breathe in, breathe out

 

Today is this rare occasion when I find myself home alone. It’s a scorcher of a day! Still, I decide to sit outside, a stack of books next to me on the table, phone put away, a glass of iced coffee. I pick up the first book, Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh. I haven’t read this in a while and given how I’ve been feeling lately, I need the reminder. First chapter … Breathe! You Are Alive and within the first few pages the reminder for Conscious Breathing.

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Breathe In, Breathe Out!

“Recognize your in-breath as an in-breath and your out-breath as an out-breath. This technique can help you keep your mind on your breath. As you practice, your breath will become peaceful and gentle, and your mind and body will also become peaceful and gentle. This is not a difficult exercise. In just a few minutes you can realize the fruit of meditation.” ~ Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hahn

I begin to practice and soon I become very still. My senses open up to the world around me. I can hear the light breeze, the leaves flattering and a myriad birds chatting away. A motorcycle revving up far away, the sound of a passing car, the indistinct voices of people next door. The sound of my breath and the dog panting next to me. I offer her some water.

There are bees humming, ants hurrying along, a hummingbird visits the salvia.

I feel the heat on my skin, and I become aware of my ever present thoughts, crashing through my mind, violating every speed limit known to man. I become aware of the constant busyness in my mind and my body.

Do I ever stop thinking about what I need to do next? I wonder. It seems there’s an ongoing to-do list clicking away, at all times. My mind is jumping from one thing to the next and its speed is affecting my breathing. My body following suit is in constant motion, up and down, up and down, always something demanding my attention, always something to do.

Breathe In, Breathe Out!

How did it come to this? Have I always been this way?  Have I been conditioned, was I born this way, or both?

There’s sadness bubbling up. I stay with it and watch it turn into happiness. I am alive! This day is brimming with life. Everything is breathing with me. I sit, watching everything coming and going, breathing in, breathing out.

Eventually, it gets too hot and I need to get up, drink some water. I decide to write about this moment, mostly for me, because I want to remember. Why is it so easy to forget that what I need the most is time to myself? I need this time when all I do is breathe in, breathe out and watch the world breathe with me.

Today is a good day. I sat with myself and got quiet. Eventually, the house will fill up again, life happens every moment and I hope I can take this feeling with me into tomorrow.

As Thay writes, “Just breathing and smiling can make us very happy, because when we breathe consciously we recover ourselves completely and encounter life in the present moment.”

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fluent

FLUENT

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

~ John O’Donohue from Conamara Blues

That’s my life right there, in seventeen glorious words, strung together the John O’Donohue way.

The image of the river, flowing, contained by its banks that may or may not hold, carrying on, receiving, reflecting, flooding and even drying up at times, being an integral part of an ever changing landscape, isn’t that right there how we live our lives?

When it comes to it, this lifetime has been flowing from one surprise to the next with barely enough time to catch my breath in between.

Today is a special day, a milestone anniversary kind of day. I find myself looking back and reflecting on how I arrived to this very moment.

I don’t remember every single detail and happening. Memories are playful things. Some are stubborn and refuse to give up the space they occupy. Others are gliding through and occasionally stop by to say hello. And, there are memories that, like chameleons, adjust and evolve as time passes. They show me that how I view a past event really depends on who I am in this moment and how far I’ve come in my personal evolution. What looked real and even painful thirty years ago is softened by life experience and an altered point of view thirty years later.

Today’s anniversary is a solid life event, the kind that changes one’s trajectory yet, for as solid as this event is, there’s nothing predictable about the way it has unfolded.  It’s no wonder that when I came across John O’Donohue’s poem, it took my breath away.

What’s next, I wonder. What kind of surprise awaits around the bend?

I’m curious, what feelings and thoughts does this poem invoke for you?

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waiting to be inspired

It’s been four years, ten months, and six days since my last entry. I could ask, ‘Where did time go?” but there’s no need to. I know exactly where time went and what happened and I deeply feel the effects of the events that transpired during this time.

There were profound losses; first my father, mother and twin sister, then my mentor and, most recently, my childhood friend.

