January 12, 2014
I live in the middle of New York state. This week of weather has been insane…mild, cold, rain, snow,wind. Right now we are dealing with flooding. The frigid temperatures have caused our creeks and streams to freeze, creating ice jams that are now melting. The result is flooding. Flooding of streets and homes.
My friend in California is already experiencing drought conditions.
Someone posted on Facebook an image of Mercury spinning. Another friend posted a photograph from one of our National Parks. The Hubble space telescope sends back pictures from the edge of the universe.
My daughter visited family in Oregon and made sweet young children laugh with joy.
My forehead looks like a sci-fi costume as I am being treated for Actinic keratosis.
I heard an owl the other night.
On Friday I made the most delicious millet cakes for dinner.
People can fly to space and walk on the moon. We live on a sphere that spins and zips round the sun. Technology has given us computers and the internet. Diseases get cured. Death comes in a blink of an eye. Birth happens every day.
We cry. We laugh. We sleep. We experience emotions. We hug. Run. Float. Climb. Dance. Sit and walk.
We have the capacity to love and to hate.
Every single moment there is something miraculous happening in us, with us, to us, around us. Still we feel bored. Restless. Unhappy. Unfulfilled.
Perhaps if we stopped. And looked around and saw. If we paused to understand the things that are on the edge of miraculous that are happening every single moment of each day…maybe we would stand in awe and wonder instead of restlessness and searching. If we were quiet enough we might hear the sound of a snowflake falling, or a tree creaking in the wind. Or a cat purring. Or a baby snoring. Perhaps if we could hear our own breath and feel the beating of our heart and understand the profound significance of those things, we would sigh and experience wonder.
~ Papaji ~
Maybe in a moment of silence today, you, I, will be able to witness the miraculous that is all around us. All the time.(all photographs are by me, Kathryn Howlett)
December 8, 2013
“Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.”
~Bill Morgan, Jr.
It’s early December and winter has crept out of her summer hibernation. Snow fell softly last night, laying her blanket over already sleeping grasses and flowers.
This is always a reflective time of year for me. While childhood memories of summer are many, the memories of winter bring stronger emotions to the surface.
I can close my eyes and smell the pungent scent of evergreens in the church. I can see the flowers of Christmas, the showy red and white poinsettias. Soft lights everywhere, shining and glittering like stars. The sounds of traditional and ancient music and song, stirred my heart. I remember wishing my mother wouldn’t find a parking spot for a few more minutes so I could continue to look out the car window and watch the people lightly stepping over snowbanks, and see the lights and street decorations of our little town. Shop windows held puppets, elves, princesses, nutcracker princes, polar bears and icicles. Red ribbons and bows were everywhere.
I remember that our house also was adorned for the season. The sliding glass doors in the living room became the canvas for the Nativity that my mother would paint every year. The colors of blue, green, yellow and brown blended in to the colors of living room, making me feel like the life sized Mary, Joseph and newborn Jesus were guests in our home. At night a colored spot light outside would turn pure white snow into drifts of muted red or blue.
On the ornate carved oak “buffet” was a seemingly magical gingerbread house. It was just high enough to be at eye level for me. I would look in through the windows while the subtle perfume of ginger spice transported me to an imaginary place where all houses were made of gingerbread. Every year I hoped I would see the children who lived in these sepia colored houses peek out at me through the windows.
On the mantel leaned a glitter draped Advent calender that my great aunt Mimi would send every year from Switzerland. As each cardboard Advent window was opened it revealed a wondrous scene that was like a little tease saying, “wait till you see what tomorrow’s picture will be!” The glitter would cover my hands and end up everywhere as if to say throughout the day “Don’t forget to open a new window tomorrow.”
Over near the dining room was the “record player”. It was housed in a sleek console that complimented the modern Danish dining room set.
