Why I hate winter….but not really

I think possibly I have developed some faith.

I have been thinking about winter.  It is hard to NOT think about winter, since we are smack in the middle of it here in Atlantic Canada.  My smarter-than-me phone told me this morning it was ZERO degrees American.   That’s cold, for me.   When you translate to the 19.6 degrees Celsius it is less compelling for someone raised on the Fareinheit system, but zero….whew.  It is winter.

Winter conjures a lot of negative stuff for me.  Old family of origin stuff, of course.  Winters were long and hard in Maine when I was a kid.   My family was fairly poor, but only as poor as most of my classmates, so we all knew what it meant to have the house barely warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing, and that when we went out to play it was wearing extra layers of clothes we already had, not special technical fabrics or down or polyester filling to our coats and pants.  Down was for rich people and polyester hadn’t been invented yet.   So there was a lot of cold and wet involved in winter, and that special, awful, burning feeling in your hands and feet as they start to warm up again after playing outside for hours in the snow.

I also had the spectre of my mother, who was not a warm, positive influence at the best of times.  She was at her worst in winter;  felt closed in, imprisoned by winter and by being a mother-at-home without a car.   So there are some negative things that just arise for me when it is cold and snowy.


I have worked hard to restructure that part of my brain. In 1994, when I moved from Louisiana to upstate New York, I was determined to make winter my friend.  I got snowshoes.  I got really excellent snow tires, four of them.  None of that “all weather radial” nonsense for me;  after my first accidental 360 with my all weather tires, I replaced them.   I got cross-country skis and taught myself to use them.  (Note:  simply translating my running skills to skis was not a good strategy. It was years later that I had to unlearn a whole pile of bad habits).  I put on extra sweaters, extra blankets, and sucked up the extra expense to have my house warm enough for me to feel okay.

Fast forward to now.  I live in Canada.   As my brother and his wife asked, in all kindness, “What were you thinking?”   They, of course, live in balmy Chicago.   But yes, I live in Canada and suffice it to say that I wasn’t thinking about winter when I made that decision.   I am here now, though, and working through my negativity every single day.   Every winter day, that is.

winter trees
winter trees

I heard on the radio that loveliest of winter expressions from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at the very same moment I reflected that in only 12 weeks, or less, actually, we’ll be celebrating the vernal equinox.   And that’s the faith part.   I have learned to have faith in the sun rising and setting, and in the days lengthening and shortening.   Nothing stays the same but this pattern of change is something I can count on.

BUT…and this is a big BUT………I don’t want to spend the next twelve weeks wishing for winter to be over.  That’s not okay with me;  that’s like giving away three months of my life and I don’t have it to spare!   So it isn’t enough to just grit my teeth and wish for spring, resisting what is actually happening in hope that the future will be different, better, a destination.

That’s a hell of a way to live your life, waiting for the next thing to happen.  I think I have had enough of that.

Sun rise in winter
Sun rise in winter

I wonder how much of my childhood self is caught up in my winter blues?   The self that didn’t have any hope for change, that had no capacity to take action on my own behalf, the child who was stuck in a family and home where unhappiness was always the order of the day….that’s who is awake and operating when my negative side starts to dominate.

So I need to reconnect with my faith in the pattern of life on this planet:     because I can count on the sun, I don’t have to give my winter away to negativity and complaining.  I can take care of me.   I can notice how I feel and think about winter.  I can sit quietly with those thoughts and feelings.  I can remember how it was to be a kid in that setting, and also remember that I am no longer that child, no longer in that life.   Now I have choices:    I can ski, and snowshoe, and eat roasted root vegetables, and drink warm comforting drinks and be present to the winter, without wanting it to hurry by to get to spring.   Some days I’ll likely resist the winter, and feel constricted and angry and frustrated by what I perceive as the limits of the season.   Whether I resist or not, though, I know this:  the sun will rise.  The sun will set.  The days will grow longer and then, in June, they’ll begin to grow shorter.  No matter how I feel about any of it, this pattern of change will go on.   On this I can depend.

Finding the deep desires of your heart

What is your heart’s desire?  What do you REALLY want?

Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/
Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/

Notice what happens inside you as you sit with that question.   What is my heart’s desire?  What do I really, really want?  Watch your mind generate all sorts of answers, excuses, plausible reasons not to even consider the question, and perhaps even responses that are socially appropriate.

Maybe you were taught that it is rude to WANT something.  Maybe you had many experiences of disappointment in your wants, to the point that you stopped WANTING.  Or you told yourself you didn’t have any WANTS.   Maybe you are very busy trying to make sure other people get what they WANT, and your own little wants have lost their voices.

Watch your thoughts as you start to consider this question.  Notice if you resist the question itself (“I don’t need to read this stuff.”)  Notice if you reject your ideas about what you might want.   How do we get past the mind’s pattern of criticizing itself?   It is hard to know what you really want if you have an inner critic telling you to shut up all the time.

A beautiful place to sit and ponder
A beautiful place to sit and ponder

Now try an experiment.   Get up on your feet.  Yes, you, right now, on your feet!   Jump up and down a little bit, get your breathing going.    Now hop around on one foot, then the other foot, and maybe even wave your arms around up over your head.    Yes, get silly and move around vigorously, shaking your head, letting your jaw go loose, maybe letting some sound out of your mouth….
“ahhhh,   ooommmmmm,  raaaahhhhhh,    bbbrrrrrrrr…” whatever sounds come out as you are jumping, jogging, shaking, and waving.

Oh, yeah.  Just let ‘er rip!  Let your body move, let your voice come out, get energy flowing all through your body.   It could be a dance, could be cheer-leading, could be gymnastics or calisthenics  whatever works for you, but it needs to be vigorous, free, and energetic.  Yahoo!

Now let your body come back to a still place.  Feel your feet firmly on the ground, feel the breath in your body, notice your heartrate, still elevated, and notice what is happening in your thoughts, in your mind.   And now, just standing there, let your answer come….What do I really, really want?   What is my heart’s desire?

Let go of any judgment, any self-criticism.  What do I want, now that I have let my body start to have its voice?  Just notice what ideas come up for you, and see if you can make note of them without commentary.  What do I want?  What does my heart want most right now?   Nothing is off limits…whatever arises for you, that’s what you want.

And your job is to let it be okay that you want what you want.   That’s all….you can want whatever it is that you want.  Just wanting is a big thing for many of us.  This  exercise is a beginning. Your heart’s desire is there waiting for recognition.

What did you find out when you tried the little experiment?   I wonder what would happen if you did it several days in a row?  Could you get more skillful at letting the body’s truth come out?  Could you start to recognize self-criticism and learn to just let that go?

Starting over. Starting over. Starting over.

The sun comes up every single morning.  What a gift, what a blessing.   When we conceive of the new day as new opportunity, everything opens up.

Sunrise over Cundy's Harbour, Maine, Dianne Carrick 31 Dec 2012
Sunrise over Cundy’s Harbour, Maine, Dianne Carrick 31 Dec 2012

  Today is just beginning.   That means that my experience of today is also, yes, just beginning.  So I have choices.  I can choose to make this a new beginning or a continuation of what was.   Actually, of course, today is always both of those things.    Taking a leap into something new can be frightening.   We shrink from fear, pulling ourselves inward, like an everlasting snail withdrawing his tiny horns from an aversive stimulus.   But once pulled in, once shrunken into myself, pulled away from the world, I am tight, tense, afraid, anxious, then actually interacting with the world becomes difficult. I am constrained from acting as I might want to act.  I am unable to feel my own experiences of the world because I have shrunk away from them.

What if?    

What if?    If only I realized that I am always and everywhere interacting with the world, actually am part of the world, taking in the world through my breath and my eyes, my ears and my skin, and adding parts of myself to the world just by being alive and being present, well, might that awareness not help me to know that fear itself is an illusion, just as separation is an illusion?

Starting over
Solstice dawn.
Solstice dawn.