There were milestones; the girls leaving for college and Neal deciding when to retire. I found myself unable to do anything other than chop wood, carry water … good old Van the man has nothing on me. I suspended my coaching practice and got a part-time job. I needed a break. Badly.

The girls have officially entered their senior year in college and they are pretty much in control of their lives. Neal is two years away from retirement and I catch myself thinking and dreaming about all sorts of things.

I’m reflecting on the ways these last five years have altered me. There are days when I’m not sure of who I am.  Often, I have this certainty that I’m on my way to becoming the person I couldn’t even dream of being  ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Some of you can resonate with this, I’m sure.

Once again, I’m faced with a whole range of possibilities that can only be available to me at this stage of my life. The choices I’m about to entertain would never have appeared while wearing my “old pair of shoes” or the various hats I’ve been donning these past thirty years.

My role and priorities have changed. I’m not focused on adjusting to a new country and culture or to my role as wife and mother. I’m not in corporate anymore nor am I the fledgling entrepreneur trying to figure out how to succeed in an ever changing business landscape.

People have come and gone from my life. Each of them left a mark. I see me more clearly these days. The dark, the light and in between, my illusions, my doubts, the stories I’ve been part of. I miss writing. I miss doing the things I loved before the marathon of goodbyes began. I know I can’t go back in time but I can do what I can, where I stand today.

So, here we are, four years, ten months, and six days later, I’m sitting down to write again. Where am I going with this? I’m not sure but I don’t need to know today.

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morning meditations

Early morning and I heard rain was coming. The peonies are in full bloom and already weighed down. They’re going to get damaged by the rain so I’d better cut some and bring them in the house. Off I go, clippers in hands when I see a ladybug sitting on one of the young, unopened peony blooms.

Change of plans. Running to get camera. What a treat!

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I begin to notice the magical activity taking place in the garden early in the morning. The bees are working hard already. Nepeta and the roses seem to be their destination of choice.

 

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The Tradescantia is sparkling.

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The evening primrose shines among the blue Nepeta and the pink peonies and roses.

 

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It all started with the idea of bringing some blooms in the house. It’s now evolving into a walking meditation; a gift and a reminder to tune in and pay close attention. That’s how beauty reveals itself to us.

And, yes, I do bring some peonies in. I arrange them in a vase and make myself a cup of tea. I sit on the porch to enjoy . . . while I still can.

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on driftwood and other finds

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It’s been raining today on the island. I went for my morning walk a little later than usual. The girls had asked us to wake them up so they could go for a run while Neal and I took our walk. Not the best idea, in retrospect. I found myself getting pulled into a long conversation about the day. As expected, the girls are less than excited about the prospect of a rainy day.

I find myself going down a familiar path; trying to make them happy and help them discover the gift of a rainy day; not the easiest task with two sixteen year olds.

I feel my mood changing and I stop on my tracks. It doesn’t have to be this way today. The girls are old enough to be alone and find their way through this morning. This is their big chance to practice that independence they’ve been talking about lately.

Today, I’m making a different choice and decide to go my way.

When I’m on this island, every moment is a precious moment. I put my raincoat on and head for the beach. Not many people here today. The water is rough and soon my shoes and pants are wet. Fine by me. One less thing to worry about. Off with the shoes. I usually walk barefoot anyway.

Yota

I spot a large piece of driftwood taken by the waves from the shore. Of all the finds on a beach, I think I like driftwood the best. As I watch the waves pushing it here and there, I’m reminded of Tolkien’s words . . . “Not all who wander are lost.” This piece of driftwood seems to be left at the whim of the sea and waves yet, one day. it will find its corner of beach to rest, transformed, smooth, whitewashed, and light. People will walk by and look at it with wonder. “How beautiful,” they’ll say. “Look at the intricacies of its bark, it feels so smooth!”

Having being battered by the sea, the piece of driftwood will finally claim its place on a stretch of sand and bear witness to those who come by.

