The end of fall

cropped-red-sky-jan-15.jpgWhere I live in the Canadian Maritimes, late fall can look a lot like winter elsewhere.

This is the time of year that leads people to (frantic?) celebration, lighting up houses and trees, sprinkling glitter in unusual places, more parties, more drinking, more attempts to push back the darkness in any way we can.  But the darkness deepens.   Hours of daylight are few:  the sun is barely visible over the horizon at the beginning of the workday, and by the time supper is taking shape in my mind, much less on the stove, the darkness is encroaching again.  So we dance, and sing, and light our homes and maybe get half lit ourselves.  What are we celebrating?

With the growing darkness two things come up in us:  first, there is a primal fear that the darkness is all.  That there is really only darkness and any suggestion of light  is just self-deception or ignorance.   The world growing dark merely demonstrates the darkness of the human heart.  There is a lot of darkness in the world right now. Our hearts and minds grow dark, and we focus on the violence, the poverty, the problems both public and personal.  We fear that we will be overtaken by dark, there will be no more warmth, no more growing season, no sunlight toward which we turn our faces to soak in the energy of our star.

But there is also something else in us, sometimes a very small something but it is there.  There is also a spark, of faith, or belief, perhaps, but something that reminds us to keep on going. Even when the days are long and dark, when the nights seem to last forever, there is something in our human spirit that keeps us plugging along.  I don’t think it is hope.  Hope is too intellectual, too cognitive a concept.  It is something more like life itself.   Within us there is the fear of the ultimate darkness but more important, there is a push toward the light, toward life, a movement within us that says, “Yes” when all the world looks so much like “no.”

So maybe I need to re-frame my picture of our end-of-fall holiday mania.  Maybe it isn’t really about desperate pushing away of the darkness.  Maybe, instead, it is about our own small lights within reaching out to join with other lights, to band together until the light comes back into the world.

May you join your spark with many others to help bring light to the world.  Now more than ever, your life is needed to bring light into the darkness.

Peace.

candle1

 

 

 

 

Who’s in charge of your life? on not letting mood dictate your behaviour

I wonder how often I attribute my choices to my mood?  “I wasn’t in the mood to do the dishes,” for example.  Or, “I’d exercise more, but I’m just not in the mood.”  When I think this way, it is almost as if my mood is something outside of me, or something that comes over me without my awareness, knowledge, or permission.   And then I give it the power to decide whether I’ll do the dishes or exercise.

Or maybe (MAYBE) I let my mood dictate my behaviors because I don’t want to take responsibility for my choices.  Somehow it would not be as okay to claim the choice to sit on my couch and not do something.

We often feel like we are subject to the whims of our internal lives, as if our moods and emotions rule us.  I don’t think we were constructed that way:  I think that moods and emotions are information for us but they are not masters and we their slaves.  But when we just react our way through our days without even really noticing our inner life, then it may feel like our feelings are running US.

How do we get out of that?  How do we get to take charge of our own lives?

We first have to have awareness of our thoughts, our feelings, and our body sensations.  We need to be able to notice our vitality affects, for example (energy level), and notice sensations of prickling, tightness, openness or lightness, whateer sensations are present.  We need to be attuned to our own selves as well as to the world around us, and that means that sometimes we have to turn down the stimulation and just check inside ourselves.

Atmospheric phenomenon to which we attribute meaning
Atmospheric phenomenon to which we attribute meaning

Pay attention to the shift in your emotion, no matter how small. When you notice yourself getting more upset or distressed, ask yourself, “What am I telling myself right now?” or “What is making me feel upset?”  It is likely a thought which has occurred to you.  But how might you feel if that thought had not occurred to you?

In other words, how would you feel if you didn’t believe that thought?

Ah….maybe I’d feel just fine, thank you very much.

Conversely, the body can give us messages that we interpret to mean something.  The other day, I felt fabulous…had just finished a long walk with a little running, was working a positive inner dialogue about my progress, was able to notice the trees, the air, the birds…all those things that contribute to my personal sense of well-being (your list will be different).  Suddenly I found myself irritated at some minor frustration, very irritated.  Wait!  How did I get from feeling fabulous to feeling irritated?   I checked in on my thoughts, my experiences, and by body sensations and yes, there it was…the tiniest little bit of aching in my groin from running.  The endorphin flow had slowed, I could start to feel the work that my joints had done, it was painful though only slightly….and suddenly I was easily irritated.  And probably underlying that body ache was some automatic thought…”Oh, this again,” or “Ugh, I hurt,” or “I don’t feel so good,” and so irritation happened.