I could barely reach into the console to turn it on, but I would stretch and turn that dial and watch the record begin to spin and the needle drop. Then I would sit in front of the speakers listening to vibrant voices and look at the cover of the records and drift away to places that were only reachable during December of every year. That one picture on the cover was enough to kindle my imagination through the whole length of the record.
My mom would usually knit sweaters and make bow ties for the “boys and men”. I remember lots of plaid ties. Often they had little sprigs of tiny red holly berries.
When Christmas morning finally came I would wait patiently sitting on top of a floor vent with my flannel nightgown stretched over my bent knees. The warm air would inflate my nightgown like a balloon and I felt as if I might float away. We had to wait until dad was ready with his movie camera. Then we would line up and walk into the living room to see what Santa had brought. I remember board games, new blue skis, a Thumbelina doll, Barbies, Cecil the puppet and Gumby.
Mary and Joseph watched silently as the living room floor became a sea of wrapping paper and ribbon. The house smelled of Christmas tree. Over in the dining room the record player sang Christmas songs.
Then we would get all dressed up and head to church. It was always stuffed to overflowing. Perfume, pine and frankincense soaked into our wool coats and sweaters and remained with us all day. The lights were dimmed and the sanctuary sparkled. The organ player coaxed air through the pipes till it vibrated and became music. The choir sang songs that I still have memorized by heart. People in the aisles and pews reached hands and arms out to greet one another and it was hard not to feel loved by everyone.
Later in the day, turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy nestled in silver serving bowls and trays and we bowed our heads for grace. In the fireplace the fire crackled and warmed the room.
Memories are funny things. I’m sure my siblings have a different take on the scenes I have described. I also remember Christmases when I did not get what I wanted and the magic didn’t feel so strong. Disappointment dulled the senses. Back in the 60’s Christmas was about gifts, but with life sized Mary and Joseph as family members, limited TV and few or no Christmas specials, it felt gentler than it seems to feel now. I believed in the birth of a babe that guided the hearts of people everywhere. The season of Holy Days moved more slowly.
My own children are grown now. We are redefining what this time of year means to us now as a family. Gifts aren’t so important. Church doesn’t seem to fit. As I write this post, I am grateful for the childhood memories, and for the memories I have of my children experiencing Christmas when they were young. For me, this time of year has become more about going inward. Of finding gratitude and awareness for what we are “given” every day. Given in the love we receive from friends and family, in the softness and beauty of new fallen snow, of a sparkling star in the night sky, or a crescent moon. Given in abundance we find in the grocery stores and restaurants. Given in the service we receive from cashiers, garbage collectors, road crews, doctors, factory workers and everyone else. Given in the freedom we have to celebrate whatever is dear to our hearts in a way that has meaning to us personally. Given to us by this planet that nourishes our souls, waters and feeds our body, provides us with shelter and medicine and air that fills our lungs. Given in the potential for us to be tolerant, compassionate, hard working, contributing, empathetic, forgiving , accepting individuals. Given in looking into the eyes of our children, spouse, loved ones and knowing that is enough.
Given in the possibility that what we have is enough.
May you be content, healthy, and filled to the brim with love and gratitude.
“Winter came down to our house one night……….and we were children, once again.”
October 4, 2013
Still floating along after a few days in silent retreat. Processing. Thinking. Realizing I took a fork in the road slightly divergent from where I thought I was going. Now I find myself kind of recalculating like a GPS system. Where exactly am I going anyhow?
I am going to where I am right now.
I scrolled through lots of search results: Toni Packer, Krishnamurti, meditative inquiry, mantras, Buddhism, ………I found myself reading less and less thoroughly. The words were getting muddled. My mind was doing some self talk: “yeah…I know that.”, “OK, I get that.”, “How am I supposed to do THAT?”.
I tried to translate the information. Tried to have it make sense.
And then I stopped. Just stopped. There weren’t any answers on the internet. Certainly none on Pinterest!! LOL!! Reading some books helped to clarify a few things.
Ultimately, it, whatever “it” is, has to come from me, by me, for me. And what I am trying to understand, to achieve, is how to simply be with this moment. This moment. This moment. Only this moment.
