Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Permission of the Rain

Today’s weather forecast was calling for rain, at times heavy, freezing rain and snow. Have you ever decided not to do something because it was raining outside? The rainfall gives us permission to stay inside. All of those beautiful rainy days we have known, tucked away in our dry, warm houses. Things getting done, or doing nothing at all. Because of the rain.

Picture if you will the beauty of the rain. On some rainy days (and not all of them), the rain can beckon us into its embrace. After working many years outside in all manner of the elements, I have learned that the rainy days are actually the most peaceful. I actually looked forward to them. They ensured that my body could warm up from the inside out without discomfort. With the proper raingear, promenading along the ocean, or in a forest or along a trail in the rain can be magnificent.

Admit it. The sun is demanding. It shines brightly and hot and requires that you seek cover when necessary, hydrate often, wear hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, make hay and till the fields. The sun has an agenda. Lineups are always longer on sunny days.

Rainy days are much more quiet. All sound gets socked under the pitter patter of the falling drops. The world becomes a bubble around you.

Today I finally managed to do my favourite loop in my hood. This one is a little over 13km. I started out in full lightweight rain gear, wooly mitts and fleece with two hoods. Within minutes my running shoes were soaked through. It wasn’t long before my underlayers were also drenched. The rain was pelting down, then turned into sleet and finally a curtain of very wet snow.

I loved every minute of it. Once I got over the wet gear thing and my body began to generate warmth beneath my coats, I was able to be drawn towards the gift that is the rain.

Like a seed needs rain to take it from its dormant state, I believe humans do too. The rain gives us permission not only to hide inside, but also to go outside, find refuge where most find aversion. We can feel it on our faces. It gives us permission to grow. To overcome. Come out of our shells despite the odds.

Like the silent darkness of the early morning before even the birds are awake, we own the rainy days. They bring incredible peace, if only we can enter into them and surrender entirely.

Years of being forced to dawn my outdoor gear and head into a day under the great open rainy skies showed me that the rainy days were the best. I recall rowing on Elk Lake in Victoria in the dark, rainy mornings filled with simple, luscious beauty. The water was always more still on those mornings. And so was I.

By the end of my hour and a half walk/run today, I burst through the front door with my two soaking wet furry dogs and peeled off the layers that were stuck to my skin and hung them up to dry. My house was deliciously warm and dry. In a way that I could never have known if I had not set foot outside.

Don’t be afraid of the rain. It gives you permission to see the world in a way that you could never imagine if you were hiding inside. Have you ever watched children play in the rain? None of it is any matter to them. In fact the more puddles the better! Embrace the rain. Go visit it the next time it comes. I promise, you won't be sorry.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Science of Intuition

I’ve always been one to go with my gut and do what feels good when it feels right. I follow my nose, so to speak. This makes me a very creative, artistic type. But in the real world this looks a whole lot like I’m selfish doing what I want, when I want. Having a strong intuitive side (you know that inner, crazy voice I was telling you about?) has its positive and negative points. It is excellent to have a built in GPS system about where to go next. Not so great when someone needs you to turn in a direction that feels like going into a deep, black abyss.

Best to find a way to navigate the two simultaneously (the needs of others and the intuitive voice).

I have spent my life learning how to do things the way they are expected of me. I can do what I am told and I can give myself away to others easily, especially if I think it is the right thing to do. Yet, it is only recently that I’ve begun to explore following my nose wholeheartedly. Or following my heart whole-nosedly, which ever comes first.

The trouble with the voice of the gut is that, for me anyway, it is terrible at making plans. It couldn’t write a schedule if its life depended on it. It needs space, time, maybe money (all privileges, I agree) and a long, long leash. You have to kind of let it wander and sniff around until it finds a trail it wants to follow.

But along with this crazy, talking stomach, I am sort of a control freak. No, lets rephrase that. I am addicted to and depend entirely on control in every aspect of my life. I like to know what is going to happen next. I like predictability. I like figuring out how things work and find out what the rules are. This made me an excellent scientist and a diligent government worker.

In all of this wandering lately I am starting to desperately crave a schedule in my days. I have been able to commit to a regular exercise routine that has given me enormous amounts of energy, confidence and endurance in everything I do, in a very short amount of time (less than a month?). I believe the reason why I have stuck with my routine is that I built in a lot of flexibility and was willing to adapt as potential set backs showed their faces. I knew how many times in a week, I carved out a couple of sure-thing blocks in the day that I could make it happen with a little inner pushing and then…followed my nose.

Now I need this kind of structure in my work projects. I have been making lists of things I want to accomplish. Songs I wish to record in my home studio. Submissions to magazines. People I need to ask advice from. More research I want to do.

I need to put one foot in front of the other and make sure I see it all through, regularly, every week. I need a plan. I need to know there is a beginning, middle and end so that I have something to measure when all this sniffing is over. Without it, it is impossible to have a sense of accomplishment. And us control freaks need to know they’ve gotten something done in a day.

It was my husband who suggested I approach it just like my (recently successful) exercise regime. Map out a few potential blocks of time in a day that will work, establish the number of blocks I want to fill in week and then be flexible and adapt as needed. I have written every bit of physical activity I have accomplished in a notebook this past month. I believe it will work really well to do this for my ‘work’ related projects as well.

My brother once suggested that I write down all of the home renovations, farming activities and child-care related jobs I did in a week. Then he said to attach a dollar figure as a way of knowing that I was in fact still earning an ‘income’. There was the dry walling I did last fall in the living room that we had been quoted over a thousand dollar to get done. These things added up. And my little A-type needed to see them on paper. Otherwise I felt like a floating bubble with no purpose and direction. But the trouble is that I can attach no dollar figure to these new endeavours. Not yet anyway.

As animal-keepers, parents, daughters, friends, sisters, women, humans, we all have to set up our lives so that we can respond to the needs of those around us, often quickly. The world never stops needing us. But we can build in little islands of refuge along the way where we can catch our breath, map out a plan, give ourselves some structure to a life of offering to the world. It seems, for me anyway, this structure needs a plan.

So it is time to put a framework around my intuitive wanderings. Not necessarily boundaries, but a bit of a leash, some control, some structure, a schedule and a reporting system.

