of people in her situation post-divorce would tell themselves that they should “suck it up, get some perspective and get over it already”.   Then they would push it all down, pretend it was alright and never get better.  Good for Elizabeth Gilbert for being honest with herself and owning her feelings.   

I’m not sure if you remember but I was supposed to have a full-day meditation back in January.  Unfortunately it got cancelled but our instructor has scheduled another one for next weekend.  I am excited to see how it goes and if it takes me a significant step forward in my meditation.  I will write my thoughts next week.

I got rejected the other day.  I had a very nice alternative medicine practitioner who I felt a strong connection to.  Our relationship seemed (in my mind at least) to cross over from patient/practitioner to friends.  We spoke over email, we interacted on Facebook and seemed to have a camaraderie.  We go to the same yoga studio, had the same midwife, seemed to be running in the same circles.  I decided to take the leap, and ask her out for coffee.  I knew there was a chance that she would say no, that I was simply a patient to her, but I asked anyway.  The benefit of a potential friendship with a kind, like-minded, interesting person seemed to outweigh the risk of the potential rejection. 

Well, I was rejected.  As it turned out, my guess was right.  The connection did not go beyond patient/practitioner and, in fact, even if it had, she has a policy that she will not start friendships with people who are patients.   She did it nicely and gently but let’s face it, a rejection never feels good. 

To continue with my promise to myself to use negative experiences for personal growth, I made a conscious effort to face the feeling head on, figure out why I feel the way I do and use it to move forward.  There are a couple of good things that came out of this exercise. 

To properly explain, a little background. I have always had an extreme fear of being rejected.  I discuss this in my Exposing the Hidden Truth post.  I have moulded my life around avoiding being rejected.  I have probably missed out on a lot of amazing relationships, opportunities and experiences because I was afraid to ask the question: “Do you want to do this with me?”  The idea of someone saying “no” was so unacceptable that I would avoid asking the question unless I could be almost certain that the answer was “yes”. 

So first, I asked the question.   This is huge.  The fact that I even asked this woman out for coffee when I knew that she might say no, was a big step forward and getting rejected made me realize that.   I have moved into a place where I am willing to take the risk.  I gave myself a little pat on the back for this small (but profound) achievement in my personal growth.    

Second, I just experienced a “worst possible” outcome.  It’s funny that this is a good thing but it actually is.  The anticipation of a “worst possible” outcome is almost always worse than the actual experience.   Once you have a negative experience, and get through it, you know that you can do it.  Nothing is ever as bad from the other side. 

This experience also gave me a reason to think about the possible reasons for rejection.  In this case, I don’t believe it was personal, I believe it was a professional decision.  However, there is always a chance that I will still get rejected at some point for a personal reason.  I may get rejected some day by someone I like who doesn’t like me.  Who thinks I am deficient in some way.  It made me realize that I have always considered this possibility as connected to my self worth.  If someone deems me unworthy it must mean that I am.  When you say this out loud, you realize that it is not true.  It gave me a chance to examine this subconscious belief so that I could shed some light on it and make a conscious effort to correct it.  I am not what people think of me.     

I have many many wonderful friends and relationships in my life, which I think is a testament to my inherent likeability since I have let most people in my life thus far make the first move.  It’s funny to think that I may get to experience even more joy from relationships as a result of this rejection.  Putting myself out there and taking the risk more often has become a new goal of mine.  It’s not so scary to ask for a “yes” if you’re willing to hear a “no”.

Light Bulb Moment

My TCM (Total Chinese Medicine) practitioner has asked me a number of times if I’m depressed. It’s a hard question to answer when you have a lot going on. I’m dealing with a lot right now. Much of it I have discussed here but in the past month, a number of other stresses have been added to the pile. There is a relationship in my extended family that I believe has become seriously unhealthy. Two of my relatives that live together are not in a healthy relationship and I believe that one is verbally abusing the other. We have confronted the issue and the one being abused is unwilling to take any action whatsoever. This is his choice, it is out of our control, but it is extremely difficult to sit by and watch. Our only recourse is to not allow our daughter to witness the unhealthy behaviour, which has put an additional strain on our family relationship. It is all very confusing and difficult.

