Checking in

Just in this moment, right now, check in with yourself. Notice what you sense in your body. Notice how you are holding yourself, your position in space. Then notice sensations in your body. What comes into awareness? Now check your breathing. Just notice your breath in your body. 

If you notice thought, that’s okay. That’s part of what you’re checking on. See if you can let the content go for a moment while you finish checking in. 

As you shift into this mindful moment, see if a desire to move or change something is there. See the desire before you take the action. If you do make a movement or other change, notice how you are then, too. Did you get what you were seeking?

This is how we get to know ourselves, on a moment by moment basis. Who you are in these moments is who you are in your life. 

What do you notice?

Simple pleasures

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There is not much more important than experiencing pleasure for us human-type beings.   Pleasure is a label for certain types of sensory experiences: some things we do are pleasurable.  Sometimes, things that once were pleasurable do not seem to evoke pleasure any more.  When I hear that from people, I take note.  Anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure, often accompanies depression, and sometimes is the most difficult part of depression.

Pleasure is an enormous motivator for us.  We’ll do a lot of things because the consequence is experienced as pleasurable.  These things can range from preparing and eating gourmet cuisine to climbing up rock faces.   And when pleasure as a motivator is not available, due to depression, stress, or preoccupation, then it can be difficult to do some of the things that we need or want to do.

Pleasure is a body experience.  That is, we have an experience of pleasure through our sensory systems. There is also a cognitive component, as there is for many emotionally-based experiences.  We’ll have words or images to reflect our pleasure (“Mmm, mmm, good..”).  We savor pleasure.  Pleasure requires our sustained attention, and when we cannot give our attention to our experience, we have a dearth of pleasure in our everyday life.

When people present in the office with symptoms of depression, I ask a lot about what they enjoy….have they been having any fun lately?  Lots of times people are taken by surprise by this question.  First surprise, then a sudden realization and often sadness….no, no fun lately.  In fact, often people cannot think of anything at all that would be fun.

Finding the pleasure again is essential.  When depression is the diagnosis, we look at shifting thinking, motivating activity, and regulating sleep, appetite, and attention.   Simultaneously, I ask people to start to notice where they can feel pleasure, even the most limited little bit of enjoyment, or even just relief of negative symptoms.   This is a mindfulness task, requiring attention to sensory experience in the here and now, and is a very useful marker for getting better.

Pleasure is our birthright.  We are creatures who have a wonderful and awe-inspiring capacity for pleasure….what will you enjoy today?

A Sensory Feast

Walking with Max last weekend, I realized something. All week I’d led a life with plenty of stimulation:  work, activities, books, music, and of course social media. When I went out into the early spring morning I was smacked with a cascade of sensory experiences, different, powerful and healing sensory experiences.  For some reason, my inner self was tuned to the sensorium, which is generally a good thing.  It means that my thoughts are not in ascendance but my experience is my priority.  So I could smell amazing things;  see and hear late spring buzzing, blooming, squawking and splashing all over.   My experience was of filling up a container that had been emptier than I had realized, and taking in, taking in, taking in.

I recently read something about “earthing” and “forest bathing.”  These concepts were amusing to me at first, because they seem so, well, unnecessary.  Of course we need to touch and feel the ground under our feet.  Of course we need to spend time with trees, wildlife, decaying leaves and insect bodies, the richness of everyday life outside of the house.  But when I continued to read, it because clearer to me…many people do not have these experiences with any kind of regularity.  Could it be that people actually have to be TOLD to get outside?  That they need to purchase “earthing” products to bring them closer to the planet on which we live, from which we have sprung, both as a species and as individuals?

The product part is the ugly side of capitalism, I guess, along with excessive corporate profits, pillaging the land for “resource development” and the like.  Most people, I am guessing, actually DO have access to a bit of earth, a spot of green, a park or verge or a place where water flows spontaneously over the earth.   What we need is the will to make getting to ground a priority.   Rather than buying an earthing mat to go under your feet while you sit at your desk in front of your computer, get out of the office and walk on the ground.

Then I have to ask myself whether I have been spoiled by the abundance of natural riches here where I live?  Maybe I am assuming too much, because finding “nature” is easy for me.  (I don’t like using that term to mean whatever is outdoors, because I kind of think I’m part of nature, and you are, too).   Outdoor “nature” is just a step away.  And real woods, for forest bathing or hiking or just walking the dog, that kind of nature is within a few minutes of biking.  We also have the “nature” of blackflies, mosquitoes, ticks, and black bears, just to be clear.

So I don’t know about earthing or forest bathing.  I do know that when Max and I head out in the early morning for our adventure, both of us enjoy it.  Maybe it means even more than I realized, but I do have a good sense that my body and mind need what I get when I am out there.

Below are some shots of early June at the University of New Brunswick Woodlot, where dogs and people can bathe in the forest, the swarms of insects, and the smells of late spring.

