Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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A Year of Mindfulness-Sensations of Hot and Cold

Namaste my dear friends. This week I am regrouping and returning to weekly mindfulness practice posts. Thank you to everyone who expressed kind words of condolence regarding my Mom’s passing. I appreciate it.

This Week’s Practice: Hot and Cold

This week we are asked to increase our awareness of our reactions to hot and cold temperatures. This includes both physical and emotional reactions to temperature changes.

Why is this awareness important? Because many of us are never satisfied with changes in temperature. When it’s too hot, we wish it was cooler. When it is cold, we wish it was warmer. It’s as if the sun, clouds and Mother Nature have all conspired against us.

Think back to when you were a kid. Depending on your age, when you were a kid you probably didn’t have central air in your home. Maybe you didn’t have a window air conditioner either. When it was hot, it was, well, hot. We dealt with it. Cooled ourselves with hand-held fans. Drank lemonade or ice tea. Jumped in a pool or lake.

Same thing in the winter. It was cold. We bundled up and played in the snow.

When we’re kids we tend not to complain. We go with the flow. But when we reach adulthood we seem to become more intolerant of changes in temperature.

One way to deal with our discomfort is to stop avoiding it. Instead of complaining about the temperature change, we can walk right into it. We feel it with our bodies. We become aware of the sensations. We try to stop controlling external conditions.

After all, the nature of all things is change. If we stop trying to control change, we improve our physical and emotional condition.

This week, become aware of your reaction to changes in temperature. Instead of complaining, feel the heat or the cold. Be present with it. Inhale deeply and exhale the sensations.

Reflection: I don’t get into semantics. The wind will always blow. It’s always going to be hot or cold. You just have to go out there and play. -Dan Hawkins


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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: 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


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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


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A Year of Mindfulness: Loving Eyes

Last week we ended the first quarter of the year by attempting to take a media fast. No email, Facebook, Twitter, TV, books, newspapers, radio, etc. Were you able to take a complete media fast? How about a reduction in media usage?

This practice was very hard for me. I pretty much failed at it. I tried to reduce my media usage but by the end of the week even that attempt was suffering. This practice is very hard to do at home. It is almost easier to do it when I’m on vacation and the last thing I care about is being fully connected. Curious.

This Week’s Practice: Look at your surroundings with loving eyes

This week’s mindfulness practice is to use loving eyes when you look at things and people. It feels a bit like the companion practice to using a loving touch. Much like using a loving touch, with this practice we are asked to observe what happens when we look at our surroundings with loving eyes. It is easy for us to use loving eyes when looking at a baby, our partner, or a cute animal. Yet how often do you look at a stranger with loving eyes?

Most often, we look at people and objects in our environment with neutral eyes. Or we may look at them critically, or in anger or in a negative way. To look at people and things with loving eyes requires a level of intimacy and that makes us uncomfortable.

We use many different “eyes” to look at the world: personal, impersonal, anger, critical, kind, loving. The “eyes” we use colors our perception of the world and how we see it. Often, the beings we’re looking at are sensitive to the “eyes” we use. This affects our own happiness and the happiness of those being looked at.

Reflection: When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, a circle of creation is completed inside us. The doors of our soul open and love steps forth to heal everything in sight. -Anne Jones


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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.

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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!


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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


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A Year of Mindfulness: Pause Before Answering the Phone

Last week, our mindfulness practice was to listen. Were you listening? Were you able to quiet the mind by listening? Were you able to hear the uniqueness in even the most annoying sound in your environment?

In our active society, which is full of a multitude of noises, slowing down to simply listen is indeed a challenge. How often do you pop in the ear buds to block out noise? How often do you sit in silence?

One of my favorite practices is listening when I take a walk. I absolutely cannot bring myself to wear ear buds when walking. I love hearing the sound of nature around me. When I walk, I feel the earth below me and I hear her songs all around me. I feel a greater connection to nature when I don’t block her out.

This Week’s Practice: Pause

This week’s practice once again reminds us to slow down. The intent of this practice is to take three breaths before answering the phone. To put some space between you and the phone.

Now, if you’re like me, taking three deep breaths would mean that the phone probably stops ringing and switches to the answering machine before the breaths are complete. (Yes, I can take three, long, deep breaths.) In that case, take at least one or two deep cleansing breaths before answering the phone.

After taking those breaths, what do you notice when you do answer the phone? How do you feel? What is different between doing this practice first versus simply answering the phone?

If your phone doesn’t ring very much (and that certainly is not a bad thing), you can also do this practice with a timer. Or, take one to three breaths before answering a question, especially if you’re dealing with a difficult person.

Create space. Don’t rush forward.

Reflection: Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more, and all good things will be yours. -Swedish proverb