What is the difference between coping with a difficult situation and being depressed? It made me realize that I don’t really know how I feel. I keep saying that I feel fine, I feel happy, I just have a lot on my plate right now, but I’m not sure that’s true. I’ve started complaining a lot. Getting annoyed, frustrated. Feeling angry at people who do stupid things in traffic, stuff like that. It’s not like me.

I saw a psychic last weekend and she mentioned the terms “hyper” and “quick to get angry” when reading me. I was immediately on the defense (in my mind) but as I thought about my behaviour recently, I realized that she was right. I can get easily worked up right now. This is not who I want to be and I don’t believe this is who I am.

The wonderful thing is that who I am and who I want to be are two things within my control. Once I made the shift and decided to focus on something over which I do have control, a few fortuitous events fell into place.

First, I’ve been getting to work late and I want to change that. This morning, when I briefly woke at 5 am without thinking I said to myself “I send an intention to wake again at 6:30” and went back to sleep. No thoughts of being late or missing work, just a simple intention. My daughter woke me at exactly 6:30. It was a small thing, but it was the universe working in my favor, and it gave me a message. Ask, and you shall receive.

Second, there has been a CD in my purse that my mother gave me a few days ago. I decided to put it into my CD player this morning. It was a workshop given by Jerry & Esther Hicks. In it, they spoke about energy and attraction and being aligned with what you want rather than what you don’t want. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I have become aligned with what I don’t want. I have been channeling a lot of my energy into my problems lately, without even realizing it. The CD in my purse was the light bulb I needed to see it. Just by listening for a few minutes, I became aware of my need to shift focus.

I think its very possible that my own thoughts, my own actions, my own reactions have been further expanding the sense of loss and disconnection in my life from what I want. I needed a reminder, it was given.

I still don’t know the answer to Lynne’s question. Maybe I have been depressed, maybe not but I think the point is that it doesn’t matter what I have been. This is now. A whole new moment. There was a quote I put on my Twitter account a little while ago by Leo Tolstoy: If you want to be happy, be. I want to be happy. Intention, set. Focus, shifted. Let’s see what happens.

Lack

I’m cleansing right now and just had my first (solid) meal in 36 hours. There truly is a blessing in the experience of lack. I eat every day, sometimes all day, but it never tastes so good or makes me feel so satisfied as the lunch I just had today. I savored each bite, I ate slowly and I enjoyed the experience of feeling full. I truly enjoyed the beauty and simple pleasure of food this afternoon and I feel like I’d almost forgotten it. Food, and the act of eating, is a luxury that we have here in the developed world and I think we often take it for granted, I know I do.

I rarely ever have the willpower to force myself into a state of lack (case in point, this is my first cleanse in almost 4 years) but every time I experience lack, I find myself thankful for it when it is over.

My daughter was not a sleeping baby, and I’m serious when I say that. She came out awake and stayed that way for her first 12 months. No continuous night time sleep, no naps, no snoozing, until she was a year old. If you don’t believe me, here is a picture of her at 4 or 5 days, right after we came home from the hospital.

The most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen but always wide awake. I actually count that year as the hardest of my life, sleep deprivation is a torture I wouldn’t wish on anyone. However, as with all things, this eventually passed, and with it came another blessing. Sleep before our daughter, like food before my cleanse, seemed to be an unlimited resource. I could access it at almost any time of day or night. It was up to me how much or how little I slept. I thought nothing of the pure glory of 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. And it is glorious. I enjoy every morsel of my bedtime routine and often go to bed embarrassingly early to enjoy just a little bit more. I give silent (or not so silent) thanks after every night in which I am able to sleep for 6+ hours in a row. Sleep is healing, sleep is equalizing, sleep is beautiful and I never noticed it before I lost it.