Government scientist geek? Meet creative, artist person. We’ve got plans to make together.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Come Here, Go Away

Early this morning I found myself doing my yoga routine in a quiet space without dogs or children or even the light of day to distract me. After a month of reintroducing running and yoga into my life, I have endured all manner of obstacles.

One day last week, when my shin splints were not manageable, I decided to take out my bike, run the dogs and strengthen my leg muscles without much impact. It was a Saturday morning, and I had lined the counter with flour, milk, eggs, baking powder and a waffle iron as a hint to my husband. There was a cold November wind ripping the hood from my face, which was growing sticky with rain but I pursued anyway.

When I was at the farthest point from home I met up with a woman walking her dog. As is the proper etiquette, I rounded up my dogs to tie them up. I sat on my bike, holding the leash against the handlebars, brakes squeezed on. Just as the dog passed by, both of mine struck into a full lunge. In slow motion, I felt my entire body lift up into the air as the bike flipped end over end and shot me over the front. Lying on the ground with my legs tangled around the bike, my dogs continued to pull towards their newfound friend. The woman tried to offer help.

I could not get up. My knee had knocked into a stone and I was unable to straighten or put any weight on it. The woman moved her own dog along so mine would settle and after she left they sat next to me on the ground while I tried to get myself to standing for several minutes.

After the pain subsided, I finally made it home by pedaling in a way that required no weight on my one knee. Our family enjoyed a wonderful waffle breakfast together. I had to walk with a stiff leg for a couple of days and could not kneel directly on it but I felt lucky. It could have been much worse.

I might have chocked this up to a free pass from any physical activities, but I decided to try to keep up the momentum I had gained. So I kept on moving and stayed away from anything that hurt. I even found myself back in a Bikram (hot) Yoga studio after a 10-year absence (same teacher no less!) and managed to get through the poses much to my great surprise. I did attempt to run only to find out that the pain in my knee didn't appear until I stopped running. Despite the fact that I was hungry and still far from home, to be safe, I made my way back walking.

The truth is that no matter what goals we set, there will always be excellent reasons to stop, quit or take a break. I have exercised my right with excuses for decades. And in my opinion, this has left me in a position far short from what I feel my potential to be in every aspect of my life. I have given in to the voice in my head that said I couldn’t. I’m not saying we should all run 10km with a broken leg – but if we could stay tuned to ourselves and go forward where there is still the light of possibility, we might surprise ourselves and learn ways to work around the obstacles. There might be creative solutions where quitting (or never starting) seemed like the only option.

This morning I was lying in that awkward, deliciously painful pose called the pigeon (or runner’s stretch). You basically lie on your stomach, except for the small detail where one of your legs is bent on the floor in front of you and you’re putting all of your weight on it. The hip is opening. Or trying to as is the case for one side of mine. Apparently our hips are great storage depots for emotional baggage. My one hip seems to be storing an elaborate history as I can barely get past upright in this position (when there was a time not long ago when this was not the case).

While grimacing in this pose, I heard a whisper (not my children finding me in the dark, but the crazy kind from inside of my head). Come here, it said. I bent down closer to my leg. Slowly. Gently. Come here, it said again. I came closer to the floor. My hip hurt. A lot. Yet the pain beckoned me into it. I followed.

Soon, I was lying on the ground bent over my tome-filled hip, breathing deeply into what felt like the most fantastic release a girl could dream for. It didn’t hurt anymore. Stay here, it said.

I stayed.

Now go away, it said.

It was then that I realized that most of the things we don’t naturally gravitate to in life (fear, pain, unpredictability) are actually our friends if we let them be. There are things that have held me back my entire life: lack of confidence, low self-esteem, listening to what others wanted from me. All along I ran from them, tried to shut them out, make them quiet, tell them they had no power. But they come attached with a message.

All along, what I needed was to invite them in for tea.

One safe morning in the dark, when the house was quiet, pain invited me to come closer. I went. Pain ran its course, then took its last sip and without any drama at all, got up to leave.

I can’t say I know the difference between looking for trouble, self-sabotage, self-deprecation and this kind of surrender. Nor would I know when I was about to crack myself in half and when I was healing.

But I can definitely say that this experience has me wondering what else I should move closer to, rather than try to push away. What other troubles could I resolve if only I was willing to let them in?

Who knew? The swan song of hardship comes when you bring it closer and have a good look at it, so you can send it on its merry way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jar of Stones

Have you read the story of the Professor who came to speak about efficient time management and began his lecture by filling a jar with large stones? He then asked the students if the jar was full to which they replied that it was. Then he shook in a pile of small stones into the spaces and it was noted that there was more room in that jar than was thought. Is it full yet? Seems so. But when you pour in a container of sand that still fits too. And finally, not full yet. Water fit too. The point of the story was thought to be that you can keep adding things to your jar even when you don’t think you can (we’ve all seen that before!) Instead, the message was that you have to put the important ones in first and fit the other little ones in after, not the other way around.

My life used to be filled with all kinds of stones, big and small. Ones that took up 37.5 hours a week. Others that woke me up in the night for a feeding. Some gave me worry and fret although there was nothing I could actually do about them. Others that had me running for reasons I could never figure out. Some urgent. Some relentless. Some joyful. All of them added up to my jar of stones.

Some would argue that the important stones are their children. Or their full-time employment. Perhaps a major house renovation. Running a business. I have had all four stones in my jar at once.

I have also found that it is easier to add small stones to a jar of large ones than it is to try to shove a big stone back into the pile of little ones. When people ask me what I’m up to these days I could just as easily answer ‘nothing’ as ‘too much’. But they all seem like little stones to me. Nothing major going down. Just a lot of housekeeping (in the literal and the figurative sense) and logistical tasks and chores. Alongside the care of those little people that live with us in our home.

Children to me are the ones that matter the most. Their impact on the household is greater than anything else in our space. They require the most attention. They are the biggest of stones in this way.

And yet it is so tempting in this day and age of parenting to fill the jar around them like they are appendages to our lives. Like they couldn’t possibly be the main act. Being a mother is not considered enough for a woman anymore. She is expected to ‘make something of herself’ outside of the home.

