Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Walk at the Lake in the Spring ...

... when you give yourself to places, 
they give you yourself back;
the more one comes to know them, 
the more one seeds them with 
the invisible crop of memories and associations
that will be waiting for you to come back ...

Rebecca Solnit
           Wanderlust: A History of Walking

I've just come back from a walk at the lake, something I do less frequently now that the arthritis in my toes, the legacy of years of nursing, over-powerwalking and hiking, makes itself known. The breeze was brisk in the bright sunlight as I stepped out of the car and strode the familiar route down the driveway, up the short hill and into the dappled shade of the lane leading to a green-tunnelled pathway down to the water. 

The bushes, shrubs and trees encircling the path were a plethora of tender Monet greens and the tree-lined fields that surrounded them were beginning to fill with dandelions, an advance guard for the buttercups and cow parsley to come. The air smelled like it does every spring - fresh and floral and clean. How many times had we walked these same steps over the years? Hundreds? A thousand?

I continued down the hill toward the water, under the spreading branches of two vast maple trees, their leaves still a little tented, waiting for another few days of full sun, and reminding me of partially-opened parachutes. The pathway curved to the left as it reached the bottom of the hill and morphed into the boardwalk that skirts much of the northern lake shore. Just before emerging into the sunlight, I noticed that the swallows were nesting, again, in bird boxes hung high on the trees for relative quiet and safety.

On I walked, past the canoe dock dancing happily on small sparkily waves, past the turtle log were no turtles warmed their backs today, up the little hill and past the well-kept gardens of the few houses remaining on the park property and, turning right,  I crossed over the small bridge above the now moderately-flowing stream leaving the lake for the sea.  (It had been in full spate the last time I'd walked this way.) I paused, bellied up to the cool stone wall of the bridge, and leaned over a little to watch the sun filtering through the leaves onto the surface of the running water.

As I continued on,  through the two old drystone fence posts, across the water meadows, along the shore, through the patch of woods and then back again, past the Arts Centre and through the botanical gardens resplendent in a blanket of cherry blossom, azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias, bluebells and lily-of-the-valley, I  suddenly remembered a similar day several years ago, when I had also walked alone, my husband at home in bed, wishing he'd been able to share the morning walk with me - just one more time.

That morning, I'd grabbed my camera from the back seat of the car and, feeling both guilty for being out and free on such a beautiful day and excited at the thought of it, I determined to take pictures of each and every phase of the walk so I could share it with him when I got home. The memory of that sharing is, and was even then, both lovely and bittersweet. 

As I lay with my head beside Derrick's on the pillow, we looked at the pictures and smiled and cried and remembered other spring mornings filled with laughter, teasing, serious discussions and more than one raging argument. As Rebecca Solnit wrote so beautifully, our many walks at the lake had seeded an invisible crop of memories and associations that, even today, wait for me to come back to reclaim them.

Friday, April 19, 2013

3rd Compassion Fatigue Conference ...

Hi everyone! Here's a reminder of the annual Compassion Fatigue Conference to be held in Kingston, Ontario on June 4 & 5.

The conference, sponsored by Francoise Mathieu and her team at Compassion Fatigue Solutions, focuses on Organizational Health and Hands-on Wellness Strategies and will be held at the Ambassador Conference Centre on the outskirts of Kingston.

The speakers, this year, are varied and interesting including:

1.  Kristin Neff, PhD - Self Compassion and Emotional Resilience

2.  Francoise Mathieu, MEd - The Times, They Are Changing: How to Navigate the Changing Workscape

3.  Leslie Ann Ross, PsyD - Organizational Strategies for Workplaces With High Trauma Exposure

4.  Andree Jette - For Better and for Laughter: How to Manage Your Energy Capital

There will also be a variety of talks on train the trainer, workplace CF initiatives, mindfulness, stress control, managing conflict, vision boards for creative wellness, and change leadership.