      

There’s another blizzard on the way, or, wherever you go, there you are

Yes, I know that Jon Kabat-Zinn already has that title.   I keep reminding myself of the truth of his statement (which probably wasn’t original with him, either) as the next in a series of substantial winter storms moves closer and closer. But my struggle with winter isn’t just about winter.  It is about being present to reality, no matter whether I like that reality or not.

I have a belief that I only have to embrace winter a little and I’ll stop wishing it away.  And so I do embrace winter, sort of.  That is, I have developed a fascination with the light available in the winter, early morning and late afternoon light, especially when there is something developing in the weather.2015-01-24 07.56.47

I love the way that the light stretches over the land, slicing just above the horizon, lengthening shadows and distorting shapes.  I love the way that the tiny sparkles of drifting snow twist and turn in the wind, eddying and flowing and suddenly becoming sharply distinct in the sunlight of midday.

January dawn over the St John river 2015

I love the red of the sky….the pre-blizzard sky.  And I love being at home while the snow is pounding down, puttering in the kitchen, making the house smell spicy and warm, fingers wrapped around hot steaming mugs, wool socks and fleece shirts and even a warm scarf keeping me cosy in the house.

Red sky jan 15

Somehow that’s not enough, though.  That’s not enough of an embrace for me to stop thinking about how much I prefer taking the dog for his walk when I don’t have to spend 15 minutes dressing myself to go outdoors.   I can’t seem to get past a sensation of being closed in, either because of the overwhelming amount of outdoor clothing I require to stay warm (can you say “Michelin Man?”) or the overwhelmingly high snowbanks along the street and even along the sidewalks.  I understand that I ought to be grateful for plowed sidewalks and I am, I truly am.   And I am also struggling with the claustrophobic fear that winter will never, ever be over.

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Yup, those crocuses are supposed to be an image of the hope of spring.  I also know that yesterday was Imbolc, Candlemas, Feast of Saint Birgid, all of those holidays which are supposed to mean the same thing…halfway through winter!  And today is the day for ol’ Punxatawny Phil (my American roots are showing) to let us know the rodent perspective on that.  But you and I both know that today’s blizzard is more like what I should expect, not crocuses, for the next, oh, ten weeks.   Depending on how high and deep that old snow gets piled on top of my crocus bed.

It is a continuous practice for me to try to be present to what IS.  Winter happens to be WHAT IS right now.  I watch myself attend and appreciate and then also watch my thinking slip away into fantasies of summer.  Can I be kind to myself around my inattention?  Can I just notice my thinking….oh, that’s what my thoughts are doing….and bring myself back to here, to now, to Winter 2015?  Can I be present with my own claustrophobia and watch that feeling begin, grow, and then lose traction, as feelings always do?

In someone else’s words, “Don’t wish it away.  Don’t think of it like it’s forever.”  Neither one of those thoughts is helpful.  Both are ways to avoid what is happening here and now. (In case you were wondering, those are lines from an Elton John song that was popular in the 1980s…yes, that long ago….see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6KYAVn8ons)

Welcome, Blizzard.  Welcome, Life.

Anticipation of joy? Or joyful anticipation?

PEI

We leave tomorrow for the week-long bioenergetic retreat in Prince Edward Island.  We have spent a year preparing, with more active preparation going on since January, and accelerating toward tomorrow.  The program begins on Friday evening and runs through the following Friday at mid-day, and each year it draws a diverse group that somehow becomes a community during our time together.   And I can imagine that the people who are joining us from all over the world are preparing, packing, and anticipating.

I have been busy with getting ready, looking after details, checking in with the rest of the team, and preparing myself for the work of therapy.  Body psychotherapists use their bodies in their work, so part of my preparation has been to be sure I do my bioenergetic exercises, to be aware of my sleep and nutrition, to work through any internal logjams that may get in my way.

And now, today, I am feeling that lovely anticipatory excitement that comes up when you are heading off for an experience that is new and also likely to be challenging and deepening and supportive and connecting.   The closest comparison I can get is that feeling I had when I was maybe eight years old of expecting Santa to come and bring presents on Christmas Eve.  There was an element of surprise but also the expectation was that things would be pretty good.

I am looking forward to seeing what gifts the next week brings.  Gifts are not always in bright packages:  in fact, the gifts of the retreat often arrive in the form of difficult feelings, ones we prefer to avoid.  I guess maybe the gifts come when people are offered a time and space to be themselves, bring their struggles, challenges, and their joys, express whatever their bodies need to express, and then see what happens.   Part of my anticipation is that I don’t know what will come up;  part of my joy is that I do know that things will happen, people will have opening experiences, and we will become a community.

I wish you all the gifts that freedom of expression can bring.