Well, it’s a thought, anyway.   I was talking with my friend and body-worker Kathrine Walker about this miraculous interface between the human body (MY human body, your human body) and the world.   We were working with a meditation on the breath, visualizing the lungs right down to the alveoli, the location where the amazing happens:   air from the world interfaces with the body and becomes part of the body.   I recalled the other places where this occurs:  in the sensory organs and within the digestive system.   In each system, there is a specific place, specific part of the body which developed for its particular interface with information from the world….the retina gathers light energy and converts it to something your brain can understand.  The hair cells of the basilar membrane of the ear can take sound waves and turn them into neural transmissions.   Inside your nose are receptors that collect molecules of substances that waft in on the air you breathe, and those molecules are turned into information for your brain to interpret (“Hmm, apples….that reminds me of fall and our trips up river to pick apples.”)   The world is coming to us every moment of every day, and the world is becoming us.

When I breathed into that awareness, when I actively sought to notice air becoming me, sound shaping my mental experience, feeling the sensation of really deeply looking at colours, I could just barely begin to touch this reality.   But it meant something.   It meant that I could let go of a lot of my striving.   No matter how hard I try, I can’t keep myself safe from the world.   No matter how much I try to control myself, my future, my life, things are happening every single millisecond that I cannot control.

The good news about that was this:    I don’t need to set goals, to create rigid structures for Self-Improvement, to follow somebody-or-other’s plan for getting a better body, more spiritual soul, sharper intelligence.  I just need to breathe and to be, and in so doing, I am becoming more part of the world and letting the world become part of me.   

Could be a scary thought.  Or it could be extraordinarily freeing.

On this last day of the year, I think I’ll choose to find it freeing.








All I ever wanted…

“All I ever wanted since I arrived here on Earth were the things that turned out to be within reach, the same things I needed as a baby — to go from cold to warm, lonely to held, the vessel to the giver, empty to full. You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you’re dirty and rattled. Who knew?”

This quote is from an article in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/eating-healthy-habits-how-to-satisfy-your-soul_n_1940936.html) that is an excerpt from Anne Lamott’s new book.

It sure made me think.  To go from cold to warm…from lonely to held….from empty to full.  All body states, all states of being in the body.   We think, and so because we think, we assume that thinking holds the answers or the keys to our well being or our sense of “okayness.”      Thinking is an important tool, for sure.  It is essential for solving problems, and for generating new creations.  But to FEEL okay is a body thing.


It is funny, or at least ironic, that we assume that we need to THINK about stuff in order to feel better.  We certainly know that our thinking can make us feel worse.    So we make the logical assumption that we need to think in order to feel better.  But what if that is a false assumption?

Maybe we just need to FEEL in order to feel better.  Maybe we need to get in touch with what our body is experiencing right here and right now.   If I can’t feel what’s going on in my body, then I am out of touch with the largest part of myself.   So when I can’t FEEL, I need to move some energy in my body so that sensation becomes available to consciousness.

Check in right now.  What are you aware of IN YOUR BODY?    If you aren’t feeling all that much, get up, swing your arms around, pick your knees up, one after the other, jog in place, or do a few old-faithful jumping jacks.  Move enough so that your breathing changes.   Then slow your motion until you find a place of stillness, and check in again.  What’s there for you?  Where are you on the cold-to-warm, lonely-to-held, empty-to-full continua?  What is your full experience right in this moment?




Reason to change

Boy, do human beings ever dislike change!  We don’t like it when we have change thrust upon us.    If something changes without notice, well, then, I am unprepared, maybe taken unawares, feeling out of step or off kilter.    We prefer to call our own shots, to have predictability in our lives.   We don’t even like it much when the weather changes, even though it is eminently clear that the weather means nothing personal.

When we see the need for change in our own lives, we often resist it.   Even if we want the change, seek it, work toward it, sometimes we get in our own way.   Obstacles arise, apparently by themselves.   Inertia settles into the body.  We may actively sabotage our own efforts to change our behaviour.   Then we give up, saying, “It’s too hard.   I’ve been okay like this so far;  I don’t know why I think I want to change anything anyway.”   Then we settle for living less than our full lives, sighing with resignation.  “I can’t change.   Things just won’t go the way I want them to. There is no hope…”

I respectfully disagree!   Change is possible.  In fact, change is inevitable.   We work incredibly hard to try to keep things, including ourselves, from changing.  But change is going to happen.   We can prepare for it, try to focus it in a particular direction, and let life change us.   The key is letting it happen rather than trying to force it, or force ourselves.