Conference fee:  $350 + HST + 4.75 event fee
Group rates are available

If you have any questions, email or call Francoise:  info@compassionfatigue.ca  (613-547-3247)

(If you're planning to attend, please register NOW as the rooms are block-booked and will be released after May 3rd. You will only be able to book a room by contacting the Ambassador Resort directly. ie not through Expedia or Hotels.com. These websites will say that there are no rooms but, in fact, they are just being saved for the conference - until May 3rd.)


Saturday, April 13, 2013

A 5 Step Practice for Greeting the Morning ...

Now that spring is here, the mornings are arriving at an earlier and earlier hour. How we greet these mornings can make a significant difference to the rest of our day.

Here are some ideas for a simple morning practice that will help you to start your own day well:

1.  Open your eyes, smile and breathe:

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh

In the Cherokee tradition, the element associated with
 the time of dawn and awakening is air or wind. As we rise
each morning we are reminded of our own call to awaken
to the needs around us. We inhale that first deep breath of the day
and remember that we are sustained moment by moment through
the gift of breath. The dawn is the time of promise,
when the world seems full of possibility.
We are invited to hope and new beginnings.
Christine Painter

If possible, wake yourself with gentle music. Smile as you return to consciousness and breathe some deep full breaths, in and out. (The word, inspiration comes from the Latin, spiritus, which means spirit or breath. Each moment of the day, we are in-spired with this sustaining breath or spirit.)

2.  S-t-r-e-t-c-h:

Stretching is easy to learn. But there is a right way and a wrong way
to stretch. The right way is a relaxed, sustained stretch with your 
attention focused on the muscles being stretched.
Bob Anderson

Now, take a satisfying, full-body stretch to increase the blood flow to sleep-cramped muscles then rise slowly from your bed. Stretch again by gently shaking out all the parts of your body you can comfortably shake. Then, holding your hands palms upward toward the sky, reach as high as you can for a count of ten. Then, let your arms and head hang down toward the floor. Finish with some waist twists, letting your arms swing, and then drink a glass of water to banish the dehydration of the night.

3.  Sit and give thanks:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have
into enough and more.
Melodie Beattie

Sit in a quiet spot in your home, settling into a comfortable position. You might like to light a candle to welcome the coming day. Think of at least three things for which you are thankful - the beauty of the new day, the love of a partner, a roof over your head when the rain is falling, shoes for your feet, or the chair you're sitting on. Write each one in a gratitude journal or just let the thankfulness flow through you.

4.  Meditate and/or pray

Meditation brings with it inner peace.
Mayo Clinic

Prayer makes your heart bigger.
Mother Teresa

Spend a few moments in quiet meditation and/or prayer according to your faith tradition. If you haven't a regular practice, writer and teacher, Geri Larkin, suggests the following meditation in Spirituality and Health Magazine:
With your eyes slightly open, sit on the chair with your back straight, feet flat on the ground, and hands on your lap. Take a few deep belly breaths and wish the world well - allow images of the people, places, and things to randomly flit across your thoughts, and with each image simply think, Take good care of yourself.
 You'll find that there is a slight pause after the initial rush of images. When that happens all you have to do is to breathe quietly and deeply, listening to whatever sounds are filling the space around you. If you find yourself worrying or cranky about something just tell yourself, It's okay, and go back to listening.
 This is not a time for problem solving or for mentally writing that rebuttal to a tweet that nastified you. Instead, let yourself feel how good it feels to be taken care of by the world, which has given you this chair to sit on, the beauty of the light from the candle, and the energy of the sounds around you. 
Sit like this for a few minutes, or longer if you like. 

For those of you who would like to engage in a more formal practice, mindfulness meditation and centering prayer are two of many possibilities you can explore.

