Learning to Fly

Live life to its fullest

Slowing down March 12, 2008

I believe there is a gift in everything. As August Gold says, what happens to us is really happening for us. While I am still recovering from the concussion I received this weekend, I’m so grateful to have been able to see the gift in this experience. Now, I’m not saying that every moment has felt like a gift–someday I’d love to reach that level of presence–but when I take a step back and look at the big picture, I’m definitely more on the grateful side than not.

One of the biggest things I’ve gotten from this experience is the gift of slowing down. I am almost always busy, which often means I’m multitasking. The last few days I’ve been nearly incapable of focusing on anything other than what’s right in front of me, so I’m having to do things one at a time. And since my thoughts aren’t cooperating with me by moving at their usual speed, I’m also having to do everything more slowly. I love the picture above because it reminds me of how I’ve been feeling lately. I might have been practicing mindfulness last week, but I’ve been living mindfulness this week.

Here are some examples of other gifts I’ve received:

* My presence is a gift. At the hospital on Saturday, I was conscious of the pain and suffering around me, but also the love and caring. I chose to build upon that energy and add my own healing energy into the mix. I closed my eyes and practiced conscious breathing, pulling positive, life force energy from Source into my body through the top of my head (or crown chakra) and sending it out into the hospital through the middle of my chest (or heart chakra). Then I reversed the flow, pulling all of the suffering I sensed out of the hospital and sending it back up into Source. It was a variation on a Ram Dass mediation I used to have on tape that I’ve always loved. It made me realize that my presence in the hospital that day was a gift to those around me, and it gave me something other than how I was feeling to focus on–a win-win situation!

* Surrender to the experience. I’m not always capable of focusing on something other than how I’m feeling. Sometimes the nausea or dizziness is just too great and I get caught up in it. Other times, I am incredibly aware of all of the sensations in my body. It’s like I’m overly sensitive or something, so every time I turn my head it’s almost like I can feel the different signals being sent throughout my nervous system. When I resist the experience by attempting to fight it or ignore it, it just gets worse, probably because I’m adding a level of anxiety or annoyance to it. It leaves me feeling frustrated, heavy, and sad. When I surrender to it, I become fully present in my body, in my breath, in this moment. I can feel the aliveness of my body and for a moment, there is no past or future, there truly is only now. It’s like I’m falling into an ecstatic trance where I notice everything that is happening or that I’m feeling in that moment. It leaves me feeling light, peaceful, and connected, a welcome change of pace for sure.

* Remove your head from the sand. There’s nothing like an illness or injury to send me scurrying for my shovel so I can be an ostrich and bury my head in the sand. I tell myself ignoring and avoiding will make me feel better than dealing with things, which as we know is never true. At least this time I buried myself shallowly so I could pull myself out from time to time and take care of the business at hand. I’ve kept the apartment clean, I’ve taken care of some paperwork for my freelance gig and for my insurance company, and I even managed to call the doctor this morning for the follow up recommended by the hospital. The result? I feel organized, capable, on top of things, and I’m much more aware of the fact that I am getting better each day as my daily tasks get a little easier each day.

* Ask and ye shall receive (especially when it comes to help). Oh wow, is this one ever a biggie for me. I grew up believing that I needed to be strong and independent, which meant I needed to take care of everything for myself. Help was for the weak. I’ve been slowly releasing this concept over the past decade, but it’s like a dandelion with deep roots and lots of scattered seeds. This experience has helped me to uproot it a little bit as I’ve been forced to call upon my husband and other friends for help. And everyone has been wonderful and supportive, of course. My friend Melanie wrote a guest post for my blog on Monday when I wasn’t feeling like I could string words together to form full and complete sentences. My friend Beth is picking me up in a couple of hours to take me to a reunion dinner we are going to tonight. My husband has pitched in wherever he could, from helping with breakfast and dinner preparation to picking up around the house to running errands for me after work. And that doesn’t even touch on all the long-distance love, support, and prayers that have come down the pipeline. When you ask for help, you get to experience all the love that is always present in life, sometimes even from unexpected sources.