Then there is the guilt I feel every time I make a move away from my kids. When I make an attempt to do something that makes me feel whole again just for me, I experience a knot that is quiet and steady beneath all that I do. I have discovered that I need to change the focus on the mundane chores that raising children involves (cooking, cleaning, scheduling etc.), but not lose the opportunities to spend time intentionally enjoying my children’s company. What will shift my focus from the little chores? I want to find a new stone for my jar to call my own.

I intend to push this big stone way down deep into my jar of sand and other stones. I’m looking for some kind of employment, project or business. I suspect it is going to be quite a struggle to get it in there. I don’t quite know if I need to be removing everything first and putting it all back in place differently. Or if I just have to put it on top and let the pull of gravity and the earth’s shift draw it under into the substrate.

What I don’t want is to change the size of stones that my children represent in my life. If there is room in there for lots of big stones, then great. But I refuse to give up quality time with my kids. But the focus cannot be entirely on my children. I cannot expect them to make me whole.

The trouble with parenting is that if you are doing your job right, you are constantly pushing your children away from you. This happens until they are fully functioning, self-sufficient beings in the world. At best, you will be able to witness their lives through every major step but once they are grown, you become less and less needed (or a bank or babysitter).

With every push that is made, a mother has the choice to backfill the space where the child once depended on her. Does this mean that the big stones that are children become smaller, making room for other big stones? I think not. The space in a mother’s heart and the concern in her head still occupy the same real estate. And yet she must get out there and make good use of the time that is made free again – after 2 weeks, 2 years, 2 decades. When is it the right time to backfill this space, anyway? I suspect never. And yet gradually, continually, always.

Little by little, I add things back into my jar. I never let go of the fact that everything I do for my own fulfillment, independent of what my children and family need from me, feels selfish and uncomfortable. I may never go back to a place of worrying only about the individual that I once was. I am a unit now. I come with connections. God willing, these connections will never leave me until the day I die.

I think humans are far more capable than they often think they are. I think we can do immense and wonderful things if we set our minds to it. I believe that women are far too good at underestimating themselves, selling themselves short. And yet not asking for help when it is needed. On this principle alone, I’m hoping I can handle a new stone.

I filled my jar for a decade now with stones that I learned to care deeply for. I topped it up to the brim with so much that mattered, so much to lose, so much that depended on me. But it became easier to meet the needs of others than to concern myself with my own.

I gave up pieces of myself to build this colourful mosaic I now call my life. I chipped away at the things that made me who I am, my interests, my dreams, the things I love and used these bricks to fill the needs of everything and everyone around me.

I know I’m not alone. This is what every person in the world does when they have something important to care for. It is natural and good to be this way.

But we have a choice as women to give or be taken from. I do believe that giving to others is a sure way to happiness. I also think that if you let yourself be repeatedly stripped of the stuff that makes you who you are, you will surely be headed towards anger and despair.

So it seems the trick is to be proactive with your resources. Get up in the morning and make choices about who you want to be and what you have to offer. If you do not, there will surely be a murder of crows waiting to take a piece of you. Offering your services and skills and creativity to the world outside of you is essential to being part of something bigger than you. We all need to feel as though we are useful and contributing. Trouble with parenting is that it so easily becomes a ‘taking’ scenario instead of a giving. The action is often a pull from the outside rather than an offering from the inside.

How do you make the same old chore a true offering from you heart (when you’ve had far too little sleep, you haven’t eaten a proper breakfast and the cow trough needs a filling)? You anticipate happy ways of spending time together rather than being dragged by the momentum of the train you are attached to. You make sure everyone gets enough sleep and enough to eat and has opportunities to grow, and relate and play and learn and discover and then rest. Including you.

The vessel is you. So please keep it shiny and clear. Don’t let the dust from that passing truck cloud your vision. Don’t let the sky falling mean you have to run around collecting the bits in your jar. See something beautiful, put it in your jar. Your jar is too full? Take one of the more unnecessary or draining things out.

Be careful, you are likely already filled up. But make sure you carve out a space for what is important. Make sure that you are part of what is important. More of that means more of you left to offer the world. Not pieces stolen, but given with a full and clear heart.

Because you took the time to make it so.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fixed on Adapting

The day after my fiasco with the dinosaur and my yoga mat, I headed out for a run after the daily chores were done and before my children were expected to be home. November has afforded us numerous warm, sunny days this year and this day was no exception. I tied my two black, furry hounds around my waist and donned my running shoes with some sporty clothes and prepared myself for a long, slow haul around one of my country ‘blocks’. This one is a 13 km (8 miles or so) loop that heads up the road towards the highway, veers onto an exceptional old railway bed that has been pulled up and made into a fine gravel bike path over 100km long, turns into a very small community (a dozen houses?), heads back into the bush, up a road over a hillside too steep for cars to pass easily (although they often try and end up at our farm asking to use the phone), and spits back out at the beginning of our land.

I was planning to alternate between running and walking as I saw fit. This was my favourite tour of the neighbourhood and I was excited that I felt ready to tackle this distance again. I was going to take it slow, give it the time it needed.

As soon as I left, I could feel the dull ache of the shin splints I had earned a few days before on a jog I had taken around a different loop. My sciatica from my pregnancy days was also acting up. I was too stubborn to turn around but I knew right away I would have to modify my tour.

Not only this, but I managed to lose one of my dogs at the second farm we hit. He is a hound and took to a smell and within minutes, he went off somewhere completely ignoring my calls. I do let the dogs take turns running leash-free and can almost guarantee they will stay in sight or come back when called to take their turn on the leash again but this time I had no luck.

My route was changed so that I could come back the way I came to try to collect my dog. My method of getting there down-shifted to a walk due to pain in my leg. Despite this, my outlook remained on the positive side. I would not be swayed. This was my time to enjoy the fresh air and my favourite trail before it opened up to snowmobiles and all foot traffic was banned until April.

I did a reasonably long walk (at times in the state of a slight limp) and made it back home to find my hound at the doorstep. Not a surprise. He is a bit of a homebody this way, once he gets whatever he needs to smell all sorted out.

