Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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To Begin Again

It has been quite a while since I felt compelled to share anything on my blog. This fallow period began in February when I realized that I had to step away from many commitments and expectations and tend to my spirit.

Only in the past couple of weeks have I felt the spark of interest in posting something, anything on my blog.

And within that spark of interest, I was reminded of St Benedict who tells us that we can always begin again.

And so I shall. Begin again.

Winter's Leaves

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Happy Halloween, Happy Samhain

This post is a repeat. Happy Halloween!

halloween07.jpg

Samhain, pronounced “sow-in,” is Irish Gaelic for “the summer’s end” and represents the death of the summer sun god Lugh.  Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic and Wiccan New Year.  It marks the end of the harvest.

Samhain is considered a time to eliminate weaknesses.  It is now customary to write one’s weaknesses on a piece of paper and then to burn the pieces of paper.  It is also a time to plant the seeds of new projects, to allow them to germinate over the winter, and to end old projects.

If you catch a falling leaf on Samhain before it touches the ground, it will bring you good luck and health for the coming winter.

Halloween originates from the ancient Celts celebrations and is based on their “Feast of Samhain.”

To learn more about Samhain and other Celtic festivals, visit here and here.


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A Year of Mindfulness-Being Present in the Face of Death

It is the women of our families who keep the traditions, preserve the memories, and hold us close.
-Unknown

My last mindfulness blog post was nearly three weeks ago. The topic was This Person Could Die Tonight. At the time I said that this particular practice was resonating with me. It was hitting too close to home as I had three ill people in my immediate family.

Shortly after uploading that post I traveled out of town to be with two of those ill family members. Little did I know that for one family member, it would be my last visit.

On Wednesday, August 15, my Mom, Anne Butler, passed away peacefully after a short illness. It was the most heart-wrenching event I’ve experienced in some time. It was also the most spiritual.

Mom had been sick since the middle of July. Each episode that played out over those early weeks seemed to resolve and then something else would appear.  In the end she developed pneumonia that her body could no longer fight.

During the final days I spent with her I kept reminding myself to be present to the situation. To be mindful in the face of death. I was constantly reminded of my last mindfulness post. How the hell could this be happening?

They say that being present with a loved one during their final days is one of great honor. I honestly couldn’t see the honor when the process began. It was gut wrenching.

You want to respect the wishes of your loved one. You want them to be free of any pain or fear. You don’t want them to struggle. You want to help them make the transition.

You realize that you can only take them so far on this journey. At some point, you understand that your loved one must make this journey on their own. The timing, the decision, is entirely up to them and nature.

We come into this world screaming. We hope to leave this world with peace and dignity. A few days before Mom passed, I remember saying to myself that “it” was getting closer. I could feel the inevitable around the perimeter of her room. Tendrils would touch her and then pull back. It wasn’t time. But it was coming.

Later Mom rested comfortably. Her breathing was less labored. She slept deeply. Her skin was warm to the touch. During a moment when I whispered into her ear, she snored into mine. It made me laugh.

My Mom was a very good swimmer. She taught me how to float and then how to swim. One morning before she passed, I had a vision. Mom and I were in a body of water and we both wore white. This time our roles were reversed. I stood in the water with my arms outstretched. Mom lay in my arms floating on the water. I was helping her to float. No words were said between us. We simply enjoyed the coolness of the water as I gently held her.

Mom passed a few days later at 9:30am in a lovely hospice facility. She did not leave this world alone as family was with her. Each of us took part in assisting her on this final journey.

My heart has been full of sadness. I’ve literally felt it break as the anguish flowed down my arms. Yet I’ve also had a sense of internal peace and calm. I know Mom passed as she wanted. In peace and with dignity.

Mom and I (1994)

Mom (2009)

Shrine for Mom (2012)


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A Year of Mindfulness: This Person Could Die Tonight

Sniff, sniff…how did you do with last week’s practice to become aware of smells? I loved that you shared some of your favorite scents and the memories attached to them. If you continue this practice throughout the year, notice how smells change during the year. I’m thinking of wood burning in the fireplace in the winter or the scent of apple cider in the fall. Or one of my favorites, the smell of spring.

This Week’s Practice: This Person Could Die Tonight

I remember earlier in the year when I flipped through How to Train a Wild Elephant and saw the title of this week’s practice. It gave me the creeps. I knew this practice would cross my (our) path at some point. And now here it is. The appearance of this practice comes at a moment in my life when I am dealing with three ill family members. In all three cases we know that the inevitable will happen, someday. In all three cases the thought that it might happen sooner than later has also crossed my mind.

So why would we need to become mindful that any person in our life could die tonight? Certainly it causes us to consider our own mortality. Something we might tend to do anyways as we get older. Having spent several years working as a Speech-Language Pathologist in nursing homes & rehab settings, I had to accept death and my own mortality early-on. The first time you have a patient die, you tend to reexamine life.

What happens if you consider that the person you’re talking with on the phone could die tonight? Does your heart open a little more? Do you pay more attention to what they’re saying? We’re all a bit guilty of talking to people but not really listening to them.

When speaking face to face with someone, how often do you look past them or look down at something else? If you knew that person were to die tonight, would you be more inclined to look directly at them when speaking?

This week’s practice, as depressing as it sounds, helps us break through our own denial that human life is fragile and that death could come at any moment. This isn’t about filling your head with anxious thoughts about mortality. It is about improving your awareness of impermanence and cherishing the people you encounter every day.

