Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How To Begin Again and Again

Well, here we are- the end of January. Attendance at the yoga class has begun to fall off, new gym memberships purchased at the first of the year have started to disappoint. (I understand- for years I secretly believed if I rustled up the money to pay THAT should get me in shape- but apparently not.) Friends who declared they were going gluten-free are slipping into "lower" gluten food plans or have stopped reading labels altogether.

Here's the thing: if you find yourself repeatedly vowing- with great sincerity and hopefulness- to do something you feel will add to your life in a positive way (exercise regularly, eat a particular way, meditate daily, write weekly . . . . etc.) and then find yourself sneaking out of the house without doing these things (sure that your cat is looking at you with condemnation) there is a chance that you don't really want to do the thing you declare you do, but rather, think you "should" do it.

I've read a lot of books about writing (a favourite passtime for writers avoiding the unfinished manuscript.) One of the pieces of advice that stuck with me was from Pat Schneider's book, The Writer As An Artist. Pat says, if you find yourself not writing (after you've said you are going to or that you want to) and you are able to quit- quit! And, she continues, if you can't quit, then you may as well sit down and write.

I think what she was trying to say is, if you say you want to do something but aren't doing it, maybe you don't really want to do it, or you like the idea of doing it, but the thing itself does not appeal.

I've written almost every day of my life since I was about twelve. I can't quit, so I keep writing.

Sadly, my relationship with exercise and yoga is not so compulsory. I can quit. Of course, when I do I get stiff and sore, I have less energy and am less centred. But the negative feedback is gradual, easy to ignore for at least a few weeks (unlike eating gluten which results in a migraine within twenty-four hours- pain is a great incentive to stay on track.)

So, what to do about the things that we want to do, say we'll do, the things we don't want to quit even though we neglect them horribly for long periods of time?

How do we begin again. . . . and again. . . . . and again?

Yes, by the end of January, it's Begin Again Time.

And here's a few things to consider: Is there a way to receive the benefits (equanimity, income, physical fitness etc.) that you'd hoped would come from the thing you vowed to do that could be done more easily than the way you have chosen? We don't get any "points" for doing it the hardest possible way. Actually, the Big News is that no one is even "keeping score," so we may as well find what is needed in the most sustainable way.

Sometimes this means reconsidering how we do what we are trying or wanting to do. Can't do forty-five minutes of meditation in the morning? How about ten? How about five in the morning and five in the early evening? How about a walking meditation before you hop on the bus in the morning? Finding it hard to get to the gym? How about a walk at lunch instead?

Many of us (and I am the poster girl for this) tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude toward our resolutions and intentions. But life- real, messy, uncontrollable, daily life- as a human being, is rarely all-or-nothing in any area of being, is more of a this-is-the-best-I-can-do-now practise.

I do a daily practise. Want to know the secret about doing a daily practise of any kind? Each day I begin again. I don't count the days, don't commit to "the rest of my life." I begin today. Oh, I also don't throw the decision open for inner discussion daily. I just go to the cushion, sit down and begin where I am- whether enthused or reluctant, energized or exhausted- I begin again.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Would love to hear your thoughts/questions about beginning again and again. Tomorrow, Thursday, January 30th I am going to have a discussion with Janet Conner about how we can find renewed energy and heart to begin again live on her show at at 11 am PT, 1 pm CT, 2 pm ET.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finding Encouragement

It’s easy to get discouraged: bees are dying, radiation is leaking into the ocean, and everyday there are people who do not have the basic necessities of life for themselves and their children.

How do we inform ourselves about what is happening in the world so we can participate fully, without overwhelming ourselves with news that could breed hopelessness? 

For me, it’s about taking in information in the moments when I have the heart and energy to do so (not just before sleep) and finding encouragement that helps me to stay present, patient and hopeful.

Recently, I watched Bill Moyers interview one of my favourite writers, Wendell Berry. And I received grounded encouragement.

Berry is a poet and a farmer, an activist and an elder. As he describes his involvement in creating sustainable agriculture, warning that these changes will take time, Moyer understandably asks, “Do we have time, given what agri-business is doing?"

Wendell Berry replies, “We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?”

He's right, and whether we are talking about personal or collective choices about how to live, we need to take care not to discourage or paralyze ourselves by worrying about whether or not the action we are called to take will be big enough or fast enough.

We all need encouragement. We are small and brief and highly bio-degradable, and the world is large and on many fronts, in need of tending. But we are also resilient, connected and contributing every day to shaping the world by our choices about how to be here. 

