Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Today's lesson: if you want to walk more mindfully...

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... take off your shoes.

Seriously. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference.

Barefoot Walking and Mindfulness

I discovered the link between barefoot walking and mindfulness experientially on my way to work today. The weather's getting warmer and drier down here in Aotearoa, and with Beltaine (or at least, its Southern Hemispherical calendar equivalent) a fortnight past now, Spring is visibly and inexorably starting to turn into Summer.

So I found myself wearing Summer clothes, which included sandals instead of the comfortable trainers I'd usually wear to walk in. Then, almost as soon as I got outside, I felt the immediate need to walk barefoot - something I haven't done in a long time now. And it's amazing how, the moment I took my shoes off, my walking automatically became more mindful.

It's More than Just Practicality

Part of that is just basic pragmatism, of course. With the ground not always being even - some patches of concrete or asphalt being rougher than others, and the occasional bit of gravel, or tree seeds or something uncomfortable underfoot - paying a modicum of attention to where I'm placing my feet is the only way to avoid seriously sore soles by the time I get to wherever I'm going.

But it's more than mere practicality. There's something about the flood of sensations that suddenly flow in through the skin on the bottom of my feet that automatically grabs at my awareness - focussing my mind on what's going on beneath them, instead of allowing it flitter between the thousand and one things in the past or the future that would normally distract it as I walked in my sneakers.

Mindfulness, Sensation and Gratitude

And as for reading while I'm walking barefoot (something I often do on my way to and from work)? Not a chance! I just don't have that much attention bandwidth... something that became very clear to me very quickly today. No, my mind was on wherever my next footfall would be - and then, as my foot made contact with the ground, on all the sensory information that was suddenly available about that specifc piece of ground. Right until my weight had transferred and it was time to work out where the next footfall would be.

I have to say, I don't think I've ever been quite so conscious of where exactly the patches of grass next to the sidewalk (we call them berms here in NZ, but I'm not sure if the term is used elsewhere in the world) started and ended. And ohhhhhhhhh, the relief when there'd been a long space between berms, when I finally got to take that first step onto the cool springiness of soft grass, instead of the harsh, hot roughness of the concrete pavement!

Of course, while I'm being mindful, I should really spare a moment, as I write this, to be grateful that not only do I live somewhere where I can walk to work; but that I live somewhere the sidewalks are safe enough and clean enough to walk on barefoot without risking injury or disease. Hey, I know full well that's something not everyone gets to enjoy.

And the Lesson, Summed up in a Sentence?

So yes. The moral of the story, apparently, is that if I want to walk more mindfully, all the training, and technique and practice in the world apparently can't hold a candle to the simple act of taking off my shoes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Self awareness and judgementality

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I had an interesting conversation with someone at work today that gave me an uncomfortable insight or two into the way my mind works (don't you just love those?)

The guy in question (I'm going to call him "Harry") is a lovely person. He's bright and he's bubbly and he's caring and he's compassionate. He's also an enthusiastic Born Again Christian, and will take any chance he can to witness about what God has done in his life.

In theory, this should not make me uncomfortable. Part of my core belief system, after all, is that there are many, many ways to the Divine, many names for God/dess, and no one person or faith has a monopoly on Spirit. That doesn't mean I believe that all faiths are valid - for a start, I tend to take exception to the ones that say mine isn't, or that it's evil. But my self-image is of a tolerant, open-minded person who respects the rights of other people to relate to the Divine in the way that works best for them. So unless someone's actively sowing hatred, intolerance or ill-feeling with their words or actions in the name of their faith, I like to think of myself as a live-and-let-live kind of gal.

Now let me be clear: Harry's never said anything that I could take as intolerant - explicitly or otherwise. Unlike some of my other co-workers, who appear quite ready to negatively judge other groups of people because of their differences, when Harry talks about God, he talks in the context of love and inspiration and rapture - hardly things that I, as a Pagan, can take exception to! In fact, hearing the way he describes his relationship with God and/or Jesus, I'm sometimes hard-pressed to point out the differences from the way my more mystical Pagan friends describe their relationships with their deities.