Mood is a number of things but whether we let our moods dictate our lives is a personal choice.  If I only did things when I felt like it, well, I’d have some pretty severe limits on my life!  So I choose to watch my thoughts and remember that thoughts, mood, and feelings are all part of my body, and they all are fluid and shifting…so I might as well live my life and let my mood catch up with me.

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A Sensory Feast

Walking with Max last weekend, I realized something. All week I’d led a life with plenty of stimulation:  work, activities, books, music, and of course social media. When I went out into the early spring morning I was smacked with a cascade of sensory experiences, different, powerful and healing sensory experiences.  For some reason, my inner self was tuned to the sensorium, which is generally a good thing.  It means that my thoughts are not in ascendance but my experience is my priority.  So I could smell amazing things;  see and hear late spring buzzing, blooming, squawking and splashing all over.   My experience was of filling up a container that had been emptier than I had realized, and taking in, taking in, taking in.

I recently read something about “earthing” and “forest bathing.”  These concepts were amusing to me at first, because they seem so, well, unnecessary.  Of course we need to touch and feel the ground under our feet.  Of course we need to spend time with trees, wildlife, decaying leaves and insect bodies, the richness of everyday life outside of the house.  But when I continued to read, it because clearer to me…many people do not have these experiences with any kind of regularity.  Could it be that people actually have to be TOLD to get outside?  That they need to purchase “earthing” products to bring them closer to the planet on which we live, from which we have sprung, both as a species and as individuals?

The product part is the ugly side of capitalism, I guess, along with excessive corporate profits, pillaging the land for “resource development” and the like.  Most people, I am guessing, actually DO have access to a bit of earth, a spot of green, a park or verge or a place where water flows spontaneously over the earth.   What we need is the will to make getting to ground a priority.   Rather than buying an earthing mat to go under your feet while you sit at your desk in front of your computer, get out of the office and walk on the ground.

Then I have to ask myself whether I have been spoiled by the abundance of natural riches here where I live?  Maybe I am assuming too much, because finding “nature” is easy for me.  (I don’t like using that term to mean whatever is outdoors, because I kind of think I’m part of nature, and you are, too).   Outdoor “nature” is just a step away.  And real woods, for forest bathing or hiking or just walking the dog, that kind of nature is within a few minutes of biking.  We also have the “nature” of blackflies, mosquitoes, ticks, and black bears, just to be clear.

So I don’t know about earthing or forest bathing.  I do know that when Max and I head out in the early morning for our adventure, both of us enjoy it.  Maybe it means even more than I realized, but I do have a good sense that my body and mind need what I get when I am out there.

Below are some shots of early June at the University of New Brunswick Woodlot, where dogs and people can bathe in the forest, the swarms of insects, and the smells of late spring.

      

Reading Anne Lamott: or books, books, and more books

anne lamott

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott, and not the book I wanted to read, either. I went to the library last week and grabbed a supply of novels, needed supplies for me during the best of times, but especially in the winter.  And I also grabbed a book by Anne, called “Grace (eventually):  Thoughts on Faith” since Bird by Bird was out. (Bird by Bird was going to kickstart my writing career.) I figured I’d read a chapter of Lamott and then a novel, a chapter of the non-fiction, and then a novel.  This was my plan.

I should probably tell you a little about my novel habit.  I am regrettably omnivorous in the reading department.  I don’t have a habit of deconstructing or analyzing the fiction I consume.  And I do consume:  rapidly and without much reflection.  This is, I have come to realize, a way to manage my anxiety.   When I look backward at my reading life, I can see that particularly difficult times in my life were punctuated by lots and lots of fiction.   There was a time in my early forties when I was diving through ten or twelve mysteries a week, a nice mix of the humorous character in a quintessential small town type along with the likes of Patricia Cornwell and Jonathan Kellerman.   I was also working (two jobs) and raising a family (three teens at that time in my life) and spent virtually every free minute wrapped up in a book.

Thanks to Evan Lawrence Bench via flickr
Thanks to Evan Lawrence Bench via flickr

Hmm….that reminds me of one of my mother’s oft-repeated complaints about me. “Leslie Ann, get your nose out of that book.  You’ve got your nose stuck in a book all the time.”  This from the woman who perfected the art of sitting tipped back in a kitchen chair with her feet tidily tucked into the oven of the oil cookstove, the warmest place in the house, while deeply immersed in books of her own.

