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Meet Experience Openly…

“Listening is not reacting or responding but meeting experience openly, the way a lake is filled by streams.” Seven Thousand Ways to Listen—Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo P85.

What a beautiful image these words form for me. How integral it is also to the art of listening. I am inspired by its sentiment and realize also that I am far from finding that middle place and space of balance, yet I strive towards its intention.

Of course like thousands, we work towards that middle way, that balance. And yet, in interactions we are perfect in our imperfections, and can only be present when we are able. I find this lack of presence in daily activities, a great goal, yet so hard to either achieve momentarily and certainly to maintain.

In fact, I am hopeful in my working towards, but hopeless in my presence. Not because of anything other than I am pulled, like thousands before, after, and generationally in many directions that tug me away from what I’d like to work toward in myself first, and the community as a whole—be it family, friends or a public forum. I can only esteem towards this when I work on myself in an attempt to reduce my own glitches.  

I may be pulled to a text, a phone call, an email, an ad flashing up on my screen, a meeting, a family need, an atmospheric adjustment due to an outside influence, or simply pulled to respond, or react to something that intersects my path within the hours of my life. This is definitely an intersection. Another is in conversation. Presence often wraps itself in confusion, complication, circumstance, or complexity by anything that intersects that moment.

What I have come to realize is those intersections are all about choice. Even in the most seemingly difficult scenario there is choice. It seems bizarre, almost contradictory, but choice exists with both intersections and conversations. We can listen, we can connect, and we can be present — even in the most trying and grim times we face in our lives, and on the planet—yes, we do have choice.

As our best and worst, we remain one molecule; a droplet in a stream on its journey to the lake; to the sea.  We are part of the whole, one moment at a time. Listening comes from inside out, rather than outside in, and listening within our conversations for the choices, is one way to make a difference in our lives as well as those around us, and life as a whole on the planet. In making choices, we aim to listen well for the intersections and conversations and leap into the whole without reacting or responding but meeting experience openly as the stream meets the lake; the sea, and is part of the entirety.

Writing Practice: A Reflective Pause—Journal Question excerpted from: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen—Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo P.88.

Watch someone doing something they love. Listen to the motion and rhythms of how they work. Name and describe the song of their work. Journal this experience openly and be amazed.  

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Poetry as Practice

“Poetry is the unexpected utterance of the soul. Much more than the
manipulation of language, it is a necessary art by which we live and
breathe.” Mark Nepo writing on the Nature of Poetry http://www.marknepo.com/

In my later sixties, I now recognize the heart of poetry, my heart of poetry. I began to express a deeper sense of connection through poetry when I was in my first decade. In fifty years of poetry, I have deepened that practice. Poetry is my go to practice when there is something unsettling in me, or in the world around me. An incongruence that I feel needs to be expressed in a form where I can digest it, move through it, and find resolution.

Yes, there is much to be unsettled about in our world at this time; much to be concerned about, much to find resolution about, within us and around us. How can we solve it? Many turn to spirituality, many turn to avoidance, many turn to numbing, many turn to denial, many turn to action. Each turning moves us past overwhelm to a place where we find either a peace, or further unsettling through acts and actions.

I have, through the years turned to poetry, perhaps as a form of resolution, but also as a form of expression—to tap into something sometimes I am consciously unaware of, bring it into my awareness, and release it into a concrete form; sometimes as an expression of contradictions, conflicts and confusion. Most of my work, or practice over the years was for my eyes only as a form of therapy for my psychological health and wellness. I am grateful for its presence in my life, truly a mainstay.

Because poetry has the capacity to reveal the rawness of our soul and spirit, the dichotomy and contradictions in our world, often we are shy to share because poetry makes us vulnerable. I can say this about myself at least. Poetry makes me vulnerable. Vulnerability opens me up for judgement, criticism or makes me wrong somehow in the eyes of others, and it hurts. However, I can also say that poetry elevates my sense of well-being, my mental, heart and spiritual health. And in turn revitalizes my physical health. Expression through poetry from the inside out has the capacity to bring forth, make sense of any chaos or crisis, and transform confusion towards hope. 

As I work with others using poetry as expression, observation, or a collection bowl of memory I am in awe of how the art is unique to the person, yet universal in its capacity to heal, reflect sentiment, and show ourselves to our self. Poetry is medicine. Medicine to our soul, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to explore the territory of the invisible. It helps us makes sense of what we face in our day to day lives. Poetry is not something that is to be known with our head as it was in school, it is to be felt through our senses and expressed through our unique voice onto paper. Poetry can be for our eyes only, or can be shared if you so choose. Poetry is a gift to ourselves.