And really, this shouldn't surprise me. Like I said a couple of paragraphs back - it's a core belief of Starfirebelievesitisism: many paths, many names, no 'one right way'. This is part of my spiritual identity. It's fundamental, as far as I can tell, to who I am and how I see myself. At least that's what I'd like to believe.

So why is it (I ask myself, as a semi self-aware being), that when I hear Harry talk, I feel myself wanting to make him wrong, for the way he frames his beliefs? Why should I find myself wanting to argue with him when he describes this or that interaction he's had with God? Why should I find myself wanting to explain away the synchronicities he talks about as coincidence, or remind him that other people of other faiths have spiritual experiences with their deity of choice that are every bit as intense as the ones he talks about? Why should it matter to me what name Harry gives to the Divine with which he interacts?

Maybe it's because I'm projecting, imaginging that he's judging me and thinking that my beliefs are 'wrong'? Maybe I'm just subconsciously getting in first - judging him wrong before he can judge me (and wow, is it just me or does that REALLY start to sound like a childish 'he started it!!!' kind of argument - except this one is closer to 'he was GOING to start it!') After all, I've done my time as a Born Again Christian myself in the past - I remember the incredible in-group/out-group mentality that went with it... that kind of 'anyone who doesn't see God the way we do is wittingly or unwittingly doing Satan's work' attitude. Maybe I'm just trying to 'protect myself'

But if I examine that further, I have to acknowledge to myself that I was a teenager at the time; that most of the friends who drew me into the Born Again path were teenagers as well; and that while there are certainly teenagers out there capable of genuine unbiassed tolerance and respect for the differences of others, I really wasn't one of them. So any assumption that Harry is secretly judging me just because the teenage me would have been judging someone like me is... flawed at best, and grossly unfair at worst. And hell, it's not like I haven't known some incredibly judgemental my-way-is-the-only-true-way Pagans in my time too!

Plus, what does it matter if Harry (or anyone else for that matter) does judge my beliefs as being wrong? Are my beliefs in multiple paths being valid really so fragile that if someone disagrees with me, I have to stop believing them?

Or is it maybe... just maybe... being the imperfect human being that I am, that somehow, while I may believe that in the validity of multiple paths... that I also want (deep, deep down where I can pretend things aren't really as they are if I don't look too hard) to be right - which means that if someone disagrees with me, I want them to be wrong. And oh yes, that rings truer than I want it to, when I hold it up to the light. I can feel myself squirming at the idea... which probably means there's something to it.

It's an uncomfortable realisation to have, when multiplicity and diversity is supposed to be a cornerstone of my belief system. Very uncomfortable. And part of me wants to ask Harry to stop witnessing to me, because I want to stop feeling uncomfortable. I want to stop wondering if by telling me about his interactions with the Divine, he's really saying mine can't be valid. And I want to stop wondering (deep down) whether accepting Harry's interactions with an aspect of the Divine he calls "Jesus" as valid actually invalidates my interactions with an aspect I call "Spirit". But really, where would the lesson be if I let myself do that?

What if, instead, I let myself be with the discomfort? What if, each time I felt it, I used it as a chance to look at myself and the way I react -the way I pre-judge - the way I want to be right? What if I reminded myself that it's OK to be uncomfortable, and that all the things I'm looking at above are just me doing my thing? That it is what it is and I am what I am? What if I used it as an opportunity to rediscover that I can live with being uncomfortable, and that the world doesn't end because of it? Really. (Do I sound convinced yet? No? How about if I confess that this blog post is about *getting* myself to the point where I can live with being uncomfortable - at least on this issue?)

Now that would be lesson...

I wonder if I'm brave enough to try learning it?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mindful Spring Thoughts

Down here in Aotearoa (New Zealand), it's Spring.