Letting the moment that just ended, pass. Allowing the moment I am anticipating ahead not be rushed into existence. How to balance that with the “life I lead.” The one with a job, children, a husband, balancing, responsibility, being tired, being cranky, being happy……
So, this subtle little fork in the road that I am now traveling upon, where will it take me? I don’t know. Right now it has taken me to right here. That’s a good place to be.
I am aware there was something I had to do a few minutes ago, and that in another moment I will have to get up to attend to something else. I’m trying to let that past moment be done, and not give too much importance to the moment coming up. My joy now becomes to be aware of every moment of attending to that “thing.” To hopefully be able to just do it with no labeling or words.
I’m picking up this edit a few days later and wanted to quote something from Toni Packer’s book The Wonder of Presence. It’s about being present with the moment, not caught up in the drama of words, emotions, our “stories”, but being aware:
“…We have thought like that for eons and behave accordingly, but at this moment can there be just the sound of the swaying tress and the rustling leaves and fresh air from the open window on the skin? It’s not happening to anyone. It is simply present for all of us, isn’t it?”
“Why bother?” you may ask. Or perhaps you’re thinking: “I don’t get what she’s talking about.”. Or maybe “That’s just a bunch of baloney.”
Well, I’ve come to a point in my life where I want to just be in THIS moment. I’ve had a full life with a wonderful husband, amazing kids and a job I love. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve laughed and experienced great joy. I have cried and felt paralyzing pain. I’ve had the proverbial broken heart. And I’ve had the gift of a wonderful life companion. I have a house, a car, a boat, cats….bills, a bank account…..I “have” a lot.
Now, I want to experience the ‘what is’ of every moment. I want to move beyond the words that create the “story” of what I am living through. I don’t want to live “through”. I want to live in. This moment. THIS moment. I want to let go of the words that are attached to drama, desire, disappointment, anticipation, fear, doubt, anger, happiness, unhappiness, the judging, the labeling, the comparing. I don’t want to live a “story” anymore.
There are memories of things I don’t want to forget, which seems contrary to being present in this moment. I just don’t want the memories to become baggage attached this moment. I don’t want the memories to filter or influence the present. I want the moment to be as it is. By itself.
I want to be present to this moment. This moment. This moment.
Still confused? So am I a little bit. Toni Packer talks about this is many of her books. I have only just begun to discover her and to explore her writings. But at this moment in my life her words are intriguing. I am muddling through, trying to figure out what her words mean. Especially when she says “they are just words.”!!!
I know this isn’t a road that everyone wants to travel. I can’t say I wanted to either. But I came to that fork and I went slightly off course from I thought was the correct way. The real way. The important way. It’s just a way. There will probably be another choice at some point, another fork. But for now, I put one foot in front of the other and try to just be present with that one step.
August 11, 2013
I am a quiet person. I like to be quiet and I like to be surrounded by quiet. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy people and good conversation. I enjoy music and plays and movies. I enjoy the noise of cities and the lull of ocean waves. I am grateful for the bird song that wakes me in the morning, And for me, there is nothing more joyful than the sound of my children’s voices and their laughter.
However, I came across an article written last year that made me go “hmmmmm”.
“In 1998, for example, natural sound recordist Gordon Hempton toured 15 states and found only two-remote parts of Colorado and Minnesota-that were free of such human-made clamor as airplanes, amplified music, chain saws, gunfire, and all-terrain vehicles for more than 15 minutes during daylight hours.
A few years earlier, Hempton had found those same areas to be sanctuaries of the kind of hear-a-pin-drop silence that most Americans under 30 have probably never experienced. Deep silence is critically endangered. As the 21st century unfolds, the mechanical racket of the Industrial Revolution and the electronic beep of the Information Age conspire to obliterate the balm of natural silence that once soothed humankind. Not only does our clatter invade nearly every public space-from beaches to mountains, shopping centers to airports-we seem compelled to let it invade our inner-sanctums of as well. We walk in our front doors and immediately flick on TV sets, radios, computers, or CD players; replay voice mail and answering machines; amuse our children with video games; and push buttons on gadgets we’ve installed in every room of the house.”