When I become overwhelmed- whether by news of another species being endangered or with concern for someone I love going through a challenging time- I remember and focus on these words from Arthur Ashe that have become a guide for focusing on life instead of wasting precious energy on attachment to results we cannot foresee: 

Start where you are. 
Use what you have. Do what you can. 

We need both practical solutions and poetry, strategies for living in balance and stories that sustain the heart and soul. There are infinite ways to contribute to how the world unfolds. 

This year- 2014- adds up to a seven. In the shamanic tradition in which I work seven is the number of the Dream- the Collective Dream and the Sacred Dream of each individual. May we each ask for, find, and have the courage to do what Life asks of us this year. May we encourage each other.

Oriah House (c) 2014  (Today's blog is an excerpt from the January 2014 newsletter   
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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How I Will Live 2014

I will live 2014 as a writer.

Yes, I’ve written almost daily for decades but I have recently realized that I often do things that are neither nourishing nor obligatory because of a semi-conscious belief that was breathed in from birth- the belief that I must continually earn the right to do what I love.

On New Year’s Eve I watched a lecture by American author Ray Bradbury. His enthusiasm for writing and life was unbounded, and his wisdom was applicable to so many things in our lives. He urged the students in attendance to write three lists of ten things they loved, hated and feared- and write about all of them. He insisted that if you have writer’s block it is because you aren’t writing about something you care about and should stop. He maintained that writing is not work and if it feels like work, you should quit and do what brings you joy, do what you love.

Bradbury made me remember how much I love to write. He reminded me that I have always written for the discovery and the surprises, for the joy of it. And, in his absolute certainty that we each have a right to live our particular way of fulfilling our role as a witness that celebrates the magnificence of creation and life in ourselves and in the world. . . . I found a sense of permission. I leaned into his certainty that we did not have to earn the right to be what we are. I felt the onerous burden of having to earn this right dissolve in the heat of his passion.

Clearly, the timing was right for me to watch this video.

I went to sleep a few minutes past midnight on New Year’s Eve thinking, “I will live this year as a writer.”

What does that mean? Well, it means remembering that everything that crosses my path or comes to my mind, heart and senses is available to spark a story, a poem, a metaphor. It means that choices about whether or not to socialize or take a course or wash the kitchen floor (yes, every writer has their own optimal level of chaos and order, cleanliness and dirt that enhances the writing process) are subject to the question: Does this serve the writing?

It means that I will not resist the urge to write, will not veer away from the computer when my fingers itch for the keyboard because it is time when I “should” be doing yoga or meditating or shopping or getting ready for bed. Those things that keep me ready and able to write- like good food and exercise- will fit around the writing and not the other way around as has often been the case in the past.

It means I will live as a writer and not an author- without concern for what is marketable or timely, without worrying about publishing contracts or a decent advance.

It means I will read what makes me want to write: essays that are filled with exquisite metaphor and meaning, stories and poems spilling over with well-crafted sentences I wish I’d written.

It means I will write every day because, as Bradbury says- for a writer, not writing every day will make you sick- if not in body, surely in the heart. 

I will live 2014 as a writer. 

How will you live this new year that spreads out before us empty and waiting, willing to be filled with what brings you joy and celebrates Life? 

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Putting Our Passion Into Prayers & Intentions

Intentions matter. Words have power.

Prayer is the place where we talk to something larger and yet not necessarily separate from ourselves. For me it is about coming into alignment with the divine that lives within me and yet is so much more than this one small human. In that place of alignment, my intentions, my heart-song, catches the wave of creative power that creates this reality and moves with that power.

So, I am very careful about how I pray and declare my intentions if only to myself on the page.

Some feel that prayers should exclusively express gratitude. Many of my prayers are ones of thanks for the life I have been given. I offer thanks not as an imagined cost of admission (life is given whether or not we express gratitude) but because doing so helps me to fully receive and savour all I have been given.

But what of our intentions to create, to build, to contribute to the world, to act alone or with others? What of our desires for ourselves, for those we love, or for the world? Is there a place for these intentions in our prayers?

Over the years I've heard hundreds of prayers offered by men and women in the Sacred Sweat Lodge Ceremonies and circles. A prayer that has power, a prayer that makes your breath catch and hair stand on end, moves beyond the seen and into the unseen and is fuelled by the heart-force of the one who prays. And human heart is most easily and powerfully engaged by the particular and the real.