This beach will never look the way it looks today. The transformative power of water and shifting sand won’t allow it. Each moment is unique. That’s its nature.

My footprints are erased as soon as I make them. Each step a new step. I’m walking on the edge, where the waves meet the sand. As the landscape changes, I’m given the choice to walk on higher ground and avoid getting wet. As in life, I can decide when to engage with what comes my way. Sometimes, I don’t have a choice but more often than not, I do. Sometimes, it’s OK to avoid getting wet, if you can.

The rain becomes stronger and I pull my hood over my head. It falls low on my face and I can’t see ahead as well. I focus on what’s right in front of me. One step at a time, waves in and out, rocks and sand, seaweed and a few broken shells. Rocks of all sizes everywhere. I lift my head to look ahead. It all looks so different than yesterday morning; clad in grey mist and falling rain.

On my way back, I take a few moments to sit on a large piece of driftwood and just be. A young couple comes by. They stop to take some pictures and soon they’re on their way. I dry my feet as best I can, shake the sand of my wet shoes and head for the bakery. Time for a hot cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant. I may go visit the library. It looks really inviting today and I love the sign by the entrance.

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a time for me

Waking up on the first morning of our vacation, I was greeted by the view of the sunrise over the harbor. Mary Oliver’s words came to mind:

“Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning and
spread it over the fields . . .Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”

I sat for meditation as the sun traveled up the horizon, its warmth increasing, coming through the open window. After meditation, Neal and I head to the bakery; a ritual we repeat every time we visit. We wake up early, go to the Old Post Office Bagel Shop, grab a cup of coffee and head to the beach for a long walk.


There are very few people on the beach this early in the morning. Some faces are familiar – having crossed paths with them before – most are friendly; we smile and wish each other a good morning as we walk by. Older people appear to be more inclined to making eye contact and smiling. Sometimes, we cross paths with someone who’s lost in thought, lips tight, looking away, removed. We all bring our stories with us.

Today, we meet a young man from Chicago. His dog decides to adopt us and walks with us, so he too joins us for a while.  He shares that he visits every summer with his family. His wife’s mother has been coming here since 1948.

I wonder how the island looked back in 1948. Change happens slowly here. There is a warm familiarity to this place; it reminds me of a lovingly used old chair; the most comfortable and welcoming one in a home. You can count on it receiving you in a warm, uncomplicated manner, time and again. Every time you sit on it, it feels just right. That’s how I feel when I’m here; like I’ve never left. Over the years and through many life changes, I’ve learned to treasure this feeling.

 

 

Maybe that’s why I come back. There are no expectations or pressure for me to be anything other than who I choose to be in the moment.

There’s no history and no emotional barb wires here. There’s the watery expanse, sunrise and sunset, friendly strangers on the beach, the hours succeeding one another, leisurely. I can be as quiet as I please and observe my mental patterns.

Gone are the days of jam packing my vacation with things to do and places to visit. These days, I’m content watching the world go by, preferably as I listen to the waves and feel the warm sun on my skin.

My sixteen year old daughter will have none of that. She thinks I’m quiet and boring. How can I possibly avoid making plans and wish to enjoy time alone? Why on earth do I wake up at the crack of dawn to go to the beach and why, oh why, don’t I want to be there when the crowds descend? I have tried to answer her questions but I think it’s wiser to stop trying. She’ll have to find her own answers when she’s ready.

These days, it’s quiet time alone I crave the most. As I walk along this quiet stretch of beach, it’s my own inner voice that takes front seat. I want to hear what this woman has to say to me. There isn’t much time for her usually.

My attention is constantly drawn outside of myself. For now, I’m grateful for being a stranger among strangers. No one expects anything from me. I choose to believe that, the smiles my fellow travelers and I exchange this morning, are smiles of recognition and welcoming. We share the same secret.

“Isn’t this divine? Just us and the sea doing her thing. Enjoy!”

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same lesson . . . time and again

About twelve years ago, when I was trying to decide which direction to steer Open for Success towards, the message that kept coming to me was . . . “Keep it simple!”