Poetry Practice: Find a comfortable safe place and space. Allow the surrounding atmosphere to enter your awareness. Listen from inside out. What surfaces? Is there a moment in which your peace explodes through your senses; a memory, an emotion, an incident, an issue that just won’t let-go? Write from that place and get it down on paper. Write from the heart. Massage it much, much later if you so choose but right now, write for your personal expression and illumination. Repeat as the need arises.  In-joy.  


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Trust Your Gut

 

Trust Your Gut copy

I made a comment to a friend the other day how much I love to take photographs. It is a passion I had before my accident, and after five years of recovery and learning once again how to take photographs with one hand, I picked up a camera once more. However my comment was more along the lines that how I love a purpose to taking photographs. Of course, I have one—many in fact.

As a former journalist, photo-story was part of any composition. During the early years of recovery, getting to hold the camera still with one-hand, and focus was all about practice, again and again. I could (and still could) use a tripod, but hey, there’s something quite magical about taking a photograph with one-hand and not jiggling it to a blur. There’s a part of me that still loves the challenge, the unexpected, the magic. It makes my heart feel at peace, time disappear, and it’s like I’m dancing with what is before me. It is similar to writing and poetry, two more of my passions.

I recently read in an introduction to his book Critical Path. Buckminster Fuller included an article by his friend, e.e. cummings, the poet.

A Poet’s Advice

“A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn’t. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel—but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling—not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

Poetry and photography, for me, are felt journeys. In the book—Three Brains—How the Heart, Brain, and Gut Influence Mental Health and Identity by Karen Jensen, ND, she says—

“In today’s modern world, we are encouraged to focus mainly on our head brain. But we also need to use our other two brains to process our feelings and listen to our intuition to help keep us in balance.”

I am encouraged by this book because it explores the value and importance of all three brains—gut, head, heart—to work in unison for a healthy mind, healthy body. It honors the gut brain which is that part of us that is instinctual, intuitive, unselfconscious, immediate, practical, and direct.

I know from personal experience that one of the gifts of brain injury is what I now call the felt sense, which is also known as gut response.

This simple unrestrained response of what “pops” into mind, or out of one’s mouth without social boundaries is a good device I have grown to appreciate. It can be disruptive, it can be disturbing and it is certainly unpredictable, and often surprising.

Its gift is instinctual, intuitive, unselfconscious, immediate, practical, and direct, and I have learned to appreciate that uninhibited awareness. The gut became my indicator of how to be in the world. Of course none of this was in my awareness as first however; I did know it as a gut response, learned to trust it and later identify it as a felt sense. I named it at first as incongruence.

Today when my gut responds to an external situation, I know to trust it, listen, and take time to digest what it is being communicated to me.

Weird hey? Not really. By the same indicators I write and photograph now. My gut is a navigator of terrains. It intuitively knows things that my head has to ultimately grasp and articulate through language. My heart is the compass by which I travel the terrain. Together they’re a great team, and I feel blessed for the opportunities that arise because of the team work.

Writing Practice: Trust your Gut Writing—Go outside with your journal and pen. Find a quiet place that works for you. It could be a park, your backyard, a lake, a picnic spot. It could even be a mall where busy-ness is all around you. Start by jotting down things around you that “pop” into mind, a visual clue, a felt sense: words, phrases, observations, emotions. Write them randomly as they arise. No straight lines necessary. When you feel you have completed this, stop, breathe. Even close your eyes. Breathe. Keep breathing in awareness until you feel you are ready to go back to your journal page. Circle those words, impressions and phrases that seem to leap out at you. Breathe with awareness; pay attention to any indicators from your gut. When you are ready—begin to write. This may be an insight about health and wellness for you; it may be a journal entry or a poem. Just write—trust your gut writing and enjoy. No need to read it or edit. Just tuck it away for another day and time.

 


Naming the World

It’s an interesting thing; this aging. I am surrounded by elders. I enjoy them, their wisdoms, insights, and the one commonality that distinguishes the ones still active and engaged, are their passions and passion for life.

It may be writing as an example, it may be walking, it may be reading, playing scrabble, canoeing, camping etc. but those that remain engaged in life are the ones that remain active in some way. A great example is my mother-in-law—98. She continues to name the world, practice Sudoku, walk, pick berries in season and enjoy her great, great grandchildren on those many occasions she connects with family.