People come into the office wanting something to change.  Sometimes they want circumstances to change, but mostly they know that the change has to come from within.  Sometimes people want harsh measures, and they are particularly punitive with themselves.   “I have to lose twenty pounds and so I am not going to eat anything good for the next two months…”   Sometimes they want me to be punitive with them;  it may be the only kind of relationship they know.  How different it is to allow change rather than to force it!   How different to set an intention rather than create a goal and rigid steps to achieve it!

Change is happening to you, right now.   It is happening to me, it is happening in all of our lives.  What one tiny step can you take right now to move that change in the direction you prefer?  Maybe you can step outside for a walk, or maybe just a deep breath to change your relationship to your work.  Maybe you can email a friend, to change your social connections.  Maybe you can pick up a bit of litter.  Maybe you can send a positive thought to someone you fear, to change how you relate.

If not you, then who?

If not now, then when?

Days of darkness

Dawn is easy to find this time of year, in New Brunswick.  It happens so late in the day that most people who are not teenagers are likely to up when the sun appears.   By the same token, the sun sets early, too….earlier and earlier for the next six weeks.   I am grateful to be living here on Atlantic time.  When I lived in Bangor, Maine, on Eastern time (but only a wee bit to the west of here), the sun was effectively gone from the sky well before four pm in latest fall.   It always seems hard to me to go to work in the dark and return from work in the dark;  to have all of the daylight hours taken by work, presumably indoor work.  But when I lived in Maine, that four pm darkness was really hard to take.




We exacerbate the body’s struggle with the dark hours by adding a time change to the situation.   The decision-makers don’t live here.   They live in a more moderate, more temperate, more middle place, one where the length of day doesn’t fluctuate as much with the calendar.   They may also live a more indoor life.   When the light your body lives in is generated artificially, internal processes change.   There are concrete, physiological reasons why people feel better in the summer, at least in this climate, and sun exposure is a part of that.    So as the days grow longer, I get out my therapy lightbox and make sure that most days I get some sunlight or some light from the box.   I notice the ways that we as a society create cultural experiences and values to help us get through this darkness.   I carefully consider what I need and want to support me in feeling well and whole while the darkness feels encompassing.  And I actively try to think positive thoughts about the dark days.


What changes do you notice in your body as the days get shorter?

How do you honour the body’s needs?   Are you able to sit back and reflect on what you need during this time of year?

Can you notice the pull of social demands around the holidays and then choose whether and how to join in?  More on that later….



Fall bounty


I’ve been writing and thinking about darkness, and the lack of light, and how the late fall contributes to my own desire to hibernate.  But here is a lovely little picture of the fruits of the fall;  vegetables at the Boyce Farmer’s Market in early November.   The colours are muted, compared to summer vegetables and fruits, but they are still full of good nutrition and of course the pungent onion may help us to remember that we are, in fact, alive…if we can smell and taste and even tear up due to a vegetable!

The darkness is an opportunity.  It provides us with a chance to slow down, to listen to the still small voice within, to take stock of our lives and our selves.   The holiday season is a last final frantic rush of business before winter;   perhaps a way that we try to distract ourselves from the realities of reflection.   I used to be so busy that I didn’t have time to think, to stop and ponder, to wonder.   I suspect I used to make myself that busy.  Of course social expectations support busyness…do you know anyone who says, oh, I’m not that busy…?   People find being busy to be a status symbol of some sort.   But I think often we want to stay too busy to look at ourselves and look at our lives.  We are too busy to feel our feelings, except superficially.   We like it that way.

The darkness and the cold draw us toward quiet, toward reflection.   Rather than being something to try to escape, perhaps we could see them as opportunities to carefully consider how we are living.   Taking some quiet time in the dark days may help illuminate a path for the future, for a way for life to be different or maybe just for US to be different.

Make sure you take some quiet time this solstice season.  Don’t let the forced gaiety of the holidays overwhelm your need for time for yourself.  Don’t let social expectations flood you so that you can’t feel what you really feel.  Just because “everyone” is happy, you don’t have to pretend.  And know, too, that everyone is NOT happy.   People feel what they feel, and usually that’s a range of feelings.

May the blessings of the season of darkness be yours.

