When Life Gives You Lemons . . .

. . . make lemonade.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Live and let live. Or, live and let die.

Neurons that fire together wire together.

Do you live by slogans? I tried these popular words of wisdom on for awhile, a few times. I still catch slogans landing in my thoughts, as if by rote. I suspect we all depend upon these catchy sayings to a certain extent. They can get us through difficulties, help us to maintain focus on something-other-than-default way of being.

Those of you who are members of Twelve-Step groups may recognize that slogans are significant tools in those programs. Over time, through involvement in one such group, I discovered that I had to switch from one slogan to another to another as circumstances shifted. In the final analysis, I realized that, individually, slogans do not stand the test of change. Even used together, they are too simplistic to serve as reliable guides through the complexity of life.

Essentially, slogans are encapsulated beliefs.

Essentially, slogans are encapsulated beliefs. Beliefs are enduring “statements of ‘fact'” that we take to be true. When we believe something is stable, we cling to it as foundation, as reliable.

Then there are times in life when everything falls out from under us, times that are especially challenging occur when our beloved beliefs related to how life should be, how events should unfold, are called into direct question.

. . . there are times in life when everything falls out from under us.

We are facing, collectively, such a time, precisely and to a degree not likely to be seen again in our lifetime. What are we to do?

Transformation

When we perceive everything we encounter as grace, as gift, all beliefs are potentially true. The paradigm gets turned on its head, and beliefs become pointers or messengers that remind us of the Great Mystery – the one truth on which we can rely.

How do we shift our perception to “see” this way? Some call this pure perceiving the contemplative stance, others, “Interior Freedom,” yet others, “Presence.”

. . . an almost-childlike willingness to experience life first-hand . . .

Integrative Restoration (iRest)(R) provides an empirically-validated, modern, Westernized framework for nourishing this way of approaching all of life, including welcoming challenging material. You might consider the first step to be an almost-childlike willingness to experience life first-hand, fresh in each moment.

From time to time I offer experiential sessions, teaching sessions, and one-on-one co-meditation employing iRest principles. Join my mailing list to find out when these events are happening.

The Unlikely, Yet Actual Gift, of On-line, Interactive, Live Yoga

HeIlo, friends. It’s been awhile. I have held you in my heart, regardless.

My hope is that you are finding your way through this crazy, confusing, confounding time. Perhaps you have even found some gift in all of it. I know some people have had significant additional challenges to navigate in the midst of it. No two people’s experience will have been the same.

I do know that the practices and attitudes that I have cultivated over the last four decades have held me in good stead. It may be unbelievable, but I have felt largely at ease during the last six months, filled with ease and gratitude for all the grace and goodness I have in life. And yet I know it could just as easily be the opposite.

In spring, in addition to pivoting private clients to on-line meetings, I offered on-line group yoga via Zoom to a small number of students a couple times a week. This quick alternative provided all of us with

  • social connection,
  • a sense of purpose,
  • regularity in schedule,
  • connectedness with the body, and
  • effective action to meet the stress of a virtual lockdown.

I didn’t offer too much group practice over the last couple of months because summer found me wanting to have the freedom to garden, hike, and practice for myself.

View from Eiffel Lake Trail toward Fay Glacier and Moraine Lake

At the end of July, instead of traveling to California for a ten-day silent retreat, the instructors offered a week-long virtual retreat with no silence required. There were differences from my experience of last year’s live event but I think I liked the on-line offering even better!

Some of the 30 or so participants in the July Advanced iRest Retreat, this year offered flawlessly on-line.
some of the 30 or so participants in the July Advanced iRest Retreat

Advantages to on-line yoga, meditation and spiritual direction are many.

  • Generally, the technology works pretty well.
  • No travel hassles or costs. So there is less fatigue. And less time expended due to not having to travel.
  • Use common items from your home as props and for comfort.
  • No social need to shower or fix yourself up beyond the basics. You can even use highly-scented products if you want and you won’t affect others!
  • If you are feeling grouchy or tired, you can choose to keep your interaction to a minimum.
  • You can turn off your camera if you don’t feel like being seen and your microphone if you don’t want to talk. These mean that you can cough, go to the bathroom or have a beverage or eat without disturbing others.
  • With exceptions, you may not have to resort to babysitters or pet care.
  • You can practice to your capacity if you are feeling unwell, without exposing others.
  • You will not be exposed to outside people who may be unwell.
  • No imposition on your personal space and vice versa.
  • On-line we can still chant and actively work with breath but during COVID-19 relaunch we couldn’t if we were together live.
  • Develop your own home practice through the process; incorporate the learning right into your life!

And there are a few downsides or extra effort involved in participating on-line. Here are some of them:

  • Occasionally the technology is splotchy on the receiving or sending end.
  • You may have to learn how to use the technology (although it is getting more intuitive all the time and there is lots of help available).
  • You need to determine how to configure a space for practice.
  • You may need to spend time experimenting with your computer / device so the camera captures your full figure (in the case of wanting feedback from the teacher).
  • You need a degree of privacy and quiet in your space.
  • You need to have even more respect for your physical, emotional and mental limits as the teacher is not as able to sense what is going on for you.
  • You may have to reign in your attention from distractions of home.