What this all amounts to me is “Stay Fully Present,” a lesson I’ve been attempting to learn for years. That’s the funny thing about the way the universe works–sometimes you have to literally be hit over the head with it before you finally get it. Keep your fingers crossed the effects are long-lasting this time. Namaste.

Photo: “Slow The World Down,” originally uploaded by Taro Taylor

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Unprocrastination March 8, 2008

Filed under: practice — jennsheridan @ 12:06 am
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I’m not sure which pattern of mine I would consider most debilitating. Is it my perfectionism? My habit of living in the past or for the future? My procrastination? Or are they all distracting enough to warrant constant vigilance? The degree of success I have in shifting my behavior in relation to these patterns definitely depends on the day.

Today was all about unprocrastinating. I realized a couple of days ago that I’d allowed a lot of paperwork and phone calls to pile up over the course of the past few months. For someone who puts considerable effort into living in the present, I’d allowed a whole whallup of past to build up until it had become a palpable burden, one that needed short-term relief and long-term realignment. I got to practice some of my recent success in mindfulness as I sorted the mail, paid bills, made phone calls, ran errands, and did laundry, which meant I had ideas bubbling up all day for what to write about, new things to try out, classes to teach. And I also had a beautiful sense of release, of being in integrity, of aligning with the order and harmony I desire to manifest in my home and my life.

While I had let things slide lately, I do have a variety of tried-and-true methods I recommend for the recovering procrastinator as you attempt to come into the present (and stay here):

* Do your least favorite thing first. Half the battle with procrastination is getting over the dread of what’s to come. If you start with the thing that sounds the least fun first, you quickly realize it isn’t as bad as you think and everything that follows flows freely. Sadly, I did not follow my own advice today and it was late morning before I realized that if I had just gotten the stuff I’d been dreading out of the way early, my morning would have been one heck of a lot more fun.

* Sort your mail immediately upon arrival. These days, more than half of what gets stuffed into our incredibly small mailbox makes its new home in the recycle bin. Newsprint advertisements from the local grocery store, political flyers, “you are already approved!” credit card applications. While I appreciate the validation, I definitely do not need more credit, thank you very much. These things can all be thrown out immediately. Everything else should be opened right away and filed into its proper home. I very rarely get bills any more since I pay mine online, so most of what I receive are things that can be displayed (i.e. cards), things that can be filed (i.e. insurance papers), and things I have plans to use in the relatively near future (i.e. coupons). As part of my recent organization efforts, I now have homes for all of these things, so I can quickly put them where they belong for easy access when I need them. FYI, if you’re interested, there are campaigns afoot for the reduction of junk mail so it doesn’t even make it into your inbox, like www.stopjunkmail.org. Sign up today and begin reaping the benefits!

* Just make the call. I don’t know about you, but my cell phone is a mixed blessing. I really do not enjoy talking on the phone and never have. I tend to leave it in my car or turn the ringer off or whatnot and when I pick up the phone I’ve missed several calls and have many voicemail messages. Half the time a quick 5-minute call is all it would take to take care of the business at hand. When I put them off, the calls pile up until I have a whole slew of them and I am dreading them, especially when they entail anything official. Today, for example, I had to call a former insurance agent. By the time I made the call I was so full of built-up dread that I felt a little ill. However, I set my intention beforehand for a smooth transaction and had taken care of my business very pleasantly within a few minutes. If only I’d called them days ago I could have relieved myself of the stress in the first place. Now I am remembering my motto, to just make the call–it is never as bad as you think it is going to be, and instead of allowing it to gum up the works, you can be in the flow of life again before you know it.

* Take care of your priorities first thing. Many of the things that are most important to me personally have a habit of getting shifted to the bottom of my to-do list when things that appear to be more important to the rest of the world get taken care of first. Meditation, walking, stretching, journaling, meal planning–you name it. What I’ve learned is that if it is a personal priority then I need to take care of it first. Not only does my day go more smoothly because I’ve started out on the right foot for me with my spiritual practice, but I end up being a lot more productive when it comes to the rest of the list. It’s a win-win for all!