Over the years and through many trials, when I’d find myself plagued with doubt, I would remember and set myself straight. When in doubt, keep it simple!

About two weeks ago, I facilitated a retreat for nine women at my home. It was lovely and profound for all of us. As I was preparing for the retreat, I decided to create small card bookmarks with words and phrases printed on them. The retreat participants picked randomly and used the messages they received for contemplation. It was great! Everyone seemed to receive the perfect message.

At the end of the day and as I was cleaning up, I noticed there were two bookmarks left on a table. Since I hadn’t picked a message for me, I took them and placed them on my altar in the kitchen.

They were . . . “Keep it simple!” and “There are no wrong turns!” I took a deep breath as I was confronted with the synchronicity and the realization that even though I facilitated the retreat, I was a participant too and there was a lesson for me to contemplate.

“There are no wrong turns” is my husband’s favorite catch phrase. He reminds me of this often. As I have already confessed, I am the one who works really hard to have things be just so whereas he tends to be more casual and light footed. I love that about him! It’s a gift and I’m happy he’s willing to share it with me.

I remember, when we first met, twenty eight years ago, he wanted to show me around  and we would take long rides and try to discover special places we could share. Invariably, we would get lost and I’d start to worry and he’d say . . . “Don’t worry love, there are no wrong turns.” It always felt right when he said it to me and it still does.

I’ve been sensing a shift this last year in my work and in my life. At times things move fast and other times I feel as if I’m walking through molasses. It’s been confusing and often frustrating. When I get overwhelmed, I tend to push myself harder and make things worse for myself.

What I can do instead is . . . “keep it simple” because “there are no wrong turns!” It’s counter intuitive, isn’t it? Most of us push harder when we should relax into a situation.

Well, I now have my marching orders . . . again! One day at a time, one step at a time, stay present, open up to your experience, keep it simple and stop worrying. There are no wrong turns!

All images and content Copyright ©2012 Yota Schneider | the art of pausing

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connecting the dots

“You have to be able to be happy in your own company” he says. He appears to be in his seventies and he’s sitting with a younger woman. We’re at the mall where I brought my daughters and a friend of theirs for shopping. I’m not interested in shopping but I don’t want to drive home and back again. I decide to stay, have a cup of coffee, watch the world go by and maybe write.

As I sit down and make myself comfortable I can’t help but listen to his words. Maybe I hear them because they hold meaning for me. I know people who are terrified of being alone. Solitude is a curse for them. “You have to be able to be happy in your own company!” Some people get that, don’t they? To be able to tune out the noise of the world and the distractions that come our way. To embrace silence and become comfortable with solitude. A gift!

Distractions beckon. People have become hypnotized by speed. We have turned into an ADD society. Our attention moves from one thing to another and refuses to linger. Images and messages are coming our way faster and faster. We think and communicate in soundbites. Meanwhile we profess to crave deep, meaningful relationships and connections. Well, it takes longer than a few milliseconds to create deep, meaningful connections and nurture fulfilling relationships.

I’ve grown to like my own company. I welcome solitude. I like to observe human nature, starting with myself. The intricacies of our relationship to self, the way we talk to ourselves, the choice of words, the feelings that follow thoughts. How easy it is to fool ourselves into believing one thing as we do another.

We think and talk in cliches. We revel in other people’s wise words but do not allow the essence of the words to penetrate the surface. We buy into the personality ethic and forget to look for the truth.

My daughter held my face in her hands, this morning, examining it closely. She noticed my lines and then came up with suggestions about “taking some years off.” “This is the 21st century,” she said. “Does it bother you not looking young anymore?” “It doesn’t bother me,” I answered. “I accept it. This is who I am today. I’m not twenty anymore and I like it.” She shook her head. How is that possible?

We are confusing ourselves to no end. We want to freeze time and look young –  forever. We want to speed time when we don’t like something. We want to stretch time because 24 hours in a day are never enough. Yet time is time. It keeps flowing, unconcerned, detached, unaware of our little dramas. We can’t grasp, alter, hasten or slow time. Time is the great equalizer. It just is.