The following day I awoke again to do a yoga routine. I slipped in my tape and within seconds my daughter came down to perch on the couch and watch. She made a very good effort to point out what I was doing wrong or differently from the people on the screen. I asked from underneath my armpit whether she could find something else to do. Again, we were not yet 6am and I figured she needed some more sleep if nothing else.

My dear husband awoke and came downstairs to try to distract her away from the scene. My son was also up by this point. With a bit more privacy, I did finish my yoga carrying the great concern that I was completely responsible for robbing my family of an hour of sleep. It didn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem fair to expect this kind of time.

It is tempting to forget the whole early morning waking thing. But I need to see this through. This hour of the day is an hour that I usually lie awake anyway, hoping not to stir too much and wake anyone up. So now I want to reclaim it for time to call my own.

This morning I came into the attic space that I recently cleared out for myself just after 5am. I brought a book. I gathered a notebook and a pen. I made a coffee. My laptop came with me and I read some blogs and wrote this post.

This is a kinder, gentler sort of undertaking I realize. But I think I needed it to know that the point of taking an hour to oneself is to do the thing that works for the one taking it! I refuse to give up the idea that I can get some controlled, peaceful moments to myself in the morning. I believe wholeheartedly that it will make all the difference in how I take on the day.

I will not be giving up my physical endeavours anytime soon. As always, however, when living systems are involved, I will need to adapt. Perhaps ever day. My children will likely get bored of the sound of the stairs creaking in the wee hours of the morning. My husband will perhaps regain this hour of sleep. I may be outside again as the light of day changes come March. My leg will heal. My yoga tape will resume play. It will be what it will be.

For now: reading, meditation, yoga, perhaps some writing, walking. This is my hour. And I’m going to find how to breath life into it no matter what.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Don't Know How She Did It

Have you heard about those ladies who manage to raise two sets of twins while holding down a full time job involving international travel and still managing to host fabulous Martha-esque parties at their homes while running marathons twice in a year in their spare time? You know the ones. It is hard to praise them because you can hardly get your jaw off your belly button when you hear what they do in a day.

We don’t know how they do it.

When your pile of laundry looks like Mount Everest and the dust bunnies behind your toilet are starting to reproduce as if Easter is around the corner. You’ve got dentist appointments to get to and car repairs to coordinate and friends to drop casseroles with and somewhere in there find time to get a birthday present for the party on the weekend. You’re list seems longer than the constitution and yet someone somewhere does all that and still manages to tack on major projects and full time employment.

Have you heard tale about so-and-so’s grandmother? Maybe she is yours. She was most certainly mine. She carried water from her well by hand to wash the clothes. She got up early to milk a cow and then got her kids off in the direction of the schoolhouse - which she probably taught at. She tended a garden, volunteered at the church, knit warm socks and mittens and sewed up holes in clothes. She cleaned the floors, kept the home fires burning and likely took a shift or two on the tractor in the fields.

And we don’t know how she did it.

But upon further examination, I wonder whether life was easier back then. If I could give up internet commitments (finding used winter tires, checking for vegetable orders, RSVPing to the fair trade party) wouldn’t life be more straight forward? What about if I got rid of our vehicles and went back to a horse and buggy for transport? Then I wouldn’t need to get tires fixed and oil changed except for maybe on the tractor. What about if I didn’t have to worry if my cell phone was charged, if my electricity bill was paid, if my home phone line was on the right long distance plan?

What if my relatives lived within walking distance (a horse walk perhaps)? What if we shared tasks with the neighbours and leaned on each other as needed? It took a village to raise children and a community to work a farm back then. I think it still does. Except many of us are left to try to make it happen on our own.

What if I didn’t need to buy gifts for that birthday party – I could make them out of wool without feeling sheepish (tee hee) around the other Barbie Spectacular and Build a Bunny extravagant gifts? What if I had to make my own ketchup and relish instead of seeking it out in the store? What if I could live without coffee and sugar?

Somehow in all of this ‘making life easier for ourselves’ (and healthier, and more fair, and more environmentally and politically correct) we have complicated things beyond recognition. So much so that people are rushing to the grocery store and buying bushels of cucumbers from far away places to make preserves for the winter. They do this so that they feel closer to their food. We get memberships at gyms and spend hours there every day but drive instead of walking from box store to box store in the interest of saving time.

I have made an attempt to seek simplicity in my life. Instead I seem to have added the task of making relish to the long list of modern day complications. I also made an attempt to rid myself of luxuries that I hoped we no longer needed. I traded the new cars in for old. I got rid of television programming in our house. I vowed to buy almost everything second hand. Clocks, lamps, clothes, shoes, speakers, gifts, dishes, bikes, skis, art, toys, and whatever else I could find that was still useful. The only thing new coming into my home were toothbrushes and underwear and I couldn’t have been happier.

But life did not get more simple. To my surprise it just got more complicated. You see, I never gave up my modern luxuries. I’m not sure I ever intended to. I thought they would naturally be replaced with a full and satisfying lifestyle entirely contained in our house and on our farm.

Wrong again.

We have not one family member within 100km of our farm. We have neighbours who are like family but a build-a-family is not always the same as the real thing. Our market for selling organic vegetables is entirely in the city despite attempts to sell and deliver closer to home. I have friends from past lives who now live on other continents or across this one on other oceans. We have siblings in England and in British Columbia.

Unlike my grandmother, my life is spread across the world and I’m not sure what I can do about it. I’ve come into this new millennium fully embracing all that it had to offer. I signed up for satellites and internet. Visiting family and even work has me taking airplane rides through multiple time zones.

I think my grandmother’s life was hard. Very hard. I think her knuckles were more swollen and her fingertips more raw than mine. However, the maternal border collie in her was able to keep her sheep within a small geographical area in a way that I will never be able to. There must have been some peace of mind in that. My wee tired brain is expected to get a handle on everything between the sun and the moon. A diligent feminist will make every attempt to carry the entire world, past and present, here and over there, on her shoulders. At least our grandmother’s roles were slightly more contained.

We cannot turn back time. I will never have access to the kind of life that was lived 100 years ago. I’m not sure I would want to. Even Amish people who forgo most of today’s modern luxuries have to wait at red lights when they bring their wares to the local shopping centres.