This week, instead of talking “to” someone, bring presence to the encounter. Realize that you, too, could die tonight. Be more present and more alive in your life.

Reflection: The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. –Mark Twain


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A Year of Mindfulness-Defining and Defending

Can you believe we are almost through the month of July? And that there are only 5 more months left in 2012? How are you feeling about your mindfulness practice so far? I definitely have weeks that are better than others. Sometimes I don’t think about being mindful until Friday; one of those “oh crap, I haven’t practiced this week” moments.

Can you relate to that? I think that is the beauty of this practice. It’s hard. We know it’s hard. And being imperfect is all part of the learning process. I mean, how cool is it knowing that if you blow it one week, it’s okay to just start over again. No guilt. No shame. No wagging finger and a voice saying “tsk, tsk, tsk.”

Okay, so where were we? Ah, last week. Becoming aware of what is above us. How often did you practice “look up” and move your awareness beyond whatever is immediately in front of you?

Well, what I just said about if you blow it one week you can start over? That was me. In fact the past couple of weeks have been challenging with other things being front and center in my mind. I am practicing mindfulness but in other areas not related to our weekly practice. It is still all good.

This Week’s Practice: Awareness of Defining & Defending Yourself

This is another interesting practice. Dr. Bays asks us to become aware of how we define ourselves and how we defend ourselves and our personal territory. One thing she’s talking about here is labeling and how we defend our position. (And with this being an election year, there is a whole lot of labeling and defending going on.)

The timeliness of this practice is curious as I’ve been working on branding in my business. Talk about an exercise in defining oneself!

So how frequently do you define yourself each day? How often are you defending your position(s)? Is this an inherent aspect of human nature considering it seems to start when we are very young?

A good example of this is watching children play with their toys. What sometimes happens when you expect the child to share…the child scoops up his toys and says “No, mine.”  Next thing you know we’re older and still defining ourselves by our possessions. Or we take a position on a particular topic and will argue that our opinion is the only right one. (If you want to challenge yourself some more, go back to the practice on saying yes.)

What is the point of this practice? To become aware that this thing we call “self” isn’t something we can defend because in reality the self is a process of constantly changing sensations and thoughts. How can you defend something that is always in flux?

Reflection: He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened. –Lao Tzu


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A Year of Mindfulness: Look Up

Last week we were asked to become mindful of water. To become aware of water in almost everything we encounter and in all its various forms. Becoming mindful of water during the summer season seems rather timely. Many towns in my area have signs posted asking residents to reduce their water usage-odd/even days for watering lawns, no watering after certain hours, etc. These requests don’t seem as severe as in years past when people were trucking in water to fill their pools or abandoning their pools altogether.

Spending a few days on the coast of Maine reminded me of the power of water as waves crashed over rocks and I read stories of shipwrecks and lives lost. Looking out at the ocean it seems hard to believe that we could ever face a shortage of water. One thing I’ve learned about water is that you must respect it because water always wins.

This Week’s Practice: Look Up!

This week we are asked to broaden our visual field and look up. Look up at the ceiling. Look up at the sky. Instead of looking at what is right in front of you, change your perspective and look up. Broaden your mind.

We spend much of our day going through the motions, looking straight ahead, and not even noticing if we’re conscious of what we’re doing. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our routine that when we stop to think about what we did in the morning, like brushing our teeth, we pause and ask ourselves “Wait, did I really brush my teeth?” Ever have that happen?

“Looking” is not the same as “seeing.” There is a great experiment that asks people to watch a basketball game and count the number of passes one team makes. During the game, someone in a gorilla suit walks across the floor. When the people watching the game were asked about the gorilla, most people said they didn’t even see the gorilla.

Why? Because seeing requires attention and when we focus one minute aspect, we miss the bigger picture.

This week, look up! Change your perspective. Open your field of vision. Practice seeing.

Reflection: People only see what they are prepared to see. -Ralph Waldo Emerson


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A Year of Mindfulness: The Bottom of Your Feet

This Memorial Day weekend was a lovely weekend to be mindful of the color blue, our mindfulness practice from the past week. The weather was amazing. The sky was blue and there was blue in the grass & leaves. I could even see blue in the bean seeds I planted and in the cucumber sprout that pushed its nose through the dirt. Glorious blue.

Where did you see the color blue the past week?

This Week’s Mindfulness Practice: Bottoms of Your Feet

Hmm, okay, that sounds a bit curious. Our mindfulness practice this week is to be aware of the bottoms of our feet. This includes sensations on the bottom of our feet from the floor or ground as well as heat or coolness.

So why would we want to be mindful of the bottoms of our feet? Well, as with other mindfulness practices involving our extremities we typically move through our day without thinking about our feet (or other extremities.) After-all, our feet are about as far from our head as we can get.

By becoming aware of the bottoms of our feet, we begin to feel our connection to Mother Earth, we become grounded, and we improve our balance. An excellent way to become mindful of the bottoms of our feet is to practice walking meditation. If done barefoot, the sensations on your feet become more apparent. However, simply walking can increase your awareness of the bottoms of your feet. The same with standing. (I enjoy rocking forward slightly & then back on my feet when standing for a period of time.)

The challenge with any movement is to keep your mind quiet and focused. This week become aware of the bottoms of your feet.

Reflection: The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet. -James Oppenheim