* Life is too short not to spend it doing the things you love. My senior year of college, I had a lot of the required courses for my major out of the way and I began to explore the rest of what my university had to offer. I took art courses, feminist political theory, African history–not necessarily things I wanted to deep dive into but things I was interested in. I had so much fun, my grades automatically improved, and I actually retained much of what I learned. Looking back, I wish I’d understood that when I went into college. Education is about more than what you major in–it’s about exploration, trying things on for size and seeing how they fit, learning about who you really are when you take away the requirements and start to have fun. As adults we tend to allow our work to suck up so much of our energy we don’t have enough left over for our families, let alone our hobbies and our passions. How many people do you know who talk about traveling when they retire? That is not a way to LIVE, it’s a way to just get by. So start living your life today–sign up for that Greek cooking class, learn a new language, take a wildflower hike next weekend. Whatever it is you’ve been saying you didn’t have time to do, remember that this life is yours to truly live it, and there’s no time like the present to get started.

Nike’s famous “Just Do It” slogan has made them millions for a reason–it is simple and effective. What is it that you are procrastinating about in your life? What action can you take today to begin moving you away from surviving towards thriving? Why are you still here reading–go do it! And then come back and share what methods have you come across that help you to act instead of avoid so we can all learn the joys of unprocrastination. Namaste.

Photo: “just-do-it-blade,” originally uploaded by Brandon Baunach

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Step 2: Clear the Slate February 25, 2008

From the Steps to Learning How to Fly series.

One of the largest obstacles to living life fully is the white noise, the clutter that builds up in our minds and bodies. Think of yourself as a receiver–in addition to the voice of your intuition, your inner guidance system, you’re getting input from your environment, from the people around you, and from the other voices in your head like fear and your inner critic. We recently got a new clock radio that picks up so many stations, it often dilutes the quality of the ones we want to listen to, creating static and dissonance. This is what having so much input all at once does to you–it clogs up the works so that you can’t hear the messages coming to you from the universe, you can’t discern the difference between what is resonating for you versus what isn’t, you can’t see what is being placed in your path for you to work on. It all just becomes noise.

Clearing the slate is about looking closely at these distractions, cleaning things up inside and out so you can actually see and hear what’s going on. The first place I would recommend looking is at your physical environment. Do you tend to have clutter around you, on your coffee table, your dresser, your desks at home and at work? Are your closets overflowing with all of the things that have just been shoved in there? Is your car full of empty water bottles and fast food bags you were too busy to throw out? When things around us are chaotic and disorderly, it tends to generate chaos in our minds as well. Treat yourself to some time this week to tackle an organization project that has been on your mind for a while, and take a few minutes each day to arrange your home and office, picking things up and throwing things away as you go so that are living and working surrounded by harmony.

As you begin to establish order in your life, you may begin to notice the source of some of your other distractions. Begin to pay attention to your thought processes, especially when you hear things like “I can’t do that because . . .” or “I don’t have time . . .” or “Maybe one day I’ll be able to . . .” The idea that we don’t have enough time to do the things we want to do is a choice. How much time do you spend watching television, having a beer (or two or more), gossiping by the water cooler, playing video games (and yes, computer solitaire counts), or reading about what’s happening in celebrities’ lives? Sure, there are plenty of things we do throughout the day that are necessary, but there are plenty more that are essentially just time suckers, distractions that keep us from even thinking about what it is we’d really like to be doing with our time, let alone actually acting on those ideas.

Another way we distract ourselves is by living in the past instead of in the present, defining ourselves by what has come before instead of where we are today. Each moment is a new moment, with the opportunity to make a new choice. When we cling to old ideas, old beliefs, old patterns, we keep ourselves locked in the past. When we hold on to perceived hurts, we get weighed down, hurting ourselves anew every time we think of them. Letting go of these things fills you with such energy, with such lightness, that you can use it as a springboard, catapulting you in the direction of your dreams. Make the choice to put down the baggage you’ve been carrying around with you, forgiving yourself and those who have hurt you, recognizing that right now is the only moment that really is and choosing to live it from a place of love and light and laughter.