Life got complicated. And I think it plans to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

But here is what we have going for us. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for what we didn’t accomplish today. There is no need to run ourselves ragged as we attempt to be the best of every woman that ever was. Our world is ever changing. And we’ve all had to change along with it. Some stick their heels in better than others and insist on cutting their hair in the shape of a mullet and driving cars with hoods the size of cargo ships. But life is still ever changing.

So I suggest we choose who we want to be today and tomorrow. And never mind that woman who kicked butt with her incredible nineteenth century work ethics. And while you’re at it never mind Marathon Martha too.

Run the miles you can. Knit the socks that beckon you. Make relish if a pile of cucumbers lands on your stoop.

And let’s try to imagine that we’ve earned ourselves a little bit of repose from all of this hard work. Yup, girl, you are capable of getting up Mount Everest, even if it is just your laundry pile. But is that the biggest dream you’ve got? If not, save the pile for another day and put up your feet. Or do the whole pile before the household even wakes up. Whatever works for you.

It is quite simple, really. Be you, here, now, doing what you do. Leave the rest for another time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quitting by 6am

I rolled quietly out of bed this morning at 5:41am ready to head downstairs for a bout of some kind of moving and sweating. I’ve learned that getting my 45 minutes of exercise in early sets a great tone for the rest of the day and ensures I don’t find an excuse later on to nix the whole idea. I also know Jennifer Lopez gets up at 5:30am as well and that's got to be worth something. It also allows me to start the breakfast grill at 7am and get the house rocking and rolling with energy behind me.

Secretly, what I love most about this time is that it is all mine. It is quiet and dark and all my little peeps are sleeping in their respective beds. I feel like I own the world. And my only job is to move and flow and listen to my breath in whatever way suits my fancy.

This morning’s adventure started with a tiptoe over the scattered tractors and trains on the living room floor where my yoga mat goes. In a slight bit of a grump, but not too much, I picked up a few toys and eventually decided to head to the other room for my practise, farther away from the bedrooms. But this means waking up the dogs. This room has ‘their’ window from their yard and they surely want in to be with everyone once they see activity in the household. I let the dogs in.

Down went my yoga mat, in the video machine went my yoga instructor and steady on was I. Within seconds I was getting tongue bathed by two very smelly, furry beasts with terrible breath but I repeatedly asked them to take to their beds and pushed the discomfort out of my mind and continued with a viciously focused warrior pose.

Within 20 minutes I heard the pitter patter of little feet coming down the stairs. Apparently their father had given them a flashlight to make it down in the dark. They had told him that I was not home and they wanted to come downstairs to play. Much earlier than their usual waking time, but I was willing to go with it.

Now they were asking for their own yoga mats. I find them yoga mats. Breath. Breath. Breath. My resolve is unwavering. I will not allow these distractions to take over this quiet time I have to myself.

“I don’t like this movie, I want a different movie”, says my son. Mommy is doing her yoga now, if you want to go somewhere else to play you are welcome to. Breath. Sun Salutation.

“This pose is too hard, I can’t do it”, says my participating daughter. Put your feet closer together, like this, there, how does that feel? Better, she smiles.

The whole point of this practise is to prove that I will not be phased by distractions. That the world can go to poop all around and I am still as steady as a mountain. Tree pose, my favourite, the one that combines balance, strength, flexibility, focus, and standing firm and tall. I am starting to grit my teeth more than I would like.

At this time I am wondering how my husband is enjoying his extra sleep. Probably very much considering our bed is usually a veritable circus act or climbing gym every morning before the sun comes up.

The sun is not yet up by the way. The dogs are still smelly and licking me in the face every time I do a Down-Dog pose - which is often. My son now has his chomping, battery=operated dinosaur in my ear and he is testing to see if I can hold my balance while he does this. Peace. Inner tranquility. Undistracted.

Now I’m doing the floor poses. The hour long video is almost up. I can barely hear the teacher over the sound of my son’s drill pretending to make holes in my mat. My daughter is now upset about something and has taken to pouting and glaring at me out from under her freshly cut bangs that are too long (she cut them herself).

Finally, I break. I say a word I can’t repeat here. Nice and loud. The thing is, yoga opens you up to everything. Turns out anger is made more readily accessible just like peace and tranquility too.

My husband comes running downstairs to be met by a toy dinosaur flying across the room.

Now I wonder, is it possible to get some time to myself in the morning? Should I have awoken even earlier? Been even quieter?

Once the dust settled and the dinosaur now missing a leg was pitched in the trash with promises of finding a new one at the store, I was able to explain to my dear, sweet angels what mommy’s intentions are when she does yoga. Mommy needs some quiet time to herself. Mommy hopes not to be disturbed.

My daughter tells me they will come downstairs in the future and play quietly in the other room if they see that I am doing yoga. I think that is a great idea.

Take the dogs with you, I say.

I have to admit that I quit the whole thing this morning. Resigned myself to gaining 100 pounds because I would no longer find the time or freedom to exercise. I would only ever sign up for robot tasks like laundry and dishes and chauffeuring because how dare I try to do something to call my own? I quit the whole thing - for a few hours this morning.

Then something seeped back. The knowledge that the only thing I had to be upset about was that something had been taken away from me. How can something be taken away if you never had it in the first place? I had seen it. The elusive resolve to continue with an exercise practise. It had returned. And been taken away, for only a few relatively short moments.

I’ll be back at it tomorrow. You can't get away that easily.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Possibilities, Come Get Me

I believe we all have a story written on our hearts. I believe we are all connected, all living things, by a thread. I believe that where our stories connect might be called a soul. Where our individual expression meets the rhythm of the world. I don’t think there is a name for my belief systems. But I do think that every religion makes sense of these very principles in its own way, often in the same way with different language. We all need to make sense of our world, each other and ourselves. And thank goodness for religions that help us do that.

Lately I have embarked on a soul-searching endeavour. My intention is to map out the bigger picture and where I fit into it. I suppose I’m writing my own religion. First, figure out your heart’s story. Second, mark the connections. Thirdly, make the rubber (individual story) hit the road (the world out there). I don’t expect to ever name it.