Connected with the sleep deprivation was an (often unspoken) dread that I felt as we prepared to have another child. I was afraid (no, terrified) of going back to that place and was even unsure if I really wanted to have a second child. Once again, at the time, my only experience was: go through the motions of producing a child and one will be provided. There was no miracle in the successful conception, pregnancy and birth of a child. People do it all the time. They do it without meaning to. They do it when they don’t want to. I thought that, like my first, a second child was a guarantee if we initiated the process.

Once again, I have been given the opportunity to experience lack and once again, I find myself grateful. The misgivings about having a second child are gone and I now clearly know that I want the experience of a second child, sleep deprivation and all. In addition, the miracle has been exposed. For all the babies being born every day, more and more as our health care improves, it is sometimes hard to see the miracle in each child. We always say we see it but I’m not sure we really do. Having a baby is common, it’s everywhere, it’s normal and when it’s potentially not possible, you finally see that it truly is a miracle.

I’m not sure if I will get to have my second child. If I do, I know I will love it with the depth and abandon of someone who almost didn’t get to. If I don’t, I will be comforted by the knowledge that I know there are miracles, both simple and complex, in everyday life and that there are also blessings in the experience of lack.

I read Invictus today. The poem by William Ernest Henley that Nelson Mandela apparently had on a scrap of paper with him in his prison cell. Not to compare my difficult year with the struggles of Mandela but this poem speaks to me too. After four miscarriages in 12 months, I do believe that my head is bloody but unbowed. You can’t choose the circumstances through which you need to live but you can choose how to live through them. I choose to have hope. I choose not to feel sorry for myself. I choose to become a better person as a result of my experiences. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

I was at my yoga practice a few nights ago for the first time in a few weeks. I had gotten home from work late and starving and had eaten (well, inhaled) a big bowl of leftover mashed potatoes before I left. Once in my yoga practice I felt stiff and inflexible from not having been in a few weeks and the exertion was making me feel nauseous because of the mashed potato rock sitting in my stomach. I was going through the motions of the practice, agonizing in my brain over all the things that were wrong about that current moment.

· I hadn’t been in weeks and I want to go every week

· I ate too much beforehand, which I knew I shouldn’t do

· I was stiff and inflexible and I’ve been doing yoga for 10 years and should be more supple than this

· I was feeling nauseous because of what I ate and it was only going to get worse as the class got more intense

And a million other things. I have knee problems, I have a sore wrist, I have this clicky thing in my elbow when I do Chaturanga Dandasana that feels weird, I lost one of my favourite gloves with the stickies on the palms to keep me from slipping. And on and on. My brain was going a mile a minute.

And then I stopped and the words “second arrow” flew through my head. All these thoughts were negatively affecting this moment. More than my inflexibility, more than my stomach, more than my wrist and my elbow and my knees and my missing glove. It was my judgment of myself and my experience that, more than anything else, was ruining this moment for me.

I asked myself if I wanted to be there, in my practice, despite all the things that I described above. The answer was a resounding “yes”. I love my practice and the fact that I made it there despite the cold and the stress and all of the above was, in itself, an achievement to be proud of.

I told myself that, for this hour, I may feel some discomfort and I may feel nauseous and I may feel 1,000 other things but I was at my practice and it was where I wanted to be so I should just accept what I felt without judgment and let it be. “ Just let it be”, I said to myself, in my head.

As I shifted into that mindspace of “just let it be”, it was pretty amazing what happened next. The flow of the practice started to move through me. The hour dissolved into breathing and stretches and tension and compression and effort and relaxation. I was physically loosened and mentally nourished. My discomforts seemed less uncomfortable and my nausea, amazingly, had simply gone away.

I got up from my mat feeling all the things that I wanted to feel, all the things I had almost robbed myself of and I was amazed. My first real-life application of mindfulness and it had worked. I was pretty amazed and pretty proud.

And as I left, I found my glove with the stickies on the palms that keep me from slipping.