Days are longer and warmer; there's a lot more birdsong in the air than there was even a few weeks back; and there's a definite sense of renewal in the world outside.

The last couple of Springs have been a little difficult for me - there was something that happened a couple of years back that it's been taking me a wee bit longer than I'd expected to heal from. Each time I think I'm all done with the process, something will pop up and I'll realise that there's still more there to work through. And for some reason, Springtime has seemed to really bring home how far I still have to go for me... perhaps because it's supposed to be a season of rebirth and renewal and starting over, and what I'm dealing with is something that can't just be left behind me.

Heh. And of course there, right there in that sentence, is my problem. "Supposed". Like "should", but just different enough to slip through my guard. It's not "supposed" to be anything. It's Spring. It is what it is... no "supposed" about it.

Interesting how many of my lessons right now seem to centre on that one concept - things being what they are, rather than what my mind tries to make them - regardless of how different each lesson may appear on the surface.

And, in fact, just because there's something that isn't being renewed for me doesn't mean that I can't acknowledge and appreciate all the other renewal that is going on around me.

Something for me to think about as I'm out and walking and breathing in the Spring-ness that surrounds me.

Spring blessings


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hmmmm... maybe I'm never going to be one of those *regular* bloggers

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I've just checked and realised that over two months have gone by since I last wrote. Wow. Apparently, I'm really not one of those regular bloggers - and it's possible I may never be.

My initial reaction to this is to beat myself up about it. After all, blogging is a commitment, right? It's something you're supposed to do regularly, otherwise people don't read what you write?

So conventional wisdom goes, anyway. But what if you don't have anything to say? Or if you do, but there's so much happening, that your blog slips down the life priorities queue? Surely it's better not to blog, than to force it, and let the fact that your heart's not in it shine through your posts.

Those were the thoughts that were going through my mind as my life slowed down enough that I started catching myself up on some of the blogs I love reading, and started thinking about trying to get back to meditation and mindfulness blogging myself.

And I realised that, contrary to all the pressure I was putting on myself, where I was at the time was actually OK. This blog doesn't exist as a commitment to anyone else but me, which means I get to define how often I write, and about what. And if there's nothing to say, or life's just too busy, then so be it. Things go in cycles. There'll come a time again when life's not so busy, or when I do suddenly find things I want to say.

And when that happens, my blog will be here waiting for me to write in it (and if it never happens, then eventually, I'll take down the blog and find something else to put my energies into). But meanwhile, either way, life's way too short to spend it beating myself up for something that, on a cosmic scale, really doesn't matter a whole heck of a lot.

It's that simple, and it's only a huge gigantic drama if I make it one.

I guess that alone is a lesson I can easily find myself grateful for.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Technology and I seem to be experiencing some minor relationship issues... talk amongst yourselves

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So Tech and I seem to be having some kind of falling out at the moment.

In the past week:

  • my heart rate monitor has mysteriously stopped working - not gone blank as would indicate a battery having gone flat, but just spontaneously jammed - and I can't find a reset button on it anywhere

  • my iPod and my computer spontaneously stopped talking to each other - right in the middle of a sync, Vista suddenly managed to lose the drivers and informed me it no longer recognised that weird, totally unfamiliar USB device I'd plugged into it (incidentally, this problem, at least, was easily fixed by reinstalling iTunes)

  • My antivirus, has suddenly started recognising a whole host of the games files I sometimes play (and have been playing for at least a year) as some variant of Win32 Trojans - despite them all having been absolutely fine up till now.

  • Plus all manner of weird and interesting stuff happening with the tech I use at work, although that happens to everyone, so is more likely to be issues with our various systems, rather than a personal vendetta on behalf of the tech gremlins against me and all my issue to the nth generation.

Truth be told, I have a sneaking suspicion that along with all the other changes in my life, this may the Universe clocking me upside the head with a giant clue-by-four, behind which is the sacred and spiritual message, "Yo' honey, y'got too much crap y'don't need in your life. Stop thinking of this dren as necessary to your wellbeing, and start focussing on the stuff that actually matters a damn, why don't you?"

