Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


1 Comment

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


2 Comments

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


Leave a comment

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


2 Comments

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


11 Comments

Preparing to Say Goodbye

The spirit of death weighs heavy on me this week. A friend who has been battling cancer for nearly 3 years has entered hospice in preparation for her final days. At home our dear, sweet oldest cat also appears to be preparing us for his last days. I am heartbroken. We knew these times would come. Someday. Yet all the mental preparation in the world really doesn’t prepare you.

Run

I want to run. I want to run hard, fast, and away from the pain that grips my heart. I feel it ache and tears well-up in my eyes. I want to scream and push the pain aside. I want to tell death to F.O.  And then I find a moment of calm. My heart relaxes and relief washes over me. I don’t like this roller coaster. I want to busy myself with something else. I cannot. I must embrace my fear.

Time is Precious

I look back on the days when I would visit my friend. A group was formed after she returned home from surgery. We would take turns visiting, providing food, conversation, helping around the house. Whatever we could do to be of service. It was a bit hard at first. What will I say? What will we talk about? There were good days and not so good days. Months of good health in spite of the situation. Laughter, jokes, walks, and ice cream. Sharing of art. Sharing of spirituality. On the days when I really didn’t feel like going, I was glad I did.

At home, I find myself missing Woody cat, even though he is just one floor below me curled up on our bed. He has fought kidney and thyroid disease for more than a year, but less than two. So many blood tests & pills to give. Through it all he has been our Zen kitty. So tolerant. So accepting. I wonder how I would’ve put up with all he’s gone through. Changes in his health were mostly gradual. And then one day you notice something isn’t right. This latest change happened over last weekend. It is the one I’ve dreaded.

Preparing

How does one prepare to say goodbye? I honestly do not know. This isn’t like “goodbye, I’ll see you later.” This is the final goodbye. I know you won’t be coming back. You tell yourself you’ll be alright. That this is the circle of life. Then you tell yourself that is a bunch of BS. The pain grows stronger inside. The grief. It swells and then I burst.

I’ve spent most days this week in silence. No music. Some TV. Meals are quiet with some conversation. A pall hangs over us. This has been a pretty sucky week. Sometimes it hurts to be a heart-centered person. I know my heart center is large and it absorbs much of the pain and sorrow around me. That is why my heart breaks so easily. I feel it down into my hands and all around my chest.

I wake each morning and thank the Universe for another day. I thank the Universe for bringing my friend and my pet through the night. I spend time thinking of good memories and the joy these two beings brought into my life.

I don’t know if I’m truly prepared for what comes next. I only hope that when it comes, I can let it wash over me. Welcome it. Then let it go.

Woody


Leave a comment

Ostara

Ostara Revisited-The Vernal Equinox

Enjoy this re-post on the history of the Vernal Equinox. Originally posted in 2008, the first day of spring 2012 looks quite different than what I saw outside my window in 2008. This year the vernal equinox brings temperatures in the 70’s and spring blooms bursting all around.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ostara is a neopagan holiday that is celebrated around the time of the Vernal (spring) Equinox when day and night are nearly of equal length.

Ostara comes from the name of an ancient German Goddess, Ostara, after whom the Easter festival may have been named (as speculated by Jacob Grimm in Deutsche Mythologie.)  In addition, Grimm’s source, Bede, put forth a thesis that the Anglo-Saxon name for the month of April, Esotur-monath, was named after a Goddess, Eostre.

The Equinox is considered a time of rebirth and rejuvination.  It is, therefore, not surprising that Easter also occurs around the time of the Equinox.  Several “traditions” associated with Easter find their origins in pagan rituals, such as eggs which are a symbol of fertility; coloring eggs and hunting for eggs (decorated eggs were offered as gifts and to bring blessings of prosperity and abundance) and the Easter bunny and Easter chicks.

Chicks and rabbits are very fertile animals.   The rabbit was an animal sacred to the Goddess Eastre (Oestre).  Eastre is the Goddess of spring and presides over the realm of conception and birth (animal and human), pollination, flowering, and ripening fruits of the plant kingdom. By honoring the rabbit in spring, by eating candy in the shape of rabbits or chicks, it was believed that we’d take on their characteristics and enhance our own fertility, growth and vitality.

The bluebirds, a sure sign of spring, made an appearance in our back yard a few weeks ago.

bluebirds0208-01blog.jpg      bluebirds0208-02blog.jpg

Unfortunately the first day of spring in Massachusetts is rather dreary.  I found the following images on Flickr to remind me of the warmer weather and flowers soon to come.

spring1.jpg

spring2.jpg

kniteastereggs.jpg

Happy Spring!


2 Comments

A Year of Mindfulness: Loving Touch

The month of March began with a mindfulness practice that asked you to take a breath before picking up the phone. Specifically, we were asked to take three breaths before answering the phone. However, knowing that may not be feasible for your situation, taking at least one breath before answering the phone was just as good because the main point of this practice is to put some space or a pause between you and the activity.

How did you do?

If you couldn’t try out this practice before answering the phone, were you able to use it before engaging in another activity such as replying to a spouse, partner, or child? Taking this pause can be very handy when your normal reaction might be to sigh or say something snarky in response to a question or comment. It brings you to the present moment and helps you from being re-active.