There is one thing we can control and that’s our relationship to time. It’s like any other relationship. The more we try to control, shape, avoid, or manipulate, the more elusive the object of our obsession becomes.

We can choose what to do with the time we have. We can choose to let go of the illusion of control. We can make different choices and we can accept what is. We can stop yelling at the weather and see what we can do with what is given to us. That would be a good first step to nurturing a healthy, mutually supportive relationship, don’t you think?

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along came a stranger

This time my “teacher” happened to be a middle aged woman in a dark suit and the loudest gum chewing style I’ve ever encountered.

You’re probably already thinking: “What is she talking about?”

Have you noticed how we come across certain people, in the course of a day or a lifetime, who seem to enter the stage for the mere reason of pointing out something we need to pay attention to? It’s not meant to be a pleasant interaction and often, neither we nor that person may be aware of what exactly happened, at that precise moment. It’s not until later, if and when we’ve had the chance to contemplate and reflect upon what happened, that we may have an aha moment.

Well, that’s the kind of experience I’ve had the other day, when I decided to go shopping for tea and honey.

She and I entered the store together and soon after that we met at the tea and coffee aisle. I was looking at the various teas, trying to decide, when the crackling sound gum makes when somebody chews with their mouth open, made me turn. It was like nails on the blackboard. My whole body contracted at the sound. Did I mention that chewing gum this way, in public, is a pet peeve of mine? I guess gum chewing etiquette was drilled into me early on and it’s here to stay.

Here I was, standing there with this total stranger next to me chewing gum and my “back went up.” How is it possible to have this strong  a reaction about something so trivial? My mood had changed within seconds.

I picked up a couple of teas and left as quickly as I could. I walked around the store picking a few other things. And then, the whole thing got really interesting. Everywhere I went, this woman followed me – chewing away! I just couldn’t escape her!

I headed to the register, paid for the few things I had, and left the store. As I drove back home, I reflected upon this random experience that caused such intense reaction on my part.

  • What had just happened?
  • Where did this strong reaction come from?
  • Do I really think I’m above annoyance over the little things?
  • How often does my mood get affected by trivial stuff? Is it worth it?
  • How often do I run away from that which annoys me? What would happen if I stuck with it?
  • How often do I run away from an unpleasant experience and why?
  • Who decides whether I stay or go? Is it reason, emotion or both?

Some of the questions are easier to answer and others will evolve over time. The truth is . . . I’m not above annoyance over trivial stuff. Yes, I try to be mindful and I’ve been practicing for a long time. This allows me to be present to what happened but it doesn’t mean I got it all figured out. On the contrary! I’m becoming more and more aware of the fact that my work never ends. It just becomes more interesting!

What is your experience and what are you learning about yourself?

Blessings!

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this day

I’m grateful for sitting practice. Breathing the sound of the bell, in and out, following it deeper and deeper. I found myself expanding, becoming one with the sound. For a moment, there were no boundaries, only the sound . . . expanding, vibrating through space, and I with it.

I’m grateful for the morning fog that gave way to sunny skies, for my daughter’s loving words, the smile on my client’s face, hot tea and toast, birthday celebrations, good friends, nourishing food and the beauty that surrounds me.

 

I’m grateful for the rose bush in my yard that’s gone on a blooming spree. “I’m still here, look at me, touch my blooms, enjoy the fragrance and remember . . . I’ll be back.” The viburnum is filled with red pods, eagerly providing for the birds before the darkness and cold of winter. The wisdom of nature; nothing ever goes to waste and for everything there’s a purpose.

As I walked toward my car, I looked down and saw that the garden had been busy trying new things. A sculpture of moss, twig, a fallen bloom and wayward leaves. Left undisturbed for days, they made this stone their canvas. Nature being playful and oh-so creative! I’m reminded of how, we too, when given space, we can create all kinds of beauty out of the raw material of our lives.

Earlier in the morning, these words found me . . . “Nothing is worth more than this day” by Goethe. No wonder . . .

In gratitude!

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