5.  Read something inspirational:

Man's reading should be intensely alive. The book
should be a ball of light in one's hand.
Ezra Pound

Reading a brief passage of something inspirational can help to set you off on the right foot for even the hardest day. I try to keep a number of books by my bed, and more by my meditation chair, to dip into each morning. Among my favourites are:

1. To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O'Donohue
2.  Quiet Mind: One-Minite Retreats from a Busy World by David Kundtz
3.  Moments In Between: The Art of a Quiet Mind by David Kundtz
4.  A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller
5.  Morning Mist: Thoreau and Basho Through the Seasons by Mary Kullberg
6.  A Thousand Mornings: Poems  by Mary Oliver (And most of her other works)
7.  Listening Below the Silence: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne LeClaire
8.  Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry by Katrina Kenison
9.  99 Blessings: An Invitation to Life by Br David Steindl-Rast
10. Teaching With Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach - SM Intrator, Editor 
Now, like all other practices, this one will only help your day to go well if you actually practice it! So, may I suggest giving it a try for one week and then deciding for yourself whether the difference in your experience is worth the time (under 30 minutes)?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Perception ...

Hi everyone! This has been a busy week what with travelling back from a retreat at the Bethlehem Retreat Centre, (my favourite quiet get-away, which I highly recommend to any of you wanting a simple, beautiful, nurturing environment in which to recharge your batteries), and Easter weekend with my surrogate family in Nanaimo and then getting ready for a workshop with the Q'wemtsin Health Society in Kamloops next week.

Despite the busyness, I've had two opportunities to notice what a difference perception can make to any situation in our lives. The first opportunity was on Wednesday morning as I considered going to my thrice-weekly aquafit class. Looking at my to-do list, I knew I would have to rush to get to the pool on time and that going home to shower and change before my afternoon meeting would likely cut into my lunch break. All of a sudden, the class became just one more thing to fit in - more of a burden than a help. I eventually decided to go to the pool anyway and as I slipped into the water I was surprised to remember the wise words of a grief counsellor I worked with during Derrick's illness:

Jan, there are two ways of "being" in the water. You can go and slog through the exercise routine, feeling bored and worrying the whole time time about the things you should or could be doing at home. Or, you can be truly present in the moment, consciously perceiving the refreshing, cool, wetness of the water against your skin; its buoyancy as it supports and carries you; the exercises, themselves, gently stretching the tension from your neck and shoulders; the joy of the music and the waves, both enlivening your spirit.

Two very different perceptions of the same activity, one helpful and the other, not so much. When I consider the difference between the two, I realize that, for me, perception is a matter of choice. If I look at the class as something I "have" to do, I feel stressed and resentful. If I see it as a source of nurturing, buoyant support, and veriditas in the middle of my day, it feeds and refreshes me.

The second opportunity to notice perception at work came yesterday as I walked into Granville Market to have a latte while I did some writing. As I walked the length of the Market, I became aware of white and blue posters on each of the twelve thick wooden posts supporting the roof. The posters were labelled, Poetry in Transit, and each sported the work of a BC poet. The one I liked best was called I am not old by Samantha Reynolds from her book, bentlily: a collection of poems:

I am not old

I am not old, she said
I am rare

I am the standing ovation
at the end of the play

I am the retrospective
of my life
as art

I am the hours
connected like the dots
into good sense

I am the fullness
of existing

you think I am waiting to die
but I am waiting to be found

I am a treasure
I am a map
these wrinkles are imprints
of my journey

ask me

Rare. Standing ovation. Art. Good sense. Treasure.  These are not the words we usually associate with aging and yet what a wonderful picture they paint of the second half of life. Once again, choice is at the core of perception. While we can't choose the manner or length of our aging, we can choose our perception of the process. Perceiving ourselves and aging others as rare treasures waiting to be found, with wisdom and good sense to offer, is much different from perceptions of helplessness, hopelessness, and infirmity. Once we become aware of our automatic perceptions, we have the opportunity to reframe them.

So, what about you? What are the areas in your life where you could use a perception tune-up? Think of the situations where you routinely feel discouraged or out-of-sorts. Is there a chance that becoming more conscious and reframing your perceptions could make a difference to those parts of your day? (I don't mean that we should "just put on a happy face" in difficult situations. But we might be able to find a way to put the best spin on things that integrity will allow and then reap the benefits in both mood and energy. Why not give it a try?