As I have been honouring my commitment to take better care of my body and exercise more, I have found the light of the world opening up again. I see things more clearly. My ideas are more a-plenty. I have more energy. I see how things can work, rather than obstacles all the time. I see potential. My own. That in others. It isn’t quiet at all. It is loud.

Like a song trying to escape from a box.

Until now, I have never worked at a job that I chose. The jobs I have been paid for have chosen me. Jobs have presented themselves and I have pursued them often with success and a certain degree of satisfaction and fulfillment. I have always felt capable and delivered on these jobs but never once did I feel like I was doing what I was meant to do.

It has only recently dawned on me that it is possible to create my own life’s work. An incredible, complete and total luxury I realize. But if I may, I think we all have the opportunity to create this for ourselves. The obstacles for each of us would vary (and the excuses would too), but for the most part, we could all get there if we believed we could, we were willing to move aside the debris in our way and didn’t stop until it happened. I know this kind of ‘American Dream’ thinking is not my usual banter. Usually I like to outline the real ways in which things are hard or impossible.

But today I want to talk about possibility.

The possibility of allowing your unique heart to tell its story.

The possibility that there is a list of things that you could do with your day that would not only make the world a better place, but make you feel like you were finally at home in your own skin.

The possibility that there are powers out there willing to guide you and connect you as you make your way to this home. That where you belong is already written on your heart and you will squirm if you are not heading there.

In the past few weeks since I have decided to no longer settle for a disgruntled existence, I have learned that opening to possibility is one small shift away.

I used to argue with people about how belief worked. Others would say that a change in attitude would make my life better. I would tell them that I couldn’t change my attitude because my bad attitude prevented me from doing it.

I took a chance on believing. Believing that I was capable of more than I ever dreamed of. Imagining that anything I truly wanted (because nobody truly wants heartache and pain and destruction) would be met with open arms, support and a path to get there.
I took a chance on my life, my family and me. Even though I couldn’t see two inches in front of my face.

A friend recently wrote me in the height of the fall season to remark on how beautiful everything was. The leaves were at their peak of colour, the sun ever shining, the days still warm, the air so fresh. He told me to pinch myself because it was all real. We were in the middle of the busiest time of harvest season, the farmer’s market, the animal processing. I noted to myself that I couldn’t see what he was talking about. And to my long list of things I thought were wrong with me I added: ‘cannot see that her life is already a dream’.

Perspective. Beliefs. They seem all that we have no matter what circles around us.

I have built a shape, a form, and an actual room where I can house the making of a new life (although I don’t believe that actual room is necessary – space is). I have written outlines, lists, cut out pictures, words, stories to try to find the one that best matches what I already know is there inside of me. I have carefully considered external advice – all the things that everyone else says I need – and rejected anything that didn’t sit right. They are just like those job postings. Great possibilities but not necessarily the right fit. I’ve been down that road already. There is a better road ahead.

It is as though I am playing charades with my heart and soul. I get euphoric, loud and clear if I get it right. I get fidgety and uncomfortable and go on a rant if it is wrong.

Two words. Keep Going.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Excuses, I See You

You’ve heard me say that I need to start deliberately exercising again. Truth is, I love it. I love listening to music and watching the terrain pass under my feet as I roam the forests or trails or even the city paths that I take my running shoes onto. But like many things I love to do, they are not made a priority in my life. It just seems there are so many other urgent, more important things to do. Though I have managed to cobble together a little more exercise lately, I am looking to take myself a little more seriously in this regard. Excuses be gone!

Can I give you a list of excuses I have for not setting time aside for exercise? Perhaps this will give you ideas to add to your own list of excuses. Because today I plan to burn them all!

Actually, I would rather you give me some of the tricks you use to get yourself to move more. I’ll give you some of my own later. But first, excuses:

1. It is selfish to take time like this. Others need me and I have more important things to do with my time.
2. I am worried I am going to injure myself because I am overweight. I need to lose weight before I can exercise.
3. I just ate too large a meal and will get cramps if I exercise…OR I’m too hungry and my blood sugar is too low to exercise.
4. If I start to get back into shape I will become obsessive and compulsive about it and I want to stay present for my family. OR…I do not have enough discipline to reach my goals.
5. If I wake up early to go and exercise I will wake up my children which means either I will have to exercise with the ‘help’ of my kids or leave Rob to deal with 2 underslept children because I woke them up. (aka My children might need me).
6. I don’t live near any facilities like I used to (ski trails, rowing lakes, yoga studios, swimming pools, skating rinks).
7. If I push myself too hard I’m going to have a heart attack and die and I want to be there when my daughter gets married….(the irony of this statement is not lost of me, I promise!)
8. I will never be as strong or as fast or go as far as I used to. I cannot do what that other person is doing, so why bother?
9. I’m too old, I have kids now, I live in the country now, I’m not the same person anymore.
10. The snow is too deep, the winds too strong, the bugs too many, hunting season too scary (this one is a very real, smart fear for my forest runs), my dogs will run away, my neighbours will laugh at me, my kids can’t come with me, my husband needs me in the fields, I didn’t get enough sleep…

Am I lazy? Do I lack drive? I doubt that very much. But the excuses are very real to me in every moment. And at times, can paralyze what might otherwise be a spry existence.

It is time to remember all of the times that I was active.

I have swam, rowed, ran, hiked, walked, danced, biked, and weight-lifted myself back into shape from very sedentary existences in the past. Why can I not do it again - especially when I'm starting with the bonus of having done physical work throughout the summer in fits and spurts?
I know I have an inspired girl in there somewhere. I need to make it a regular habit again. I need it to be as important as it was in the past. I need to…um…just do it.

It might be easy to say that I’m just not that type of person anymore. But I doubt that very much. What I have seen is what regular movement gives back to me. Once you experience those benefits, you’re hooked. Its just a matter of getting past the humiliation stage of being out of shape, or not as strong as you once were, or getting over the fact that the opportunities are not as convenient. Though, I have to admit, I've decided that my forties could unfold a creature that is in the best shape of her life, if I let them.

The benefits I remember in no particular order are: confidence, better sleeping habits, strength, health (breathing patterns, heart rates, cholesterol etc.), clearer thinking, better endurance, more social connections, more energy, a desire to eat better, a need to sit less, and a willingness to take advantage of creative ways to make exercise happen no matter what the obstacles. That’s a fine list of positive things, isn’t it?