At this point you are probably ready for some cleansing of the body and the mind. A little self-love goes a long way here. You might choose to do a fast of some sort, although really, the goal here is to do something that feels good for yourself, that feels nurturing. It might be as simple as making yourself a special meal where the only special occasion is that you’re taking care of yourself. Or you might choose to eliminate or reduce something in your diet that you tend to overindulge in. Or you might choose to follow the Native tradition of smudging, burning sage to cleanse your home and yourself of any negative feelings or influences that have built up there. Whatever you choose to do, find something that is meaningful to you and imbue it with a sense of ceremony, allowing it to really sink in on all levels.

Following are a couple of exercises you can use to help with the process of letting go. You might use them alone or in conjunction with some of the ideas we’ve already discussed here. I don’t follow any specific schedule, but when things start to get clogged up for me, I often receive a message that says it is time to do a burning bowl or do some forgiveness work. When you listen to your inner wisdom, you will know when is the right time for you as well.

Forgiveness Exercise:
There are many guided meditations out there that will walk you through a forgiveness exercise. I like to do this simple exercise that is a melding of various traditions I’ve been introduced to along the way.

Start by making yourself comfortable in a sitting position–you can use a more traditional meditation stance if you’d like, but sitting cross-legged in your favorite chair works just as well. Close your eyes and spend a few minutes breathing deeply, visualizing the tension flowing out of your muscles as you move from the top of your head down to your toes. You might choose to envision yourself being enveloped in a loving presence, full of kindness and compassion and unconditional love. Know that you are truly loved, inside and out, and that nothing you could ever do would shake that love.

When you’ve achieved a feeling of peace and relaxation, bring into your mind’s eye a picture of the person you are ready to forgive, which might even be yourself, and see them sitting across from you. Visualize this individual in the same state of peace and relaxation that you are. Take a few minutes to speak your peace, stating what it was that they did that hurt you and how it made you feel. This is not about blaming them or telling them that they are wrong–this is a time for you to talk about your perception of what happened and its effects on you. Talk until you’ve gotten it all out of your system and you feel like you are ready to move on.

Keeping the image of this person in your mind’s eye, acknowledge that whether the hurt was intentional or unintentional, you are ready to release it. Tell them out loud that you forgive them and ask for their forgiveness in return. Imagine both of you being filled with a cleansing white light, and allow yourself to float in this light, feeling free of the weight that has just been lifted from you. Allow the other person to float off along their own path, blessing them on their journey. Stay in this white light until you feel the lightness transferred into your physical being.

As they say, nature abhors a vacuum, so take a few moments to focus on what you are grateful for. You can say it out loud or write it down, but really feel that gratitude, allowing it to fill the space that now exists within you. The gratitude does not need to tie back into what was just released, but should feel genuine, and might even bring a smile to your face.

Repeat this exercise every couple of days until you feel like the forgiveness has truly sunk in throughout your body and mind.

Burning Bowl Ritual:
There are a variety of different ways to do this ritual, which is often practiced when something is coming to an end as a way of releasing the past before the new work can begin.

Gather together a few materials that you’ll need for this ritual: a candle, a lighter or matches, a pad of paper or slips of paper, a pen, a bowl to catch the ashes. Optional: tweezers, sage.

Write down on individual pieces of paper all of the things that you are ready to release, from an old belief or pattern to a person. Keep in mind that releasing a person does not have to mean that you are rejecting them from your life but it is an acknowledgment that they are on their own path as you are on yours. When you are finished writing things down, take a few moments to relax, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths to allow any last nuggets to come to mind.

Light the candle you have in front of you. You might choose to say a little prayer, whatever comes to mind about your intention for this ritual. Pick up the first piece of paper, holding onto just the corner. (Optional: use tweezers to hold the pieces of paper to protect your fingers from the flame.) Read what is written on the paper, saying out loud that you are ready to release this belief, pattern, person, etc. Affirm what you accept into your life, the positive thing you’d like to see manifest with this release. For example, if the thing you are releasing is your debt, then you’d say something like: “I release this debt. I know that I am prosperous and I am now living my life from that place of abundance.” Allow this affirmation to sink in as you place the slip of paper in the candle’s flame. Watch the words burn and feel the sensation of release of this concept, allowing the ashes to fall into the bowl in front of you.

