Coping With Christmas Chaos

December 15, 2010

In the past 24 hours I have heard two friends complain about the increasing pressure they are feeling around getting everything done during the holiday season. Sometimes the stresses and intensity of the Christmas season result in us feeling overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of everything we have to do: gifts to buy, food to prepare, events to attend, friends to connect; time seems to contract and we can become uncentered and almost paralyzed by all the small decisions we have to make. So here is a simple coping mechanism that takes of all of 26 seconds and involves focusing on five specific breaths. It can help you cope with all those little decisons that this time of year brings.  This is a simple practice developed by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and can really help to relax the body, calm the mind and create increased clarity.

Take a Deep Breath and as you inhale reflect on the word “In”

Exhale and reflect on the word ‘Out”

Take a second breath and inhale to “Deep”

Exhale to “Slow”

The third in-breath is Calm

The out-breath is “Ease”

Then inhale to “Smile”

Exhale to “Release”

Finally breathe in to “Present Moment”

Breathe out to “Wonderful Moment”

A total of five breaths is often all it takes to shift from a state of excitable agitation to calm clarity, an excellent use of 26 seconds. Try it standing in an irritating line-up or sitting in unwelcome traffic, you may be surprised at the result.

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Finding A God Concept (part 1)

December 7, 2010

“Dears, there is nothing in your life that will not change –– especially all your ideas of God.”

Tukaram

I love this quote from Tukaram, a sixteenth century Hindu poet, (this translation by Daniel Ladinsky from a poem called Certainty) where Tukaram reflects on the damage caused by certainty. I realize that certainty also blocks forward progress and can leave one stuck. I see that in hindsight my atheism during the mid part of my life was a result of my father’s certainty that there was only one God and my resulting conclusion that such an authoritarian, capricious, cruel, limited, patriarchal figure could not possibly exist therefore there was no God. It was not until my mid forties that I opened up to the possibility that perhaps there was a concept of the divine that could be relevant to me. For years I struggled with the word “God” because it carried so much negative baggage from my childhood but I became more comfortable with more general expressions like Universe, Cosmos, Spirit, Presence, Nature and Creation. This shift occurred in part as one aspect of mid life crisis which saw me abandon wife, friends and job for a one-year trip around the world with my much younger girlfriend who was more open to such concepts. It received a great deal of reinforcement when we stayed for some weeks with my sister Chris and her husband Roy in the UK who, to my total surprise, seemed totally open to the possibility that there was divine energy in the universe and they had been involved with a “new age” spiritual group for some years. “So how come you never told me?” I asked my sister. She laughed and said, “I didn’t think you had an open mind.” And of course she was right.

Feeling like a neophyte in this realm of possibility, I began to see my experience on the planet as part of something much bigger than myself and it was with curiosity that I began to test out the potential of this new relationship with the cosmos. I began to experiment, treating this power or energy as a resource to be drawn upon, that could aid me in my life’s journey. The first true test took place during a visit to Nepal where we embarked on a trek around the Annapurna circuit. It was an awesome 260 km hike taking 18 to 20 days and climbs to a high mountain pass called Tharung La which bridges the two halves of the walk. The trail ascends to 17,769 ft, considerably higher than I had ever climbed and there is a risk of acute mountain sickness if you have not fully acclimatized. The final night before the climb is spent at a small inn at Tharung Phedi and it is recommended that you leave at 4.00 a.m. in order to avoid the risk of damaging winds later in the day. I noticed I had significant anxiety emerging about this venture. I was already noticing minor headaches, not uncommon at altitude but a worrying sign as we would ascend 1,000 metres on the final day. Due to a conflict with our porters we had fired one of them and as a result would have a pack to carry; in addition our remaining porter had somewhat inadequate gear for this climb and had never been across before.

In this troubled state, I went to bed around 6.00 p.m., in preparation for the early start and because it was so cold then and had great difficulty falling asleep which of course added to my angst. I decided to do something that upon reflection was like praying but at the time that word was far too associated with the God of my parents to be acceptable. However, as the old saying goes that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is likely a duck. I decided to focus on my connection with the universe to give me strength for the ordeal that lay ahead. I created in my mind something that I learned later was an affirmation that went as follows, “My strength comes from the universe, I will be filled with energy and vitality, my pack will feel light and I would climb to the top of the Tharong La with ease.” I reflected on this affirmation through the long night.

The next morning we set off at 3.57 a.m. and I had one of my early insights into the amazing nature of the universe. I felt no need to share the weight of the pack with Karen, I walked steadily, and made the summit after three and a half hours with such ease that I turned around and went back to meet our porter Jahan who was not faring quite as well. I took the other much heavier pack and continued back to the top with ease. I had my first taste of the power of setting intention and co-creating a result.

CERTAINTY

Certainty undermines one’s power, and turns happiness

into a long shot.  Certainty confines.

Dears, there is nothing in your life that will

not change – especially your ideas of God.

Look what the insanity of righteous knowledge can do:

crusade and maim thousands

in wanting to convert that which

is already gold

into gold.

Certainty can become an illness

that creates hate and

greed.

God once said to Tuka,

“Even I am ever changing –

I am ever beyond

Myself,

what I may have once put my seal upon,

may no longer be

the greatest

Truth.”

~ Tukaram ~


Reflections on Turning Sixty-six

December 5, 2010

I wake up each morning and I smile

24-brand new hours are before me

I vow to live fully in each moment

And look on all beings with eyes of compassion

Thich Nhat Hanh

Waking up on your sixty-sixth birthday is a time for reflection. No longer can I pretend I am closer to sixty than seventy and as a friend of mine observed on Friday, at our age there is a definitive sense that the journey will end sometime. Of course it is not given to us to know the day and the hour, it could be another thirty years or as I was recently reminded when a close friend died unexpectedly at sixty, it could be tomorrow. This aging stuff is fascinating; there are the overt signs that look back at you from the mirror; the body has lost some strength; there are the morning aches and pains that soon dissipate as the joints get moving; there is the challenge of actually remembering what you went upstairs to get and there is the occasionally worry that a pain in the calf is a sign of an embolism and certain death. Yet there are many compensating benefits: financial well-being, extended leisure time, accumulated wisdom, deepened relationships and of course the government depositing money into my account each week. The strangest parts about aging are the parts that don’t seem to age. We seem to carry all the ages we have ever experienced. I still can feel like a child, view an attractive woman through teenage eyes, get embarrassed, become stubborn in the face of authority – all traits I associate with earlier years and inside I don’t feel any older which can be outright confusing at times. I notice there is an increased attractiveness I perceive in younger people, perhaps a yearning for that which has passed yet I do not regret where I am, I have no desire to relive my life from an earlier point once again, (unless I could take back all the consciousness, wisdom and experience that I now have.) Even then there are many times, place and experiences I have no desire to revisit. I feel incredibly gifted to have this particular life. I have so much to be grateful for that I can only attribute “grace” to be the reason that I have been given such a meaningful, fulfilled, amazing life after such a rocky start. I am reminded of the four commitments that I now make each morning when I meditate:

1) To empower others by offering a means to their greater well-being.

2) To shine my light.

3) To live a soul directed life guided by synchronicity and serendipity.

4) To open my heart to compassion and love.

As I sit and reflect on these I realize there is a fifth that I would like to add one more:

5) To honour the experiences of my life as guides to both meaning and learning.

I don’t think I have to worry about how long I will live but I would like to sustain these five commitments through the time I have remaining. Thank you to whatever is the sustaining force is behind my life’s unfolding journey, I feel deeply blessed.