For quite some time now, I have been working with the energy of gratitude. This all began at a retreat on compassionate end-of-life care led by the visionary Frank Ostaseski. If you ever have the chance to spend time with Frank, do it. He embodies compassion and wisdom. At the start of this retreat, he told the participants that on the previous two visits to the retreat centre, he had experienced a heart attack. Although he had recovered from them, he entered this retreat with a bit of apprehension. He said that the practice of unconditional gratitude helped him in his recovery. He gave thanks for absolutely everything that occurred. The pain. The ease. The fear. Everything. He found that by not just accepting his situation but actually embracing each moment, his heart healed.
To let us have a taste of this experience , he led us in a ‘thank you’ meditation. He emphasized that we should say ‘thank you’ to all sensations and thoughts that arise. I asked Frank ‘so does that mean I need to say thank you when my shoulder pain flares up or my thoughts turn to sadness?’ Frank simply replied, ‘yes, exactly’.
So, I sat in meditation noticing the fleeting and full range of thoughts and sensations, while I also focused on the landscape of my breath. Some of thee pleasant, some of them quite unpleasant, Through it all, I mindfully and internally said ‘thank you’. Thank you to the pain. Thank you to the elation. Thank you for the peace. Thank you for anger. Thank you.
And you know, by the end of the meditation, I realized that I can actually be okay with everything that happens. And that is something for which I feel grateful.
Recently, I met with the mother of a infant patient. Ina long discussion of immunization options, the mother finally flatly stated that she wanted me to tell her exactly what to do with her daughter and to guarantee that nothing bad will happen. I was at first struck by the audacity of her statement but then appreciated her candour. What responsible parent doesn’t want to shield their children from accident and illness? I had to admire this mom’s passionate plea to do so.
Through this encounter, I realized how often clients and especially their parents desire swift and sure results. They want what I call the 100% guaranteed life. A life where all possibilities are mapped out and risk is reduced to negligible amounts. The payoff of this approach appears to br so attractive. Indeed, to protect ourselves and loved ones loss, failure, and pain. What is the cost of such a life, though? It is a life embedded in fear. Fear is the contracting force of life. Appropriate at times to keep us safe but it can grow like a cancer destroying all other emotions in it’s wake. The seductive voice of fear tells us that it alone will keep us warm and safe. Yet the warm and safe place becomes a trap where possibilities are passed over and life becomes more constricted within this web of security.
I, too, am attracted to the known and to make safe choices. How often have I let go of a dream because it seemed crazy and threatened to upset my comfortable life. How many times have you too made such choices?
Love, in contrast, is the expansive force of the universe. It opens us to possibility, to risk our vulnerability for the promise of growth. Love, when ungrounded though, can lead us to disorientation and exploitation. Unwavering unconditional love is the path to wholeness.
The path of grounded love is true; knowing that whatever befalls us will strengthen and not break us. Knowing that the chaos offers us the opportunity to truly grow into our potential.
So I think of that mother trying to make the best decisions for her young daughter’s life. I hope she chooses to open to her daughter to love rather than contract around fear. Indeed, maybe she will inspire all of us to live fully and solidly in this deliciously messy brew of life.
I sit in my backyard garden as I write this post about the meaning and promise of the summer solstice. The sun has graced me with shining hope today. I feel his energy course through me, igniting ancient buried dreams. What did I hope to be in this life? What visions of the future did my child’s heart hold?
The solstice for me is a union of the past and the future, of mind and heart, of dreams and plans. It is the time of the peak display of the sun’s power and a time to set forth on one’s true path.
For myself, I feel the path still unfocused but becoming clear. So, today I make the intention to gather clarity and with it, courage, to fulfil my childhood’s vision. That the sun’s energy today will carry my dreams back to me.
I do hope that each one of you reading this post will also take the time today to honour the power of the solstice and let that illuminate your true path, your true being.
In the past several months, I have been involved in self-exploratory and self-forgiveness work. Throughout it all, as I near a breakthrough, familiar voices of questioning and hesitation intensify their efforts. Just last week, as I opened myself to the possibility of living a fully engaged life of teaching and learning, the questions entered. How can this possibility be practical? What about your practice? What about your friends and family in Canada? What about all the other responsibilities of your life in Toronto? How could you be so irresponsible?!?
So easy for me to get caught in the what ifs. Is it so irresponsible of me to dream of a life of passion and purpose To spend most moments in utter pleasure? Who do I think I am, to refuse to live into my potential? What kind of role model do I really wish to be?
Stopping the flood of recriminations has helped me to clarify my true purpose. To plan less and live more. To live as though each moment is precious.
To be honest and unconditionally loving of myself and everyone else in my circle. To teach and write and learn.
How does this dialogue play out in your life? How deeply are you listening to the inspired voices within? The more of us who actually do this, the easier it will be for everyone else to live in themselves wholly.
Indeed, inspire yourself and through that be a beacon for all beings.
This week, I completed a photographic workshop and the instructor discussed the rule of thirds. According to this rule of composition, photos are much more interesting to the eye when the main subject is off to one side instead of being exactly in the centre. By experimenting with this rule in my own photos, I did find that I was more attracted to the slighty off-kilter construction of subjects. This revelation made me think about how the rule of thirds applies to the rest of life.