 

Morning lupins
Morning lupins

logoblu

 

coming home

Last week I was on Prince Edward Island on retreat.  This was the first of the new Bioenergetics Summer Retreat program, following up on the 24 year run that Rosalind McVicar and Bethany Doyle, certified bioenergetic therapists from the Maritimes, had created.  For me, it was quite a new experience, as I was there in the capacity of therapist rather than participant.

One part of the new programming included Valerie Anderson’s offering of Mindful Movements, drawn from the work of Thich Nhat Hanh.  Valerie is a psychologist from Newfoundland, currently living in Brampton, Ontario.    In addition to offering bioenergetics, she is skillful in helping people move into mindfulness.  One of her reminders was about breathing;   coming home to the breath.   We sat to cultivate mindful attention, and she reminded us to think about coming home to our own breath as it moves in the body.

I love that;  when I think about coming home (“home”) to my breath, my attention goes to my heart center,  my awareness of my body increases, and I almostImage instantly can feel my way into the experience of this moment.    As I geographically came home from PEI, and emotionally came home to my house, my family, my dog, I am aware of how my overall FEELING shifted and changed.   I can have that same experience within my own body as I attend to my breath….coming home to my breath.

Coming home isn’t about changing anything.  It isn’t about working or striving.  It is more about relaxing into an awareness of the familiar.   Oh, yes, this is my breath.  I know this.   I can sit with this and just let my awareness rest lightly on it.

If I can come home to my breath, then I can be at home anywhere.

Balthasar’s Hand

I love the process of clearing space.  I love doing it in the physical world, where I declutter, remove unneeded objects, and put things in their proper places.  I love doing it in my inner world, too, when the mental noise is starting to be more insistent than my experience of sensory pleasures.  That is, when I notice that I have been walking in the woods for the last ten minutes but haven’t seen, heard, or smelled anything at all that told me I was in the woods, then I know that I am far too caught up in my inner life and that my real life, the life of my body in this world, is passing me by.

But there is a seductiveness to thinking, thinking, thinking.  In my thoughts, I can imagine that things work out just the way I want them to.   In my thoughts, I can also imagine that things are Just Terrible, and that there is an awful tragedy, and I can suffer mightily.  For some reason, people seem to like to dwell in thoughts like those maybe even more than dwelling in thoughts that bring pleasure.  In my thoughts, I can wreak vengeance on those whom I think have done me wrong.   I can see my personal justice brought to bear in my thoughts.

I don’t really want to trash-talk the thinking process.  Thinking is perhaps the most useful tool that human beings have developed.  We are capable of remembering the past on multiple levels, and of projecting the future, and those two things allow us to create new objects and experiences.  They also allow us to re-experience through various means; reading books, watching movies, talking with friends.  Thinking is a powerful tool and we don’t use it all the time. Our minds are busy, though, even when we don’t need to be thinking.  This is an adaptation;   our minds are on alert for threats to survival, opportunities to increase the likelihood of survival, and sometimes just ways to entertain us.    These busy minds can also cause us a lot of grief if we have learned habits that are unwholesome and lead us to getting caught in our thoughts and feelings.

 

Having a cluttered mind is like having a cluttered home or a cluttered office, though.   The clutter can really get in the way of priorities.  It can divert attention from what is really important.  And sometimes I discover little bits and pieces of clutter that really belong somewhere else.  If those bits and pieces were put where they belonged, they wouldn’t actually be clutter.

 

There is a Christmas cactus in the living room;  it is in a clay pot, and sits on a white saucer, to protect the table from drips of water.   On the edge of the saucer is a small brown object.   I noticed it when watering the plant, picked it up to wonder at it.  It’s a hand, actually, a ceramic hand, broken off a ceramic person and just cluttering up the saucer.   When I held it I recognized it;  it belongs to a statue of one of the famed Three Kings of Epiphany;  Balthasar, to be precise.  Balthasar comes out, along with his brethren, during winter holidays.  These guys are remnants from my life as a young mom, making merry with my small children, and Balthasar has always had trouble keeping his hand connected.  However, finding Balthasar’s hand on my plant saucer in mid summer means that it has been there for months, existing as clutter.

What to do with this hand, now that I have noticed it, picked it up, identified it?   I could find the statue and glue it on.  I could pitch the hand in the trash, which is perhaps the most reasonable thing to do. After all, Balthasar has managed without his hand for some time.     But no, I did neither of these.   I did the only thing possible for me at this time.  I put it back on the saucer, in hope that I’ll remember where it sits next December when Balthasar comes to visit out of the decorations stored in the basement.   In the meantime, in its current incarnation as “clutter” the hand has distracted and entertained me, and in fact, provided an inspiration for a post that started out being in favor of decluttering.   Maybe I’ll need to reconsider my position on that!

What is your experience?   How do your chosen objects enhance your life?   Do they ever impinge on you in a negative way?  Is it easier to do a complex task if your surroundings are clear?