No Recording, for your privacy and comfort.

To honour privacy of participants, I largely have decided not to record Zoom offerings. However, do know that Zoom recordings only include the active screen which presenters can set up as only their own. I also ask students not to record audio, video or to screen shot anything that involves other students’ images, voice or text.

Ready to take the plunge?

So are you ready to join me?

I am planning gentle yoga / meditation classes

  • 10 – 11:30 Tue mornings and
  • 7 – 8:30 Wed evenings

From Jan 5 to Mar 31, 2021

Difficulties, Attention, Neuroscience and Yoga

Man lying prone with a shoe stepping on the side of his face
Life’s challenges can feel like this

Let’s face it – we can be challenged by what life brings our way. The list of circumstances is endless: an irate customer, a sideways glance, a faulty product, a work project stalled, a marriage falling apart, a child or an elderly parent having difficulties, a traffic jam standing in the way of getting to something important, a personal health crisis, a hail storm decimating the garden, a fire destroying home and community.

When we pay attention, we may see that it is us deciding (influenced by infinite factors) that the situation is bad or good and that the event itself is inherently neutral. This realization is not trivial; there is an insight that matures over time and subsequent understanding comes in waves or spirals of increasing depth. For instance, we may realize that the irate customer may have had a challenging day and possess some degree of equanimity in the face of his ire. But the circumstances don’t seem neutral when your loved one dies or your community is hit with a catastrophe. At least, not until insight is substantially matured.

The tendency is to be in reaction mode, racing to fix or blame or escape or ignore. This is not a surprise; proliferating neuroscientific research is showing us that our predominant mode of attention is meant to alert us to danger, a primordial survival instinct. Sadly though, we are using this type of attention when circumstances don’t really warrant it.

Balancing rocks on the shore of a body of water
When working in Default Mode Network, our minds continuously weigh whatever we encounter

When we truly take note, we can appreciate that these trials aren’t just occasional. Every single moment, a subtle part of our psyche decides whether we like or dislike what is unfolding. This evaluation is coloured by a vast array of influences, including beliefs and earlier events and has little to do with the current scenario. I remember guiding a class in a tea-tasting meditation, the purpose being to experience, among other things, the pure sensation of smelling, hearing, tasting, seeing and touching, throughout the undertaking of a single sip of tea. Wasn’t I surprised when I realized that the taste of the oolong tea I had enjoyed for so many years was really unpleasant to me! It was exceedingly bitter, a taste that wasn’t at all appealing. I suspect that I had unknowingly attributed health benefits and a certain exotic character to oolong tea that shaped my usual opinion. And I also suppose that, on another day, the bitter taste might have evoked a more appreciative response.

Clear glass pot and cup of steaming tea
Just seeing this picture starts a cascade of sensation, memory, evaluation

We start to realize that we can choose how we attend to life.

We start to realize that we can choose how we attend to life. Some situations demand the default mode network, the one that scans around actually searching for danger. As time elapses and circumstances evolve, a focal type of attention may serve to solve some residual physical problem by allowing us to focus, deeply and locally, to get the task done. And another type of attention, associated with insight, creativity, and improved health, involves defocusing, almost like a peripheral vision or feeling outward in all directions, aware and detached while noticing moment by moment unfolding of life – sensations like sounds and feelings, emotions, beliefs, thoughts, dreams. When we are well established in this state, we can actively choose whether to examine something in more detail. This state that I like to call being Awareness is the attentional mode in which we should spend most of our time, in my opinion.

sunset over land with lines moving toward a focal point and a sky with some clouds and birds flying
Awareness in which everything is arising.
Present-Centered Network mode of attention

Allowing Awareness to be foreground takes three key factors: motivation, courage and effort. A deep desire for increased ease and agility, less reactivity, and some semblance of control over the mind tends to have a motivating effect. Having the intention to cultivate Awareness is a crucial step. Courage is boosted by nourishing a sense or feeling of security, acceptance and wellbeing. I associate this feeling with a visceral faith in a wellspring, or endless resource, that is always available. These three, a heart-felt desire, an intention, and a foundation of security or inner resource comprise bhavana, a concept that has a long and elevated history in yoga practice.

a dangling old-fashioned key

Sometimes, like everyone, I get down on myself. “I didn’t achieve such and such, I don’t measure up, I’m a terrible so and so.” Practice of being Awareness has allowed me to (more often) have some distance so I recognize that such a frame of mind does me no good. I see that it sets me up to respond poorly to any, even slight, difficulty I might encounter. And then I realize I have a choice in the mode of attention I use to view the world.

I started writing this article with the intention of discussing how my life-embedded yoga practices have become somewhat of an inner resource for me. Although I wrote about much that wasn’t originally on the radar, I think I covered at least one angle!