So while I *am* trying to do something about fixing each thing (except the heart rate monitor - for that I'll need to dig out the instruction manual... wherever that's got to now), I'm also being mindful about the whole experience, and noticing that I don't *need* whatever-the-particular-piece-of-tech-might-be in my life to be happy. Yeah, it's fun. And it gives me some manner of pleasure to have and to use, or I wouldn't have or use it in the first place. But it categorically *isn't* what you'd call a necessity. So there's no point in getting all frustrated and annoyed when it stops working. Life is what it is - what happens, happens. And life's about far, far more than little pieces of tech.

Plus, some things are actually better without. I went to Spin class this morning, and it was a completely different experience for me to base my intensity directly on how my body was feeling and reacting to the pace and resistance, instead of relying on my heart rate monitor to interpret the level at which I should be working for me. I actually had a really good class today, and my body is loving me for it (even if I suspect my quads and adductors are going to be complaining loudly every time I stand up, sit down, or walk up and down stairs for a couple of days)

And if a sense of perspective is the only good thing I take away from this little episode of tech-fairy victimisation, I think it's still well worth it. Yep, yep, getting back to what matters is all good... now where's that damn heart rate monitor manual...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Experiences with the Astral Projecting Kit, anyone?

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I've been feeling the need to refocus on dreamwork recently, after having had some pretty amazingly vivid dreams over the past little while.

I've re-set myself up an account with (I'm Starfirenz on there, for anyone who'd like to check out the dreams I'm posting).

While I was over there, I found myself drawn to click on a PPC ad for something called 'The Astral Projecting Kit', and I'm half tempted to try it out; but I'm also a tad nervous because I can't find *anything* about the seller anywhere - not even any contact info. Plus y'know, it's also in that standard one-page sales letter format that so many infotrepreneurs in the niche marketing... well... niche use (just buy *this* one thing and get this and this and this and this and this as absolutely 100% FREE bonuses, yadda yadda yadda)

But I have occasionally found myself worthwhile material online packaged in exactly that format (in amongst all the dross that isn't), so I can't totally rule it out just because of that. And I do know that I generally respond well to guided audios and MP3s and binaurals, so if it is on the level, it would seem to be a pretty good deal. And yet still...

So I thought to myself, "I know! I'll put a wee entry up on my meditation blog - just on the offchance that someone who reads it has tried out the kit, or knows of someone who has, and can either tell me that
  1. despite the dodgy site appearance, that no, they are offered by a genuine seller who just has very little idea of what makes a credible website (for the record - no, video isn't enough - at the very least, I want more than one testimonial, and some valid contact details!); or

  2. that no, they're pretty much what they look like - someone out to make a quick buck, and worst case scenario, a credit card scammer

So yeah... this is me throwing it out to the big wide world of my blog-reading public (hey, a girl can wish, right?) I figure if it's on the level *someone* out there will have used it and not felt ripped off after doing so...



Saturday, July 12, 2008

Umbrellas as a Metaphor

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I've never been much of a fan of umbrellas.

My reasons are twofold. The first is practical: I like, to the greatest extent possible, to have my hands free when I walk. I dislike holding a clutch purse when I go out in the evenings for the same reason - preferring a handbag with a long enough strap that I can carry it cross-body.

The second is more... emotional. Umbrellas create a barrier - something to hide behind - something to distance me from the direct experience of rain on my skin. That is, after all, what they're designed for. And for the most part, I actually *like* feeling the rain and wind in my face. It's a trigger for me - a sensation - a set of stimuli that let me know in no uncertain terms that I'm here, I'm in the present moment, and I'm connected to the world outside myself. Granted, I don't particularly like getting soaked to the bone till I'm sodden - although it's generally not a huge deal if I'm on my way home anyway - I just shrug and figure on a hot cuppa and a dry change of clothes once I get there. And if it's raining *that* hard on the way out, then I'll generally try not to go out in it - or if I absolutely have to, I'll take the car.