A further example may be another elder who dragged me lake swimming this afternoon! Of course I joined the ranks of an elder when I turned 65 this year, but this woman far exceeds my enthusiasm for lake swimming and she is twenty years my senior.

I took my camera and ventured that way in support of her engagement. She loves to swim and last year swam daily in the river with a mutual friend my age! This week again I was impressed with another friend—88—her energy and our diverse conversations kept us up late. Last year, her husband died, and she is adjusting to this change.

My own mother is showing distinct signs of dementia and I can’t help link it to her increasing lack of interest and engagement in life over the past ten years. This year she had a stint insertion to stretch her aorta. Now she is getting the necessary oxygen, yet her attitude of engagement still wanes.

Personally, I experienced this with a contemporary a few years back. His physical decline coincided with angina attacks. His brain, as his arteries became more blocked and oxygen reduced, simply wasn’t getting to organs. His behaviour collapsed into this new habit of apathy and it was difficult to get him off the couch. Ultimately I let go because it was his choice.

Simply put, no-one can persuade anyone to do anything they don’t choose to do themselves. All the cajoling in the world won’t make a difference. Lasting motivation ultimately comes from the inside out rather than the outside in. A distinction I see with elders is those that remain involved in their passions, remain engaged in life. Those that lean into apathy tend to fair less well.

My friend—88—still journals, and has done so for over seventy years when she first began her practice in the wilderness backcountry of Canada; in part to track her days activities, observations, inventions and the emotional landscapes of her life, and in part to write extensive letters to friends. She began this practice early on, and keeps it up today. I call it—naming the world—she calls it writing.

Writing Practice: Go outside listen to the sounds of the wind in the trees. If its’s a calm day, listen to the sounds that meet your ears. Smell the air, touch the ground, feel the weather, taste the atmosphere, imagine the story, recall a moment…begin to write. Keep going for 15 more minutes without stopping.


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Will, Wisdom & Words

Writing, in its many forms, is a low-cost mental health tool. Our willingness to jot down ideas, thoughts, and emotions as they arise that are niggling or disturbing us in one way or another is an extreme act of kindness to ourselves. The act of writing is the quickest way to let those niggles and disturbances escape into a safe contained space—our journals or in other forms of writing.

Perhaps an exception to this is when writing is directed in a personal way to an external source, or individual. Our emotions are real and need to be expressed; in a safe place and in a contained way. Those words serve us through release, articulation and identification not by inflicting pain on another.

Any practice that allows pent-up emotions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs or judgments to rest quietly on a page is an improvement to our mental and physical health.

Writing provides a catchall to explore the roots of such personal anguish. Let go of pollution. Find ways to resolution and solution through the movement of a pen.

When we repress emotions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs or judgments and trap them inside our head—that suppression has the capacity to affect both our physical and mental health and wellness.

Writing freely in a safe contained space is one way to unravel our personal anguishes, anxieties, angers and attitudes and reach a place of understanding, collect insights and track patterns of behaviors—those that serve us, and those that no longer serve us. Through expression we can find an inner peace and understanding that works for us.

Words spoken in haste, in the heat of the moment can wound others and your literal and psychological body. Leaking personal hurts and glitches onto another person or group, also impacts our emotional and psychological bodies.  Without release into a safe, contained space they remain trapped inside our head (and body) repeating and making a deeper groove.

Writing is a tool to help us get out of a rut and get on with our life. Plotting and/or mapping our emotional landscapes is a tool to understand and collect glimpses of ourselves from inside out and find our place in the world safely.

  • Writing provides a way to explore what matters to us and express it first to ourselves before we take it out into the world.
  • Writing is a way to express our inner thoughts, emotions etc. and work through trouble spots.
  • Writing is a form of prayer, of meditation and contemplation between you and your god, your conscience, your intuition or your psyche. It is an opportunity to explore emotional landscapes and find solution through the page and practice.


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Whip a shitty…

Recently, I heard this great phrase—to whip a shitty (re-articulated by TAD Hargraves from Marketing for Hippies.com ). In his take he voiced that when we get stuck simply start, begin. The word commit means exactly that—start, begin, and whipping a shitty is simply getting something down on paper— then from there re-write, recraft. This could be a sales letter, a life letter, a personal letter. Bottom line- get unstuck by beginning one letter at a time, one act at a time. The overall arc of anything can bog us ALL down and the only real way to move that stickiness is one action at a time.