Repeat this process with each of the slips of paper you have written on until all has been released. You might choose to take this opportunity to burn some sage to cleanse the residue of what you’ve released from yourself and the room. Do something that feels ceremonious with the ashes–some people like to bury them, I’m okay with just washing them down the drain. Again, you might want to take a moment to do say a prayer affirming your intentions.

I do this ritual periodically, about once every other month or so, depending on what is coming up for me at the moment. There is no right or wrong way to do this–sometimes I’ve done them two days in a row because I remembered more things I needed to release or I felt like something was especially sticky. Just do what feels good here.

Recommended Reading:
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
Radical Forgiveness, by Colin Tipping
True Balance, by Sonia Choquette

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Happy Valentine’s Day! February 14, 2008

Filed under: practice — jennsheridan @ 9:41 pm
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I love Google’s doodles, the way they play with their logo on google.com for holidays and whatnot. Today’s is especially sweet. It reminds me of our friends Rhoda and Sydney, not because they’re like that image really, but because they are the one example I can think of a couple who has been together for more than 50 years and who are still utterly devoted to each other. They’re truly inspirational.

Today, I am running behind schedule. I had high aspirations for what I was going to accomplish today, but that all went out the window when I decided that it was time to reorganize the “pantry” area in my kitchen or else. Honestly, it was a highly cost effective use of my time, and I feel so much lighter for having done it, but now I’m trying to squeeze in a 3 mile walk, grocery shopping, bathing, and making dinner in the remainder of my afternoon, all while remembering that today is a day to open up your heart and to experience all of the love that is in the world. I’m not really Valentine’s Day’s biggest fan, but it seems like a good excuse for me this year to practice opening up, romance, and loving unconditionally, and to notice all the sweetness and beauty around me. Enjoy.

 

The grounding, Part II February 7, 2008

This process of grounding is truly a process. While I did finish the task I set out to accomplish yesterday, it did not leave me with the feeling of relief and order that I was hoping for. The good news is that I can now be lazy and not have to look for things (ha ha ha). The bad news is that it seems the whole apartment needs this type of overhaul. Our place is pretty small and our hobbies tend to take up a lot of space. The office bears the brunt of this and until we have more room in which to set up a system of organization that can actually be maintained, order really needs to be restored fairly regularly or we just have to live with the consequences. Office aside, the kitchen really needs to be tackled, and then when that’s done, I should really do something about old magazines, and then go through the paperbacks to see which ones can be donated to new homes, and then there are closets that need some reorienting, and then . . .

When does it end? At what point does getting organized become just being a perfectionist, or only seeing what’s wrong instead of being able to see what’s right? Or is that just “all or nothing” thinking, where if one thing is organized then everything else should be, and if one thing is disorganized everything might as well be? And what about Nietzsche’s discovery, “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star” — where is there room for my creative chaos?

As with everything else, it seems, I need to find a balance here. Order enables me to be still, to reduce distractions, to see clearly, and chaos enables me to mix things up, to get silly and crazy and messy and see what happens. Order provides the grounding so that when I am open at the top, truly connected to that divine creativity that is calling me to expand, I can be stretched yet maintain my connection to the earth. One of the reasons I love Yael Naim’s Far Far so much is that she’s talking about that birthing process, praying for something to happen to her, feeling the beautiful mess inside and recognizing where it will lead. “I guess I’ll have to give it birth / To give it birth / There’s a beautiful mess inside and it’s everywhere.” Sometimes things have to get messy before we can get clear, but that mess needs space in which it can live and breathe and feel safe once the birthing process is complete.

So I will continue to ground myself, to get organized and nurture myself and my family. And I will continue to reach out into the stars, to let things get a little messy and see where it leads, knowing that I have laid the foundation that makes it possible for me to find order and clarity when I need to. Namaste.