Tonight I needed to walk home in the rain. Yes, I could have done what I did last week and wait for Gryphon to finish work and ask him to pick me up en route home... but I don't like to take advantage of that too often (and besides, when he worked late last week and didn't get to my workplace until after I had to leave because the alarms had been switched on, I discovered that while I feel perfectly safe walking home alone in the dark, I don't feel safe standing alone doing nothing outside my workplace - interesting realisation, that). And it wasn't raining that that hard.

I should mention that I've been understandably wary about walking in the rain at all, however much I may like the feel of it on my face, over the past seven months. Makes sense, after all - if you have a cough o' doom you can't shake, the last thing you want to do is allow yourself to get drenched on a cold evening. But tonight I figured that it wasn't raining hard enough to soak me, and I knew I had an umbrella with me, so I figured, "Screw it - let's just do it."

And what do you know... Thus commenced a fun walk home, filled with connections and experiences of all kinds that the umbrella didn't actually create a barrier to.

First, there was the experience of being protected. No, seriously. Don't laugh at me here. You know that scene early on in Heroes s1 where Sandra Bennett asks her daughter what happened at school, and Claire replies "I walked through fire and I didn't get burned"? Well, that's kind of what was going through my mind: "Hey wow, cool, I'm walking through rain and I'm not getting wet".

Yeah, yeah, I know: well, *duh*, that's what umbrellas do, right? But step back from that mundane "yeah, so what?" response a moment. Remember Einstein's comment (I think it was Einstein) that there are two ways to live: either as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is. And take a look at an umbrella with fresh eyes. It's an incredibly simple gadget that basically amounts to a portable rain-shield. That's kind of cool. We humans can be clever things at times.

And when I was part of the way home, the rain lightened enough that I was confident my coat would just shed it, so I could put the umbrella down and really feel the freshness of the wind and the smaller, lighter raindrops in my face. And there were puddles I decided to deliberately seek out (OK, so the first one I accidentally stepped in, but then it occurred to me that my soles were waterproof, and it could be a fun way to get the mud off the bottom of my sneakers - and after that I actively splashed in them just because I could). And there was the connection to the clouds rushing by above me; and the odd star that peeked out from between them.

Then, maybe ten minutes later, when the rain had all but stopped, I was walking along and there was a guy walking the other way, umbrella still clutched firmly over him. And I seriously had to stop myself giving him a weird look and saying something like "Hey, the rain's stopped - you can put it away now!"

And right about then, it occurred to me that there's a metaphor in the way I respond to umbrellas that extends out to the way I respond to experience generally. I don't *like* putting up barriers between me and direct experience - I don't *like* trying to hide from it. Sometimes, though, a given experience will be overwhelming, or just needlessly unpleasant (or have unnecessarily nasty consequences). And in any of those cases, there's no virtue in me bounding out to meet it headfirst if I don't have to - nor is there any shame in using a shield to protect myself from the negative aspects of it if I do need to go through it, should there be an incredibly handy one just within reach. Yet other times, I think an experience will end up being worse that it is, or I forget that mixed in with the unpleasantness will be a whole load of pleasantness. In those cases, if I insist on shielding myself from the experience, or all-out avoiding it, I miss out on a whole load of good stuff.

I'm trying to think what I can-and-do use as an umbrella against experience. Analysis, definitely - thinking things through ad nauseum is a big one. Friends, certainly - spending time with other people who help me get away from "bad" feelings. Fiction, sure. None of those things are bad in themselves - and in the right circumstances, they're lifesavers; but like umbrellas, if I'm using them as shields against everything I think will be unpleasant, they can stop me feeling the actual rain and the wind on my face.

So yeah. Umbrellas - metaphorical ones, and the real things both. Tell me you've made it right through this post and that you don't think they're at least a little bit cool. Seriously. Cool, yes?