Monday, April 10, 2017

When Our Maps Fail

Last week my life was interesting in a less-than-fun way. I became ill. Now most of you know I have a chronic illness (CFS/ME/FM) so dips in functional health happen. But this was different in that it did not conform to pattern- I had not done any of the things that sometimes trigger a relapse, and none of my trusted strategies made it better. In fact, some seemed to make it worse.

And this got me thinking about maps- theories, beliefs and stories- the things we use, often only semi-consciously, to navigate what is happening now. Maps are useful. They save time and help us make sense of our own experience so we can get where we want to go.

Until they don't. Then, we just feel lost, bewildered and a little stunned. That’s where I was last week.

Years ago I took a physics course. At one point the prof was talking about sub-atomic particles, and how they left a trail in a cloud chamber set up for experiments.

I said, “Wait a minute- are you telling me that all this is just theory, that we can’t know what is leaving that trail in the cloud chamber, that. . . . for all we know it’s little green men?”

The class laughed, and the prof said, “She’s right. It could be little green men. . . . there’s no way to know right now.

Ideally we use a theory, or a map, or a story so long as it’s useful. The problem arises when we forget that our beliefs and stories about life are “just” maps that may help us navigate, and not the territory itself. Holding and being unconsciously attached to our maps means we may ignore or not even see aspects of life that do not fit with our inner maps about life and health and money and virtue, about punishment and reward, politics and physics, about the sacred and the mundane. . . . .You name it- if we’ve lived long enough, we have a map we are using to navigate just about everything.

Last week’s health challenges were not consistent with the map I usually use to navigate illness. All the data/stories/theories my map contained about my neurological and immune systems (based on a plethora of previous experience and lots of research) were not helping me get out of bed. And that’s when something interesting happened: I started to see glimmers of earlier and largely unconscious maps: sneaky beliefs about ill health as punishment; the need and ability to “earn” health; the exclusive attribution of physical symptoms to psychological or spiritual dis-ease.

And I started to bring a deeper level of curiosity to the stories or beliefs- the maps- I and others are using, particularly when we disagree about what is happening in the world and have very different strategies about how to move forward. I got curious about and tried to imagine what possible inner map/story/belief someone might be using that gives them a perspective and position I find baffling or dangerous. I started to wonder if we might be more able to communicate if we held our maps a little more lightly and were genuinely curious about the experiences that could shape an entirely different map for someone else.

Because wherever we are going, my map indicates that we go together. That’s a theory, a story, a belief that shapes the map I draw. For the moment, I’m okay with that, although I am also aware that it may not be the only way to perceive the journey or draw the map.

Old maps tend to stop at the edge of our known world, and may include warnings against going further, things like: Here be dragons! If we are afraid of the dragon of not-knowing it can feel dangerous to remember that maps are just maps. But if we can let compassion fuel our curiosity about ourselves and others, we might just discover new territory and fresh hope for the shared journey.

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

Love this image of the night sky from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming- reminds me of those who navigate by the stars.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When Human Beings Do Horrible Things

I am regularly moved and inspired by people's compassion and willingness to help each other. But today, I am contemplating what it is in human beings, that allows us to do things like use chemical weapons on each other. . . on children. I say "us" because, although it is unlikely that I will ever be in a position to make that kind of choice (and I would hope that I would refuse to do such a thing,) it is not particularly useful to separate ourselves from those who make choices to deliberately inflict harm.

At it's core, harming another is enabled by an ability to make others less-than. That is where the violence starts. Sometimes this is mixed with fear or greed or a lust for power, but always it requires not seeing others as fellow human beings, not cherishing all children as our children.

And. . . disconnecting from others to a degree that allows us to do violence to them, always entails disconnecting from ourselves at least a little, so we do not feel our common humanity. This is true even if the level of violence is "just" verbal. .

And there it is- the need to stay deeply connected to our own precious, flawed humanity. It's what helps us live side by side when we disagree, what enables us be clear about what is good for our shared communities without having to vilify those who disagree with us as something less than a fellow fallible human being.

Please don't misunderstand me- accepting that someone who has done violence is a fellow human being does not mean we condone the action or fail to hold human beings accountable for those actions.

Not making someone who had done violence less-than is not easy. The man who raped me when I was a young woman is a fellow human being. See what I mean? Hard. I don't need to see or engage with him. Nor do I approve of or understand what he did But he is a fellow human being, And sometimes human beings do horrible things.

It all reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Aleksandr Solznhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

This being human- not always easy. Sometimes we have to take turns remembering who and what we are, reminding each other, leaning into each other, finding ways to live together in our shared world. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

With gratitude to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for this image of the darkness and the light.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


One day you turn your head, and all that was dry and brown and broken shows signs of new life. Oh, it may just be small tender shoots poking their delicate heads up through memories of darkness, or a tingle, a small electric current running through your limbs that lets you know that you are still alive. You'd worked so hard to get here, swimming against the cold current of all you'd be taught, you'd started to wonder if there even was a shore to reach. And then. . . there it is: the welcoming curve of a new shoreline; a beach where you can lie flat on your belly, breathing into the sand and water-smoothed rocks until you can come to standing, until you can find the courage and curiosity to explore. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017 With gratitude for the inspiration of this photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Inner Quiet

Feeling quiet (in a good way) these days. Something has shifted within me, and when that happens sometimes I just want to taste it, savour it, feel the spaciousness of a deeper level of freedom from old worries and certainties. I know, dissolving old certainties doesn't sound like a fun, but the truth is it is often our certainties (particularly the ones on the edges of consciousness) that rob us of joy and shackle us to ways of being that have very little to do with who we really are. So I am being quiet, enjoying the shift, letting myself open to the joy of spring- both inner and outer. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House

In this quiet I imagine my inner landscape looking a lot like this spectacular photo of stillness at dawn from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Are We Really Here?