Balthasar’s Hand

I love the process of clearing space.  I love doing it in the physical world, where I declutter, remove unneeded objects, and put things in their proper places.  I love doing it in my inner world, too, when the mental noise is starting to be more insistent than my experience of sensory pleasures.  That is, when I notice that I have been walking in the woods for the last ten minutes but haven’t seen, heard, or smelled anything at all that told me I was in the woods, then I know that I am far too caught up in my inner life and that my real life, the life of my body in this world, is passing me by.

But there is a seductiveness to thinking, thinking, thinking.  In my thoughts, I can imagine that things work out just the way I want them to.   In my thoughts, I can also imagine that things are Just Terrible, and that there is an awful tragedy, and I can suffer mightily.  For some reason, people seem to like to dwell in thoughts like those maybe even more than dwelling in thoughts that bring pleasure.  In my thoughts, I can wreak vengeance on those whom I think have done me wrong.   I can see my personal justice brought to bear in my thoughts.

I don’t really want to trash-talk the thinking process.  Thinking is perhaps the most useful tool that human beings have developed.  We are capable of remembering the past on multiple levels, and of projecting the future, and those two things allow us to create new objects and experiences.  They also allow us to re-experience through various means; reading books, watching movies, talking with friends.  Thinking is a powerful tool and we don’t use it all the time. Our minds are busy, though, even when we don’t need to be thinking.  This is an adaptation;   our minds are on alert for threats to survival, opportunities to increase the likelihood of survival, and sometimes just ways to entertain us.    These busy minds can also cause us a lot of grief if we have learned habits that are unwholesome and lead us to getting caught in our thoughts and feelings.


Having a cluttered mind is like having a cluttered home or a cluttered office, though.   The clutter can really get in the way of priorities.  It can divert attention from what is really important.  And sometimes I discover little bits and pieces of clutter that really belong somewhere else.  If those bits and pieces were put where they belonged, they wouldn’t actually be clutter.


There is a Christmas cactus in the living room;  it is in a clay pot, and sits on a white saucer, to protect the table from drips of water.   On the edge of the saucer is a small brown object.   I noticed it when watering the plant, picked it up to wonder at it.  It’s a hand, actually, a ceramic hand, broken off a ceramic person and just cluttering up the saucer.   When I held it I recognized it;  it belongs to a statue of one of the famed Three Kings of Epiphany;  Balthasar, to be precise.  Balthasar comes out, along with his brethren, during winter holidays.  These guys are remnants from my life as a young mom, making merry with my small children, and Balthasar has always had trouble keeping his hand connected.  However, finding Balthasar’s hand on my plant saucer in mid summer means that it has been there for months, existing as clutter.

What to do with this hand, now that I have noticed it, picked it up, identified it?   I could find the statue and glue it on.  I could pitch the hand in the trash, which is perhaps the most reasonable thing to do. After all, Balthasar has managed without his hand for some time.     But no, I did neither of these.   I did the only thing possible for me at this time.  I put it back on the saucer, in hope that I’ll remember where it sits next December when Balthasar comes to visit out of the decorations stored in the basement.   In the meantime, in its current incarnation as “clutter” the hand has distracted and entertained me, and in fact, provided an inspiration for a post that started out being in favor of decluttering.   Maybe I’ll need to reconsider my position on that!

What is your experience?   How do your chosen objects enhance your life?   Do they ever impinge on you in a negative way?  Is it easier to do a complex task if your surroundings are clear?


Shape Shifting…or how cognitive maps have rocked my world



Have you ever had the experience of going back to where you grew up, seeing with adult eyes a place that you had experienced as a child?  Usually people remark that everything seems so much smaller.  The houses you knew, the parks, the walks to school, all of those things that were the fabric of your daily childhood experience seem to shrink in size when you return as an adult.  Of course that makes perfect sense.  When you were a child, you were physically smaller, so your actual relationship to the concrete aspects of your environment was different.  Relative to you, things ARE smaller once you grow up.