That maternal image was a diversion. I should be looking at my own behaviour.  I have to say that I am not entirely sure why I have taken another nose-dive into reading (and reading and reading…) but if Anne Lamott is going to be supplying some of the goodies, I’m in better hands that I might have been.   That is to say that I got totally shanghaied by her book.  Instead of my neat plan to alternate fiction and non, Anne grabbed me off the kitchen chair and plunged me into her own stories of juicy, messy, twisted life.  And coming through it, not with blue ribbons or halos, but alive.  Really, truly alive.

So what am I trying to control with my excessive reading?  Does all that reading support my own aliveness?  Or am I using it to tamp down my feelings so I (maybe) don’t know what’s going on inside me?   Given the way that I have used books and reading in my past (much like a person might abuse drink or shopping, I suspect), I may need to look closely at that.   But not until I finish this lovely stack from the public library.

I want it my way or, the REAL cure for stress

Everything in my life would be so simple if only everyone did exactly what I want them to do all the time. In fact, that’s so obvious that I can’t really believe I have never said it before.  If you people would just do things the way I want them done, then I wouldn’t have all this stress.

Why can’t you conform to MY expectations?  Why won’t you give up your own needs, desires, and wants in order to  meet mine?   If you won’t do that, then LIFE IS NOT FAIR.

And you know what that means……I’ll have to be all stressed out about life not being fair.

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It isn’t really just people, though.  I want the DOG to do what I want.  And I really, REALLY want the weather to do things the way that I prefer them.  Like I’ve really just about HAD IT with the snow. We are in the middle of yet another blizzard (can I stand to write another blizzard post?) and I want it to JUST STOP.  STOP IT!!!

And that’s where the whole house of cards breaks down.  Becomes pretty funny, actually, when the absurdity is revealed.

I can rail at the weather all I want but it isn’t going to have any effect.  The weather is what it is. I can rail about the dog, too, and I could even do something to separate myself from him or train him to behave differently, but my major complaint is shedding and neither he nor I have any control over that.

We often live in a illusory world where we believe that we should be able to control other people.  We want to control not only how they behave, but often (and more insidiously) how they think and feel.   We want them to LIKE us, or think kindly toward us, or treat us with respect.  We get stressed in our attempts to manage other people’s thoughts about us and their behaviour toward us.  We think we know what’s going on inside other people, we think we can foretell the future based on what we think THEY think, and we think that there is something we can do about it.

??????????

Yes, that’s living in illusion.   A whole whack of layers of illusion.  Imagine the fabric that is called illusion….wedding dress stuff, layers and layers of tulle-like poufyness.  Then imagine what it would be like to have your hold on reality swathed in layers and layers of illusion:  not being able to find the ground, or find what is real….yes, that would be stressful!  Sometime we believe that the solution to the stress is for the other person to just Just Shape Up.  In other words, do what I want you to do, and do it now.  Then I won’t have to be all stressed.

If we look at the weather, the absurdity becomes obvious. If only the weather would cooperate, I wouldn’t have to suffer.  Not true! Suffering is a result of believing that I shouldn’t be inconvenienced. If the weather were perfect, I’d find something else to suffer (be stressed) about.  And I can’t change the weather anyway.  There’s got to be a better answer than that!

There is a better answer, one that actually works. The truth is that our thinking is wrong on two counts.   First, our stress is not a result of other people’s behaviour (or even the weather).  The stress comes from fighting with illusion….fighting imaginary tigers, if you will.  And the second wrong-thinking part is the idea that the cure for my upset (stress) is for the other person (or dog, or the weather) to conform to my expectations.  After all, I shouldn’t be inconvenienced if I haven’t agreed to it. That is not fair.  And that’s a thought a lot of us share.

The cure for stress is to get out of illusion, including the illusions that life contains no inconvenience and that life is fair. Imagine beating your way through the layers and layers of gossamer fabric, wrapped oh so gently around you, encompassing and wrapping you and keeping you in suffering.  The hardest part is to really allow yourself to wonder if you are in illusion. This is actually an empirical question.  It is testable.  You can ask yourself the question…”What do I know?”   And sit with that. What do you really KNOW right here and now? What do I know as opposed to what do I think, believe, or feel to be true?

I start with the things that are incontrovertible.  I know that I am breathing, for example.  I can feel it.  I can stop and notice my breathing.  Yes, I am certain that I am breathing.  Am I alive in my body?   Can I feel my feet on the floor?  Press them right into the floor and feel them there?  Yes.  I am breathing and I can I feel my body, beginning with my feet. So now I know that I am alive, a living organism, having an experience.   What else can I notice?