I am doing a little mindfulness experiment. Growing up, I was encouraged to give up something for Lent- usually something thought of as "bad" for us (sugar, coffee, tv etc.) My own take on this was to find and surrender those things or habits that made us less available to God/the Mystery/the Sacred. This year, what came as I meditated on being more available to the Unconditional Love that holds us, something new came: to give up doing more than one thing at a time.

It makes sense- but is much harder than I imagined it would be. I live alone. When I walk into the kitchen to make food or clean up I flip the radio on and listen as I work. I often watch something on my computer when I eat, or talk with a friend on a telephone headset when I am doing mundane housekeeping chores. I listen to music when I am out walking.

Now don't get me wrong- I don't think that these or a thousand other instances of engaging my mind with something while I am doing something else are in any sense "bad." But, operating this way does split my attention, and means I am rarely 100% with the task at hand.

So, I decided to try it. And what I'm realizing is how rarely I actually bring all of my attention to the present moment when I am not formally meditating. And, of course, even without distraction from the outside, I can take myself away from the task at hand by thinking about yesterday or planning for tomorrow.

And I wonder: how much of my life am I missing simply because I am almost always doing more than one thing at a time? I wonder if I love reading so much because I simply cannot do it while doing something else. Well, that's almost true- I often read while taking a bath. The challenge becomes: can I do one thing at a time- bring my full attention to cutting vegetables without simultaneously hearing the news; feel the sensation of soaking in hot water without reading; take a walk with my senses opened to the experience of shifting weight as I move avoiding cars; do nothing else while I am listening to the news, watching a movie or talking with a friend?

I invite you to join me and share what you experience here. Based on my recent experience, I would suggest keeping expectations low: try it for the morning or an afternoon and just notice what happens, or do it for just an hour during the busyness of the day.

If someone pushed me to articulate the purpose of life in just a few words, I would say, "To be here, now. To show up." Turns out that's not as easy as it sounds, but there is really no where else to be.

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2017

The photos of Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming always make me pause, take a breath and find the present moment.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ashes To Ashes

Not here much these days because I seem to be down with a nasty virus. Today, desperate for a shower I got dizzy in the bathroom and accidentally brought down a glass shelf full of breakables and ended up on the floor amidst broken glass. Humbling.

Then I read Anne Lamott's post reminding us that today is Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar, a day that reminds us of our own mortality- ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In the shamanic tradition in which I practice we talk about making death the ally. I hear that message in this story Anne included in her post:

"When I was 38, my best friend, Pammy, died, and we went shopping about two weeks before she died, and she was in a wig and a wheelchair. I was buying a dress for this boyfriend I was trying to impress, and I bought a tighter, shorter dress than I was used to. And I said to her, 'Do you think this makes my hips look big?' and she said to me, so calmly, 'Annie, you don't have that kind of time.' (From Anne Lamott)

Reminds me of the Jack Kornfield quote that goes something like, "The trouble is you think you have time."

None of us know how much or what quality of time we have (says the woman so recently collapsed on the bathroom floor amidst broken glass.) Living is what it is about, to the best or our ability today. Because "this too will pass" includes both the small daily annoyances, the incredibly wonderful moments, and the human life we have been given.

Long, slow breath and deep gratitude for life, Oriah

Gratitude for Karen Davis who delivers these breath-taking photos on Open Door Dreaming page daily.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Good Time to be Alive

Last week I had a few days in bed with acute pain. It happens. I was diagnosed with M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) thirty-four years ago. Some years/weeks/days are better than others. The hardest part is the unpredictability. So, lying in bed waiting for pain meds to kick in, I was surprised at the thought that arose: There has never been a better time to have a debilitating chronic illness. This was not me trying to find a “silver lining” to the situation. I am as attached as anyone to fulfilling anticipated activity for the day, although I’ve probably had more practice at letting go of plans than most. But the thought made me smile- because it’s true. Lying in bed with my laptop, I have access to the world. I can write emails, read news, connect on social media, take a course, listen to podcasts, watch movies, order food, do research, check in with family, and offer some of my writing to the world. And, I can do all of this without revealing to anyone I may be in touch with that I am lying in bed, a hot mess of pain and exhaustion. None of this took away the pain of the moment, but it did perk me up to consider how modern technology has enabled us to access large aspects of the world, even when we cannot walk outside. And, despite the pain (which I know from experience will ebb and flow- much better today) I was flooded with gratitude that made me grin, even as I tucked the covers up under my chin. It is a good time to be alive. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House And one of the wonderful things I am able to do whether sick or well is see the spectacular photos of Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming posted daily.