I have recently had a different experience, one that strikes me as nearly opposite but arising from the same place.   I have been visiting a part of the US where I lived as an adult, where I worked, raised children, commuted, participated in all the usual activities of a busy adult life.    The area is fairly heavily populated, towns strung like tightly packed pearls on a necklace of highways, traffic usually busy, lots of stores and businesses, shopping malls and medical office parks, housing subdivisions, convenience stores competing with each other on every corner.   I have been visiting my former home, the college where I worked as a professor, the community where I consulted twice a month, and places that I frequented to run, bike, walk or drink coffee.   What I have discovered is that everything here is seems bigger, rather than smaller.  Distances are much longer than I remembered them to be.  Buildings are larger.   Rooms don’t seem different but buildings themselves seem out of human proportion, or at least out of proportion to me.

What’s going on here?   I think it is a great example of how our minds actually create our reality.   The relevant research term is “cognitive mapping,” which refers to the internal structure we create to navigate our literal world.   The parts of this literal world that I recollect the best are the ones where I had a personal connection, and I remember them without really remembering the parts in between.  That is, I can easily recall the building where my office was, and the coffee place across the street.  What was not clear to me (in memory) was the actual distance between them.   I remembered the route to drive to the college but the distance was a shock to me!  It takes a long time to get between here and there in real life, but in my memory, there was no distance, and hence no time, at all.


I am sure I could get used to this place again, and stop feeling befuddled by my perceptions.  But the question it raises for me is  a bit bigger.   If I have created a mental map of my surroundings, based on my experiences, my “working model” of the place, that means I have left out things that my mind classifies as irrelevant.   I have heightened my perception of the salient points.   If I do this for locations, do I also do it for other important elements of my experience?  I am sure that the answer is yes.  We developed these minds to help us manage in an over stimulating environment.  We automatically classify, label, categorize, and evaluate all of the data that enters our sensory systems.   I appreciate that;   that cognitive ability makes it possible for us to learn new things, take in new information and make sense of it.   But I am still left wondering what it is that I don’t know….what might I be missing in all that is around me?   If I am in fact creating my perceptual world out of some objective collection of matter and energy, I am likely missing quite a bit.

Parallel universes?  Right here in our very own minds?   Sure, why not?   Maybe that’s a part of therapy;  once you have a different way to look at your circumstances, they might look a whole lot different.

Have you noticed things that were “new” simply because you were able to shift your perspective?   What does that mean to you?




There was something so lovely for me about the bioenergetic retreat at Belcourt Center on Prince Edward Island  this year.  I know it was the last of 24 years worth of retreats.  I know that it was my tenth year to participate.   I expected to feel sad and somewhat bereft about that.  However, I didn’t.  What I noticed was my ability to enjoy the moment had increased.   Instead of looking about me and thinking things like “this is the last time I’ll do this…” I was able to look about me and enjoy the experience.   It wasn’t even particularly heightened by knowing it was the last time.  It was just a lovely opportunity to be present and to stay open to whatever would be coming into my awareness.


Retreat:    the word itself suggests going away from something, moving back.  In some ways, I guess, we retreat from the stressors and pressures of our everyday lives to spend time with ourselves, with our inner spirits, with our bodies and our experiences.   I wonder if it is really necessary to go away to do that?

How can I make a retreat for myself without having to head off to Prince Edward Island, or wherever is different from HERE?  Perhaps rather than thinking about what I want to retreat FROM, I could think about what it is I would like to retreat TO…in other words, what am I turning towards in my life?

Retreat can also be a turning toward something….where is this stream going? Where am I going?


  • Toward…greater self awareness
  • Toward…equanimity and inner peacefulness
  • Toward…..an ability to be with all of my feelings, no matter how uncomfortable, or how much I would prefer not to experience them, or what my thoughts about them might be
  • Toward….health, relaxation,  and wholeness

Creating space to listen to my inner voice, remembering and committing to my mindfulness practice, eating nourishing food in a nourishing way, embracing relationships with a commitment to be present to whatever comes up….those are ways I can retreat toward my identified goals.    I can try to “retreat” on a daily basis when I sit in the morning, when I take a “mindfulness moment” to be fully present, when I move my body to check in on my inner experience.

It seems possible to make a space for all of that in my everyday life.   What about you?  What would you turn toward in a retreat?   How could you make that happen in your life?  Drop me a note about how you can “retreat” to being more in the world this week.


Thanks to Lee Ann McPherson for the stream photo;  to Government of PEI for the lupins, and to an unknown but appreciated photographer for the lovely pile of rounded stones;  inukshuk of sorts.


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