What kind of circumstances helped make these things happen? Without question, beginning was always the most difficult. Every beginning was as tough as the last no matter what my past successes looked like. Continuing with my habit was easier with the momentum. It helped to involve others. Either tell them what I was trying to do or make them come with me to do it. Lately I’ve decided that my dogs need exercise – perhaps I could do it for them if not for me. Making an inspiring play list on my music player has also been key. Any opportunity to listen to music is one I will strive to make happen. Audio books also a plus. Having my treadmill out without a clothes line worth of clothes hanging on it is key. Knowing where my running shoes are, keeping a neat pile of the pants, shirt and socks I need to change into whenever the mood strikes. In short, making it accessible, enjoyable and about far more than, well, just exercise.

So, my new goal? To move at a reasonably intense level at least 45 minutes, 3-4 times a week (every other day). I have dusted off my treadmill at home which will help in those less-inspired days where I don’t feel like hauling my lazy butt in public. What will keep me going? The fact that I have told you about it, and likely now have to report back, don’t I? I have also just sent an email to some friends I want to go hiking with in the late spring. That mountain will not be eluding me, I won’t let that happen.

Where will I find the time? Well, being a person who just finished her ‘work year’, its easy right? I have all the time in the world? Guess again – I’ve got renovations, periodically sick kids, social distractions, farm repairs, the need to contribute to my community more…this list is endless. Please don’t fancy me a girl with nothing better to do. I am you – with a little more wiggle room at the moment – but only just for now. I plan to take the hour before the school bus arrives, shortly after lunch and before the snack urges hit.

How tired I am of all of the excuses. Now that I have written them, I believe I can no longer use them. I have exposed them to the light and lies don’t care much for that kind of exposure. They were all lies really, weren’t they? And I’m more of a truth junkie at heart.

Please tell me what inspires you to keep moving, how you quell the negative thoughts that prevent you from exercising and what your routine looks like if you wish.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Joy Where You Least Expect It (aka Brussel Sprouts)

I recently made my last foray into the fields to clear out the brussel sprouts before a super hard frost takes them away. My husband harvested the last of the spinach so that I can freeze some spanokopita. I’ve tried twice now on the spinach, feta, phyllo layered pie and each time the 9X12 pan got eaten before it ever hit the freezer. I love this dish as a Christmas appetizer and we often do not have garbage bags full of baby spinach during the holiday season. So stock up I must.

It was the first Saturday since the beginning of May that we could call our own as market ended for us last week. It was a sunny, warm, November day (I can honestly say that I can’t remember ever saying November, sun and warm in the same sentence before). Our children played in the mud. Life was pretty good.

As I made my way down the row of brussel sprouts plants I remarked on the pure joy I was getting out of being there, doing this. Wasn’t this the same job that had drained me of all joy just weeks prior? And yet, here I was, in heaven. Upon further examination (cause you know I couldn’t leave it unexamined), I realized the joy came from not worrying about how many pints I would pick. What the labour costs would be if we paid someone to do it. What we would price them at. Whether they would all sell and how I would preserve them to prevent any waste if they didn’t sell. I loved that the only concerns for that moment were between my hands, my knees, this plant and our dinner table.

This was always the part of farming that made my heart sing and my spirits soar. Feeding the family. Feeding the neighbours, or the food bank or our parents or nephews or dogs or friends would be fine too. It is the business of it all that doesn’t suit my fancy.

I have always wondered whether it is possible to create a business out of your life’s dream and still get enjoyment from the process. I suppose it depends how you go about it and what motivates you. If money thrills you then the business would be the beginning and end of it perhaps. If the creation aspects were the only parts that got you going, then making money from it could be a bit of a problem. But if you know this in advance, perhaps there are ways around spoiling your passion with business that I have not found yet.

As a songwriter in my thirties, I marveled at the very talented people who put their music out there and toured their little hearts out without losing themselves. Or perhaps they did and hid it well. One friend of mine who found great success in the UK and Canada agreed how lonely a life it was to be on a stage singing to a crowd of people. Nobody every talks about this.

I recall standing alone in a bar in Toronto one night, it was nearing midnight (an hour that I have never done that well at) and I was getting ready to go on stage. This was probably the pinnacle of my foray into the musical industry. The best gig I’d had to date. It was at this moment that I realized that this life was not for me. I was a homebody. An early-riser. And someone who did not care for performing exactly. I enjoyed the community of musicians around me and the songwriting process, but not the actual delivery of the songs. Perhaps if I could have been smart and hired a publicist and a tour manager, this would have allowed me better to focus on songwriting and my relationship with my instruments. Instead, I felt drained and overwhelmed from it all.

Drained and overwhelmed. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

I now know I’m not someone who fares well with making a business around my artistic endeavours. My creative self is a free-agent and needs to fly without limits or boundaries or schedules. That said, there is a side of me that thrives on driving towards big, lofty things. Not expectations. But grand ideas about possibilities. Contradictory, I know. I want to learn how to bridge the gap so that I can continue to do the things I love without having them consume me.

So somewhere between the songs and the brussel sprouts, I found joy again where I had grown weary. There is hope for me yet.

I want so badly to remember what it was like to write songs for the pure joy of it. They once came to me like a voice from the heavens and guided me through anything if I’d let them. I never felt like their driver.

I once hated brussel sprouts. I was that kid who ate one a year because I had to try everything on my plate. Now I have discovered that they are an extreme delight and I can’t get enough of them. Perhaps it is how they are grown here or picked or stored that makes them sweet, not bitter. Bursts of gorgeous, buttery, baby cabbage without need for the butter. My son can eat a dozen of them in one sitting.

So this is the moral of my story. There is joy to be found where there was once fear. Where hate once dwelled, a love can grow. What was drained can be filled again. What was overwhelmed can be renewed.