Then coming back to the upset at hand….what do I KNOW?   What have I seen, heard, observed?   Can I separate that from what I think I know about what I have seen, heard and observed?  For example, can I notice someone’s behaviour without engaging my beliefs about it?  Without the script or storyline? Can I just see what IS without all the layers of how it Should Be or or How I Want It To Be, or How Other People Might Think About It?

It is simple.   But it isn’t easy.  When I ask myself, what do I want to happen in this situation, I can see if I want to control something (or someone) else.  When I ask, what do I really know about this?, then I can better see what my own illusions are contributing

What do I KNOW right here in this moment?  Right here and now, can I separate my moment-to-moment experience from my thoughts, beliefs, plans, memories, concepts, and ideas?  Can I see what is mine and what is someone else’s?  Can I allow other people the same opportunity to be themselves that I want to have in my own life?  And when that becomes possible, what do I notice about my own suffering, or my own stress?

Freedom from illusion isn’t freedom from pain.  But it sure can minimize the suffering.

There’s another blizzard on the way, or, wherever you go, there you are

Yes, I know that Jon Kabat-Zinn already has that title.   I keep reminding myself of the truth of his statement (which probably wasn’t original with him, either) as the next in a series of substantial winter storms moves closer and closer. But my struggle with winter isn’t just about winter.  It is about being present to reality, no matter whether I like that reality or not.

I have a belief that I only have to embrace winter a little and I’ll stop wishing it away.  And so I do embrace winter, sort of.  That is, I have developed a fascination with the light available in the winter, early morning and late afternoon light, especially when there is something developing in the weather.2015-01-24 07.56.47

I love the way that the light stretches over the land, slicing just above the horizon, lengthening shadows and distorting shapes.  I love the way that the tiny sparkles of drifting snow twist and turn in the wind, eddying and flowing and suddenly becoming sharply distinct in the sunlight of midday.

January dawn over the St John river 2015

I love the red of the sky….the pre-blizzard sky.  And I love being at home while the snow is pounding down, puttering in the kitchen, making the house smell spicy and warm, fingers wrapped around hot steaming mugs, wool socks and fleece shirts and even a warm scarf keeping me cosy in the house.

Red sky jan 15

Somehow that’s not enough, though.  That’s not enough of an embrace for me to stop thinking about how much I prefer taking the dog for his walk when I don’t have to spend 15 minutes dressing myself to go outdoors.   I can’t seem to get past a sensation of being closed in, either because of the overwhelming amount of outdoor clothing I require to stay warm (can you say “Michelin Man?”) or the overwhelmingly high snowbanks along the street and even along the sidewalks.  I understand that I ought to be grateful for plowed sidewalks and I am, I truly am.   And I am also struggling with the claustrophobic fear that winter will never, ever be over.

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Yup, those crocuses are supposed to be an image of the hope of spring.  I also know that yesterday was Imbolc, Candlemas, Feast of Saint Birgid, all of those holidays which are supposed to mean the same thing…halfway through winter!  And today is the day for ol’ Punxatawny Phil (my American roots are showing) to let us know the rodent perspective on that.  But you and I both know that today’s blizzard is more like what I should expect, not crocuses, for the next, oh, ten weeks.   Depending on how high and deep that old snow gets piled on top of my crocus bed.

It is a continuous practice for me to try to be present to what IS.  Winter happens to be WHAT IS right now.  I watch myself attend and appreciate and then also watch my thinking slip away into fantasies of summer.  Can I be kind to myself around my inattention?  Can I just notice my thinking….oh, that’s what my thoughts are doing….and bring myself back to here, to now, to Winter 2015?  Can I be present with my own claustrophobia and watch that feeling begin, grow, and then lose traction, as feelings always do?

In someone else’s words, “Don’t wish it away.  Don’t think of it like it’s forever.”  Neither one of those thoughts is helpful.  Both are ways to avoid what is happening here and now. (In case you were wondering, those are lines from an Elton John song that was popular in the 1980s…yes, that long ago….see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6KYAVn8ons)

Welcome, Blizzard.  Welcome, Life.

Coming of the solstice

Solstice is nearly upon us and none too soon for me.  The short days bear heavily down on me, maybe more particularly because we’ve not seen the sun here for over a week.  I am inclined, as those long-ago ancestors, to wrap up in warm woolies, drink hot toddies by the (imaginary) fire, cuddle up with books and family and good food, and just wait it out.
Christmas tree in snow CPNY2002There is probably more for me here, though.  Why do I turn away from the darkness, resist the cold?  It is something different from my biological need for warmth….I live in a civilized place, after all, with central heating and electric lights.  I am unlikely to die from exposure.  But I still resist and turn inward, avoiding…what?  what would I come in contact with should I just let myself experience that darkness?  Why not play a little with it: look into the dark, sit with it, wait and see what is happening, and then, only then, turn back to the light if need be.  I know, my body and my mind both know, that the sun will return, the light will come again, and that the darkness is a time of rest, renewal and regrowth….I just have to be willing to accept those gifts along with the darkness and the cold.