 

The grounding, Part I February 6, 2008

Filed under: practice — jennsheridan @ 10:04 pm
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I have made such a mess. As part of my grounding work, I decided it was time to tackle a project I’ve been putting off since I quit my job — the filing cabinet. Now, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I already had a filing cabinet that just needed reorganizing. Taking something that was once organized and making it organized yet again is right up my alley. This undertaking is much larger, and more daunting, hence the postponement. Since we replaced the furniture in the office last spring, our files, as well as just about everything else that was in some sort of drawer previously, have been living in moving boxes underneath my desk. Add to that the utter chaos created by thoughts like, Oh, I can just figure out where to put this when I organize the filing cabinet, and you’ve got a pretty big mess. And cleaning it up makes an even bigger mess — the floor of my office is now completely full of little piles of stuff that need homes to be found.

My flight responses are kicking in pretty hard. I’m thinking of all the other things I could be doing right now — physical therapy, clothes shopping, applying for jobs — stuff that usually I’m incredibly resistant to that now sounds like the most fun I could possibly be having. I gave myself permission to take a break, to do a quick post, but then I’m diving back in.

The good news is that this is a wonderful exercise in ordering my life and my mind. I had to file some of the easier stuff, just to make room on the floor, and with it came a sense of calm. I can imagine what finishing will feel like, and I feel the beginning inkling of joy with those thoughts, but that can be distracting too. In the meantime, I have to just keep focused on the task at hand, keep plugging away at throwing things out, sorting things into piles of like concepts, seeing the order in the midst of the chaos.

I know that this exercise is part of my grounding process, but it feels like you have to completely unground first in order to find your center, to locate even ground on which you might ultimately find stable footing. It’s a little disorienting, but I trust in the end result, and in my ability to see Truth behind appearances. Glad I honed that skill ages ago — it is definitely coming in handy now! Namaste.

 

Order out of chaos January 14, 2008

Filed under: practice — jennsheridan @ 11:46 pm
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Today felt a bit like the universe was saying, “Oh yeah? Let’s see if you really mean that.” After the joy of last week’s spring cleaning, I’ve been stoked to tackle a few other organization projects that are ready and waiting for me around the house. First up? The linen closet. I never knew you could cram so much stuff into such a small space. It had gotten so bad that the past few weeks whenever I needed to put something in there, I would just open the door, take whatever was in my hand and shove it into the first available space. It was literally overflowing. It didn’t feel like that long ago since I’d tackled at least the shelf with the medicines and toiletries, but it might as well have been last millennium with the state it was in. I vowed that no matter what else came up today, I would tackle that linen closet.

Remembering the last time I’d cleaned it out, I was thinking it was an hour long job, maybe two at the outside. I got in there and started pulling stuff out and pulling stuff out and pulling stuff out until I didn’t have any place to put the contents any more. But I knew that the shelves needed to be cleaned off and the carpet vacuumed so I just kept going until the closet was completely empty… and my home was an absolute disaster. By the time the closet was clean and I was ready to even begin throwing things away, let alone putting stuff back in, I’d been working for over an hour. I was beginning to understand the enormity of the task I’d taken on and it was feeling completely overwhelming. I’d like to be able to say that I saw the gift in this situation as it was happening, but I didn’t — I ended up sharing my overwhelment with my mother and husband, aka complaining. My mother, in all her wisdom, reminded me that this experience was a metaphor for life — sometimes you have to mess things up before you can start seeing the results you are looking for. Just what I needed to hear!

This is exactly the way life works. We recognize that things in our life aren’t working out the way we want them to, but we know that change can be disruptive. Moving towards our goals might even make the things we already have and enjoy in our life appear to disappear, and so all too often we stay in a place that feels less than or stuck instead of taking the steps necessary to reach a place of freedom, of more. These small scale examples are life’s reminders that even in the midst of great chaos, there is always a divine order waiting for us to discover it. So go ahead, make a big mess of things, it’s okay. When you come out the other side all you will be able to see is how everything fits into place beautifully.

I really have to learn to take before shots for comparison purposes, but here’s an after picture of my much calmer, orderly linen closet. Aaaah… definitely worth it!