This Week’s Practice: Loving Touch

I find this practice very interesting. In this practice we are asked to use loving hands and a loving touch with everything in our environment, including inanimate objects.

Now you might find this a little awkward at first but think about it. We using loving touch when we touch babies, lovers, pets and crying children. We touch with tenderness and care. Yet how often do you use loving touch when bagging your groceries, emptying the dishwasher or packing your suitcase?

Mindfulness of loving touch expands our awareness of how we touch things and how we are touched. This is not limited to just the touch of human hands. This can include our clothing, food, drink, the wind, and the floor beneath our feet.

So this week, be mindful of touch. Touch all things with loving kindness.

Reflection: Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  -Leo Buscaglia


Leave a comment

A Year of Mindfulness: Gratitude

Last week in our mindfulness practice we were tasked with becoming more aware of our posture. How did you do?

Proper posture has been an issue for me since I was a little girl. I remember my mom putting a hardcover book on my head to get me to stand up straight. I was an introverted kid with low self-esteem. I’m sure that was evident in my posture.

As I got older and my self-esteem improved, my posture issues were compromised by other bad habits. Slinging a bag full of books over one shoulder (using backpacks in school wasn’t very common then), weight bearing more on one leg than the other, a couple car accidents, desk jobs, and lugging around therapy materials.

Eventually I learned that my back issues & hence my poor posture could be traced back to weak abs and a tendency to weight bear on the outer aspect of my joints versus the center. It only took 40+ years, sciatica & SI joint pain to figure out that one.  So let’s just say that postural awareness is a daily factor in my mindfulness practice. If I don’t pay attention to my posture, my body will eventually remind me in sometimes uncomfortable ways.

When I keep my body in alignment, I feel better.

This Week’s Practice: Gratitude

Gratitude is a great practice and should not be limited to this one week. A few years ago, Gratitude was my word of the year.

For this week, the practice is fairly simple. At the end of each day write a list of 5 (or more) things that happened during the day that you are grateful for. If you’re concerned you might forget, carry a small notebook with you and write down the event immediately after it happens.

Practicing gratitude is an antidote to the negative mind or voice. It helps us see the upside of many events in our lives.

Reflection: Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you. -Eileen Caddy


2 Comments

A Year of Mindfulness: True Compliments

Last week’s mindfulness practice was to eat without distractions. No newspaper, book, internet, iPad, or TV.

How did you do with this practice?

I found it to be a nice change of pace. Since I work by myself,  I typically eat while either checking email and news on my iPad or while sitting in front of the TV.  Sometimes I do this because I want to catch up on events. Other times I simply need the noise in the background. I can’t say that either activity enhances my dining experience.

When I first tried this practice, I think I ate a little faster. Then, as I slowed down, I noticed how quiet my environment was. I could listen to the rhythm of the clock ticking. Or I could enjoy the birds singing. I noticed the taste and texture of my food; sweet, juicy, cold, crunchy.

Without the distraction of my iPad or the TV, I ate my meal and got into the studio a bit sooner. At lunch time, I’d go for a walk after my meal. All good things to do instead of lingering over the news or flipping through the TV channels.

This week’s practice: Give true compliments

This week’s practice is to give a genuine compliment once a day to someone close to you. The more specific the compliment, the better.

Giving compliments is a good practice in gratitude. With this practice you must really pay attention to both the big and small things that people do. If this practice is difficult for you, step back and observe if you tend to only notice problems and are critical of people.

As Jan Chozen Bays stated in her book, “When someone becomes part of the furniture of our life, we forget to notice what they do and it doesn’t occur to us to give them compliments. In fact, we may only comment on the negative, the things we think need to be changed.”

With this practice, also pay attention to how it feels to receive a compliment. Depending on how we were raised, giving a compliment may be easier than receiving a compliment.

Reflection: You should know that kind speech arises from kind mind, and kind mind from the seed of compassionate mind. You should ponder the fact that kind speech is not just praising the merit of others; it has the power to turn the destiny of a nation. -Zen Master Dogen


Leave a comment

A Year of Mindfulness: Appreciate Your Hands

So how did you do last week with eliminating filler words? I thought it would be easy. However, eliminating those words is more of a challenge than I expected.

As an artist I spend a lot of time by myself. When I’m with family or friends, conversation is a welcome change of pace. What I realized this past week was how quickly I forgot this mindfulness practice. It wasn’t until late in the week when visiting a friend that I listened to myself while speaking. My big filler word? “Um.”

I find I use the word “um” as a way to string together my thoughts. Instead of taking a short, silent pause between phrases or sentences, I fill the silence with “um.”

Of course, the more aware of this I became, the more effort I put into trying to stop myself from saying “um.” I was hearing myself speak, then thinking “stop saying um,” and then worked harder to try and stop myself. Frankly, it was a bit exhausting. The solution? Speak slower and think about what you’re saying.

This week’s practice

This week’s mindfulness practice is to appreciate your hands. Several times during the day this week, observe your hands as you use them in activities. Observe them at rest. Observe your hands as if they belonged to someone else.

We use our hands naturally and unconsciously. This week observe your hands, how you use them, and how they help you.

Caution: I suggest doing this practice during safe activities. Watching your hands while driving, chopping veggies, or cutting wood is not recommended.

Reflection: If you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm.  -Yiddish proverb