And herein lies the dilema: I’ve lived long enough to know that my ability to see what is truly for “the best” is limited. I may really want a certain job, but I have no idea if not getting that job might lead to something else that fulfils my deepest soul’s desires or serves the world better. I can do a prayer simply for “the highest good,” or to do the will of that which is larger, but this general expression is unlikely to fuel my prayer with my heart’s passion. On the other hand, I don’t want God or the Mystery or the Universe to be tied to and limited by what I can imagine in any given moment, however passionately I do so.

So this is what I do: I pray and set my intention for the specifics AND for the essence of the soul longing beneath my specific intentions: for the words to flow in the book I am writing AND for the healing I hope this book will offer myself and others; for my own or another’s health AND whatever is needed to participate fully in the world and life- with whatever health we have.

And then, after I have prayed with all the passion and longing these things evoke in my heart, I pause and add these words with full intention and sincerity:

“According to free will and for the highest good of all.”

That’s my rider, my exception clause in all prayers and declarations of intent. It recognizes how little I know about what is truly for the best and yet allows me to pour my passion and love into my small, specific human prayers for myself, for those I love and for the world. It reminds me that, despite my knowledge of our human fallibility, I do not want to curtail another’s free will (or my own.) And it reminds me that that which is larger may have something else in store completely, without denying or denigrating my very real small human desires and concerns.

So, if you've have an intention or a prayer right now that is full and real for you, I invite you to share it here. Make it specific and real, something an ordinary human being could be enthused about with their whole heart. Articulate the essence of what you hope that form will bring and then, if it feels okay to do, in your own heart and mind add the rider that reminds us of how small our knowledge is and how the possibilities within the Sacred Mystery are infinite. Blessed be.

Oriah House ©2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Finding Hope In What We Are

Last week, in the days coming up to Christmas, I was dismayed at how the busyness of the season did not seem to bring out the best in folks:

A woman in a car gave the finger to a man appropriately using the pedestrian cross-walk, yelled at him for simply crossing the street.

A friend was knocked down in a grocery store line-up by a man who felt she was not “keeping the line moving."

A young woman, who clearly felt I should have let her into the line of barely moving traffic (honestly I did not think there was room and could not back up) wedged her van between my car and the line of parked cars along the curb and smashed my back side window, while screaming at me. (I felt very calm during the incident- shaken afterwards. I just kept driving – seemed like things could only get worse if I stopped and got out of my car.)

Ah yes, Merry Christmas.

But then, on the weekend just before Christmas an ice storm hit Toronto. Two hundred and fifty thousand households were without power for days.

Everywhere you went, people asked if you had power. When a man ahead of me in the grocery store line-up replied that he did not, the cashier- a woman he clearly did not know- offered to lend him her camp stove to use for cooking outside and they made arrangements to meet at the end of her shift.

Several people I knew were housed with friends of friends of friends- in other words, strangers- because the did not have heat.

Two neighbours put their large recycling containers out in the middle of the street to slow traffic so drivers would see a downed live wire. One of them stood out there for hours motioning traffic around the wire until Toronto Hydro could come, and apparently twice, folks in cars returned- one with hot coffee and donuts and the other with mitt and boot warmers.

On the whole, people were driving carefully and courteously, waving each other through where non-functioning traffic lights had turned intersections into four-way stops and helping each other get large bottles of water across icy parking lots to their cars.

After the window smashing incident I'd felt a moment of despair about . . . . us, about how human beings are willing and able to be violent over a perceived slight.

But later in that same week, I was touched by all the kindness that started to flow.

It would be easy, living in a large city, to get cynical about a lack of community, connection and caring. And, of course, sometimes the lack of these is evident. But, there is a choice here- and I choose to focus on the generosity of spirit and concern for others that was evident in the face of challenges created by the ice storm. Oh, I'm not in denial about how we can be destructive to each other, but I see the actions and attitudes of empathy and compassion, of generosity and kindness as much more indicative of what we are in our essential being.

And that helps me to think of the window-smashing behaviour of one young woman as a reflection of having a day (or week, or year. . . .) so bad that I may not be able to imagine it, and not indicative of what or who she is- what we all really are. The kindness and community response to the ice storm, helped me remember that she too is another-myself- and (after I stopped fuming about the cost of replacing the window) I was able to offer a prayer of real concern for her, sincerely hoping she is well and at peace.

Ah yes- Happy New Year!

Oriah House (c) 2013