What does fall evoke in you?

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This week has had warm, humid and sometimes rainy weather as a result of a late season hurricane out there in the Atlantic. That means diffuse light, brightly coloured leaves glossy and wet, and today, a gray morning of fog (mourning?). Grass is still green, leaves are drifting over lawns, and the tang of wood smoke would not be a surprise. Yet fall still feels gentle, moving in quietly but with purpose. There is some sense of movement in fall, though I know that the movement is toward winter.  But I notice in myself that I also feel movement, a shift toward maybe incubating something, a new project, new ideas, or maybe (more subtly) just a change in point of view.  Below are some views from my morning with Max.

 

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Popsicle Days

Here is a picture of my new “therapeutic” intervention.

Popsicle money

 

Yes, it is popsicle money.   I have been carrying popsicle money around with me all summer.  I have spent some hours on the bike path, either on the bike or running (or walking) and carrying my popsicle money with me, just in case I was in a place that had popsicles when I wanted a popsicle.

You may need to know that popsicles are not a regular thing with me.  In fact, they are pretty far off my usual list of foods to eat, and they certainly don’t instill any health benefits.   However, there is an opportunity for pleasure and even fun with those icy treats on a hot day when I have been exercising.  And so my quest for the pleasurable popsicle.

I tried to get one and had to settle for something similar one hot weekend day three miles into a four mile run.   Whatever that concoction of water, sugar and flavour was, it hit the spot.   It was thoroughly enjoyable and I made the very most of it.

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So I am sharing this idea, and in the therapy office, I have put out a tiny bowl full of change for popsicles, along with a sign to encourage people to plan to have some fun, plan for pleasure….plan for a popsicle.  Be prepared because you don’t know when the opportunity might arise to indulge and really, deeply enjoy.
Happy summer!  Happy popsicle days!

Reflection on the 2014 Retreat….

PEI lupinsThe 2014 Summer Bioenergetics Retreat on Prince Edward Island is history now.  It was and it will not come again.  There may be other retreats and they may be wonderful but this particular one will not be repeated.

I was fortunate to be a participant in the original retreats offered by Bethany Doyle and Rosalind McVicar.  I began in 2003 and attended annually through 2012, which was the final year of their program.   The retreat in 2003 was my introduction to bioenergetic therapy, and I was hooked, so much so that I applied for the training program that was starting that fall.   I was fortunate to be accepted and trained with Rosalind and Bethany, as well as with Michael Maley, Louise Frechette, and Chuck Lustfield, the International Trainers who traveled to PEI for us.  And I got to go to the retreat for all those years.

Several members of the initial training group are now Certified Bioenergetic Therapists (CBTs), and we have created a team to continue to offer a summer retreat on PEI.   Last month, we had our second retreat with 20 participants, three therapists (see below for contact information), offerings in creativity, spirituality, and grounding movement,  West African drumming, opportunities to share responsibility and support our community, plus to have massage and body work available.   During the week, I also felt my connection to those who have come before, as Rosalind and Bethany offered their best wishes, and from others in my training group who sent email and phone support.

PEI Aerial view

The heart of the retreat program is bioenergetics:  more exercise to increase body awareness and express strong feeling, group process where we all get to know ourselves and each other, individual therapy where people can work out material that comes up in the heightened context of the group.   The absolute confidentiality of the group makes it a safe place for people to work with what really matters to them, and the chance to work with deep feeling, whatever it is, opens energy for laughter and spontaneous play.    And there was much laughter and much spontaneous play last week!

I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to shape and support the processes of this retreat.  I learned a lot about myself and my connections to others, even as a therapist, and I appreciate the openness and willingness of all of our participants to engage in the process and support one another.

Planning for next year is underway!   Mark your calendar:  July 4-10, 2015, Saturday to Saturday.

 

Therapists:    Laurie Ure,  Gloucester, MA, USA   http://laurieure.com/

Jessie DeBaie, Nova Scotia, CA  http://www.bioenergetictherapy.ca/jessiepage.htm

Leslie Ann Costello, New Brunswick, CA https://frederictonbioenergetics.wordpress.com/

Massage and body work:

Ailsa Keppie, Halifax, Nova Scotia, CA http://www.aninspiredheart.com/

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