And November can be warm and sunny, especially when you least expect it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Aim for a Target (or Build One)

I’ve never been one for setting goals. I learned very early on in life that they were a sure way to find out the degree to which I was willing to let myself down. So being an energetic, resourceful sort of person I began to fling myself madly in all directions and then look up at the end to see what I had accomplished. I could meet physical demands this way, work or career goals, romantic aspirations, family desires, lifestyle changes...there was no limit to the directions I could fling. Looking back, I am very satisfied with the milestones of my life, but I do wonder what might have been if I had actually set myself up on a path towards a specific target. In other words, believed in myself and what I could do.

Now that I’m getting a little older and my two wees ones have taken every last bit of extra energy I might have left, it is time to start focusing my energy. My husband has immense focus when he is working on something. Watching our two figures working you would see the steady work horse that is he and the Tasmanian devil that is spinning circles and racing back and forth, to and fro, that is me. In the end we both get the same amount done in the same amount of time. Until recently, I found this infuriating. Now I think it deserves some attention.

So grateful am I to have been given this budget on my energy. I no longer can (or want to) do everything I can fling out in a day. I would rather distribute my energy wisely, with intention, with focus and towards something I have my eye on. I am going to set up some real goals and…well…being the big girl I am now, go ahead and reach them. No more letting myself down. No more selling myself short. That was so last year.

To be honest, I have always been secretly and quietly afraid of my potential. Marianne Williamson calls this a woman’s biggest fear. Not of being inadequate but of being capable beyond measure. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve had a boogeyman-type of thing lurking in my closet all of my life and if I ever just turned to let him out, everything would change. My superpowers would be unleashed and I would now be responsible for having a true impact on the world. I would have to own up to my contributions because they did not come about accidentally.

I don’t mean to be self-deprecating here. I think I’ve done a pretty good job with my days. Really, I am proud, if still insecure. I’ve done my best and managed to work some cool stuff into existence. But I still think there is more - much more waiting in the wings. And I’m far too curious to leave that stone unturned despite evidence that I am heading into the ‘latter’ portion of my life.

I started my vision board today. I had the help of my 3 year old boy and 5 year old girl. He cut out all of the sharks and things with wheels. She cut out everything to do with chocolate, butterflies, babies and puppies. Mine? Well, it is still very much a work in progress. Lots of words and quotes – even a couple of insipirational articles by my favourite writer, Martha Beck. Loads of food pictures. Anything to do with colour sequences, make-up (though I don’t wear any), shoes (though my plastic flip-flops or Sorrel winters are my usual style), flags, flowers…a colour explosion.

The process was fantastic. And despite knowing lately that I wanted to create some kind of target for myself, I have been unable to figure out exactly what it would look like. The photo cutting was extremely helpful to move towards shaping this goal. Perhaps it was an exercise in re-discovering the kinds of things I like. Many would attest to the fact that raising wee children can make one forget even what flavour of ice cream they prefer. It just ain’t about you for quite some time, isn’t it?

One important discovery is that I don’t think I necessarily need to find an existing target out there in the world. I may need to build it from scratch. Most things I like to do from scratch, so why not this? It might not be something that anyone has built before. And that should be just fine. My own little mystery to unravel.

So find a target, write it down, paste it up with pictures, tell a friend (or ten), map it out, know the who/what/where’s/whens/whys and with whoms about it.

And last but not least. Don’t sell yourself short. I don’t know you that well, but I know that you are able to do far more than you probably believe. I know this for you more than I know it for myself. Not in an 'over-doing' kind of way, but in a taking care of yourself and giving the best of yourself with the time that you have.

But as always, do it with kindness, patience, permission and surrender. And let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Loud and Clear Empty

I awoke this morning to a loud, clear sound. It was just like the one you hear when you’re standing in a large, empty room. The kind of space where the smallest sound will echo and each and every noise tumbles effortlessly off the walls. The sound of emptiness. At first it alarmed me. But then I realized that it had taken the place of what preceded it.

Depression has a low, dull hum to it. It muffles the world around you. It stifles beauty. It is like a cloud hiding the sun. Or fog over a window. The beauty is still there, but cannot be seen or heard. Not right now anyway.

I don’t care for labels and the word ‘depression’ is not one I relate to exactly. But the darkness of feeling overwhelmed, the mask of being a compulsive work soldier, the fog of being trapped in too many day-to-day demands. That one I know like I know the backs of my soiled hands. And it seems to have the same ring to it as depression.

Lately I’ve been creating space, outside and in, my homestead, my life and my body, to make room for wonderful, magical things. Unfortunately the first item of business was to clear away the unwanted debris. This meant getting rid of a lot of junk in my house, trying to move my body in intentional and physical, not just work-horse, ways and carving out time for activities that filled the soul of our family with real and lasting benefits and returns.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The work of a farm and family are rewarding and fulfilling. They are satisfying in ways that coupon shopping and matinee popcorn could never be effective (at least not for me). But they are limitless and, therefore, always threatening to consume you. And they are willing to take the health of your family down with it. So you need preventative measures to keep your spirit soaring and your heart awakened. You need to make sure everyone is still laughing around you. You need to move slowly, surely and steadily towards brightness. This can happen anywhere: in your work, with your family or on your own time. And I was forgetting how to do this as I made attempts to ‘get everything done’.

So back to my big, empty room. Sounds scary, right? Awaking to the echoes of silence, the boom of nothing. But upon further examination in the dark, I realized that the low, hum had disappeared. Left behind was clarity, a promise of possibility and an endless sea of opportunities waiting to be seized. Terrifying indeed. Who can handle so little structure? You mean I can put ANYTHING I WANT in this big, empty room?

So I guess the next step after clearing away your junk and making a spot to allow yourself to bloom, is to decide what to do with the space. My lady’s lair is now filled with craft materials, music-making tools, books, photo albums, memorabilia and comfy places to write or just sit and strum my guitar. What I had not expected was the change that would occur inside of me. I had imagined needing to eat better (cut out the Halloween treats!), and exercise more to take the sluggish away, but the space in my brain? I didn’t see that coming.

So, yes, I’m terrified. But I’m excited! I think my ass-whooping is working! And we are now November 1st. The day that I had planned to begin this overhaul on the ‘low-hum’ I began to call my life.

What will I put here? Will I just learn to marvel at the sounds my thoughts make when I bounce them around an empty room? Will God come rushing in and show me what comes next?

Well stick around and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how it all goes.