When we “think” perfection first time around, drop it- whip a shitty—get “it” down and let go of anything resembling perfection. I often think of Brene Brown’s book—The Gift of Imperfection— and remind myself of the gifts of imperfection constantly as I stumble and pick myself up with so much of my life. When it arrives on my doorstep in lets say a blog, my website (write4health.ca) and I’m tweaking here and there looking for that perfection (which largely lies in my head), I am going to embrace the shitty, get unstuck, and remind myself that perfection is an illusion- because truth be observed- one persons perfection is another persons imperfection—so let it go and do your best.

That reminds me of a funny story I read once—tell me, what person woke up one morning and said today, I am going to do my worst. All the best or worst amounts to, is polarity. As human be-ings we all live somewhere within the split and it varies from day to day. My sense is that we, certainly I do, need to whip a shitty more often and release perfection into the outer realms of imperfection and embrace it.

A while ago my granddaughters (8 & 6) were waiting at the airport in the car for their mother to emerge from customs after a week away at a conference; they shot a lip synced video to the radio. They didn’t get stuck, they played. They didn’t care about perfection, they had fun. They didn’t over think it;  they whipped a shitty and I laughed at it on replay. It was great, imperfect and glorious.

This year-whip a shitty- I plan to!

 

 


buds and blossoms

buds & blossoms

Sent over via technology, I see spring in England through the lens of my brother, bluebells in the woods. It was taken not far from a place we grew up. My bud and raindrop (bottom left-hand side) taken within the same timeframe, is in contrast to the blossoms of bells blanketing the woods. Distances, while measured the same, are quite different in experience.

An hour’s travel at 100 km an hour is an hour’s travel on a relatively straight road here in Canada. An hour’s travel in England often means as little as 30 miles an hour, and the feeling of crossing the universe. And in a sense it is. One county to the next, while only a matter of miles in distance, roads, landscape and density easily determine the speed by which you travel- so in a sense time is eaten-up by landscape. The same can be said here, but the experience and variable is different.

Now with technology, time is gobbled and almost choked on by the speed in which it transfers and can be consumed. And distance, has no boundaries it seems. It surprises me, still that through the use of technology, time, space and place almost evaporate with barely a blip. Remarkable and unremarkable- both, and.

My use of the word remarkable leans into an extraordinary piece of information and change, which can occur in an instant. Unremarkable, is a medical term, I encountered during my three months in hospital and subsequent years. I heard doctors and interns mutter “unremarkable” repeatedly, and I wondered at its use.

Years later I heard it again, and my wherewithal was substantially increased so I asked “What do you mean, this is unremarkable? I see it is as utterly remarkable.” I was standing as straight as a plumb-line compared to an upside down letter “L” a year earlier.  The surgeon laughed and explained the term unremarkable was used to explain “nothing out of sync, everything is normal.”

So, my question is this- with the way technology is used today, and its speed – and the attached expectation to its application, diversity, immediacy and adaptability, has it become so unremarkable, it barely registers as to its marked remarkability?

On Sunday, a friend, a wonderful improvisational pianist, and I concocted another version of technology’s remarkability- we couldn’t get together to practise our “piece” before an amateur concert on Sunday, so we involve technology as our aid. I phoned her answering machine (yes, she still has one), and I spoke the poems onto her machine so that she could get an “idea” of what cadence and rhythm I held so she could “get a sense” before our performance.  We have only ever done this together once before, and our chemistry works. We intend to make a CD of our joint works- poetry and piano.

The remarkable element that we missed in our exploration of technology was the value (and dare I say), the essential component of a creative collaborative process – the chemistry of energy, the “click” in the dynamic. Independently, with the aid of technology, we got the “gist” but not the “essence” that only emerged with physical collaboration, and spontaneity.

We PLAY well together, my friend and I, and the remarkability is the creative synergy that erupts as a result of physical connection. Technological connection is valid, yet the interpersonal connection makes the magic “bubble” with vitality.

Simultaneously on Sunday my brother, across the land mass separating us, experienced something unique also- a wood full of bluebells , whereas here snow persisted in fluttering to the ground, melting and leaving buds on the tree hapless in their search for warmth, and the allusive spring.

However, not to leave technology out in the cold- I will say, that it is because of it that my brother and I are able to share more, and connect more frequently- for example, sharing photographs via ether-space, and talking via free-techie space- now that is remarkable in its un-remarkability, and I am grateful for its gift. Thanks bro’ for sharing. Love it!