Ever notice, for example, when learning to ride a bike, the moment you realize you’re in perfect balance is exactly when you fall down? That moment of equanimity is so solid yet seems so fragile from our human perspective. Our realization of perfection ruins the perfection! But it is the ruin that our humanity is found. Although I enjoy pleasure and ease as much as anyone, I also revel in the messiness of life. My life according to the rule of thirds reminds that perfection is not the end goal but the falling and returning to it is.
While on this physical/emotional/spiritual detox over the past few weeks, I have been exploring compassion — its meanings in both theoretical and personal realms. What does it mean to be compassionate? Are there limits to compassion? Are there certain people and actions which cannot receive the blessings of compassion?
As I mentioned in my last entry, I have been excavating the past so that I can free myself of negative patterns that still haunt me. When I recall painful memories of childhood, I wonder can I ever really recover from them? Can I ever be made whole again, or must I continue through life bearing these oozing wounds and scabs. Interesting how the focus shifted from the actions to myself. In essence, I realize how I must first turn the focus of compassion onto my Self, to heal the suffering with self-kindness. Parts of me feel so scarred, the flesh so stiff from imperfect healing. My job now is to gently massage them with the light of patience and love. Not to eradicate them, but allow the energy of life to course through them again. That is true nature of compassion; indeed, its purpose is to seek out suffering and be its unconditional companion. That is the path to healing and wholeness.
Due to a series of events, I delayed my spring detox until the very end of the season, in June. Whenever I embark on a detox, I am always struck by how it thrusts my conceptions about food into the forefront. Food is sustemance on a purely physical level but also emotionally. Especially emotionally. Growing up, food was a battlefield as well as a peace offering with my mother. She both punished me and nurtured me through food. She taught me the harsh lesssons of life, that the world is defined scarcity. My mother also was an amazing and inventive cook/baker. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mother trying out new recipes in Gourmet magazine. In cooking and baking, my mother offered her uniquely tortured version of love.
So it is no surprise that food still holds a compicated place in my life. It is my soother, my nemesis, my connection to my childhood. How do I now transform my somewhat unhealthy affair with food?
First, by being present. The other day, early in my detox, I received some disappointing news. I immediately felt an urge to forgo my temporary food restrictions and eat some wheat. Then I stopped myself and actually felt the present emotions – sadness, anger, regret. Once I truly felt them, the desire for food left me. No hunger or void remaining. Only power in lightness. That is exactly why I do a detox, to shed awareness on these patterns of comfort and dis-ease.
I have been considering the archetype of the wounded healer lately. If I am on the shamanic path, how does the wounded healer fit into my life? Indeed surviving a grave illness seems to be the invitation to the shamanic path. When recently asked if I had a grave illness in my past, I hesitated. I realize that I have had serious mental health crises. Growing up in a crazy house experiencing terrible trauma at the hands of my mother, followed by years of healing from anorexia nervosa, followed by panic attacks and recurrent depression. Then I witnessed the worst of human behaviour when a man bludgeoned another man right in front of me at work. My nervous system has been barraged with trauma and has barely recovered even now. I still catch myself waiting for the next crisis to attack me. I cannot quite believe that the universe is a benevolent place for me. The shadows still lurk around every corner of my thoughts, just out of clear view. I had realized that my mind was both my greatest ally and my most serious enemy. In learning about tai chi and other martial arts, it is essential to keep your energy centred in your lower abdomen. As long as your focus remains high up in your head, you are vulnerable in your body. You can more easily be caught off-centre the longer you stay in your head. I have taken this lesson into my life at large. By centering my energy into my body from my mind, I am better able to gracefully deal with the daily struggles in my life. I am less tormented and more present for everything that life offers.
I have recently begun the process to re-envision my practice of healing. A new era of branding is upon me. So, after much dreaming and thinking, I have re-named my practice “Alchemy Integrative Medicine”. Alchemy has always fascinated me since childhood. It is the science of possibility, of reaching just beyond edge of our current understanding. Integration is the actual process of healing, of joining the mind with the body with the spirit. Medicine is the myriad of means available to achieve wholeness, a synthesis of leading edge science and traditional healing. The acronym “AIM” also appeals to me, invoking images of focus and purpose. Although we aim for healing, it is actually always within us. Healing is the revelation of the paths back to our true self. The journey circling back connects us not only with our selves but also the people who support us and mother earth.
I know that I have been remiss in updating this blog, but ironically I have felt too busy in practice and teaching to write. What I have learned in this rather busy time is the importance of solitude. By spending so much time with patients and students, I have experience lessons that require some time to properly digest. So now I am sitting on a dock in the Kawarthas with the technology of a laptop to help me in this task. What to make of my recent learnings? Humility opens the heart to learning from others. No matter how much I think I know about healing, patients continue to amaze me with their insights. On an almost daily basis, I feel that I am barely keeping my head above water when witnessing the transformations that people make in my office. One middle-aged woman is rediscovering and reclaiming her true self after years of severe trauma. She inspires me with her thoughtfulness and persistence. Another woman is facing the last days of her life here on earth. She appreciates and gives thanks for all experiences facing her, including her last spring season and final mother’s day. I now realize that anything is possible in healing. Even in the dying process, grace is not only possible but actually permeates each moment. Transformation not only embodies change but also acceptance. Truth is truth is truth.