(Photo by me, of Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca NY)
There is one restaurant in my town that does not play music. It is like entering a kind of paradise. We can actually sit and relax, talk to each other, eat, hear our server, breathe. We can BE. We can “stop” and think and process. We can hear ourselves and each other.
What is the impact of “loosing” silence in the world? Being alone and silent in many cultures used to be a rite of passage. To be alone with oneself in order to learn who we are from the depths of our spirit. To hear that which IS silent.
“Lost from our daily routines is time to abide calmly with ourselves. That’s too bad, because “quiet alone-time” is where I believe many of us touch the fullness of our possibilities. Clinical studies suggest that a sanctuary of stillness really can restore peace of mind, while reducing stress, expanding insight, and promoting a genuine sense of happiness and well-being.”
I know that for me the “sanctuary of stillness” is very important. Without it I cannot get anywhere near my full potential. I am not happy and do not experience “well-being” without silence in my life.
For me embracing stillness and silence is paramount to my well-being. How about you? Care to share?
June 2, 2013
I live a life that mostly revolves around my job. I work with preschoolers….little 3, 4 and 5 year olds. There is a daily routine, a fairly unvarying menu of social, emotional and developmental scenarios. There are the predictable dramas of someone not wanting to be friends with someone else, someone calling a 4 year old a three year old, and similar grievances.
My days are very ordinary. Predictable.
Yet, as I reflect back on the day’s events I am often amazed at how clearly, how assuredly my own perspective has a direct impact on whether my ordinary day is, well, ordinary, or whether my ordinary day is magic. It’s all me.
So now, as I go about my morning at home I give myself a pep talk. “What surprises will there be today?”. “How am I going to get so-and-so to do such and such”. “How can I make someone laugh, or light up their eyes?” We have to remember:“You may think that in life, a lot of things happen to you along the way. The truth is, in life, you happen to a lot of things along the way.” –Dr. Shad Helmstetter
Sometimes the pep talk includes reminders of traps I don’t want to fall in to. Familiar ruts that take me to the same dull places. We have to break free of established patterns of response and thinking in order for new ideas and solutions to be born. Some days I feel like I am on auto-pilot…..reacting the same way to every situation, and it doesn’t always work in life. Some days I have to make the conscious effort to turn the auto-pilot OFF.
I ask my self “Why?” or “why not?” more often. Why do I do the same thing over and over the same way? Why am I surprised when I get the same response? Is that the response I was looking for? Why not approach the same thing differently and see what happens? Why not try something outside of the box?
I give myself reminders: pause before responding so my responses are not reactionary, but of value. Reminders that everything that happens is not a personal attack on me…on my ego. Funny to think that a 3 year old could make me feel that way….and sometimes it’s the adult co-workers!!“How you choose to respond each moment to the movie of life determines how you see the next frame, and the next, and eventually how you feel when the movie ends.” –Doc Childre
Reminders to pause as to whether my response brings something to the table (necessary) , is it kind, is it truthful?“When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.” ~ Buddha
When I am thoughtful about the choices I can make during the day, my day is “different”. When I practice patience and kindness, compassion and creativity, others respond differently too. It isn’t hard. It just takes some practice and being mindful. It requires I give up reacting, and instead respond with something thoughtful.
Ordinary days become magical. Ordinary days become extraordinary days. Ordinary days become a gift. Something to look forward to.
July 21, 2012
“Contentment is the greatest treasure.”― Lao Tzu
Ease of mind. Comfort of mind. The opposite of dis-ease: without ease.
When we experience dis-ease, it is difficult to live up to our potential. We become burdened with wants and desires that diminish the parts of our lives that are of the highest value.
Contentment is sometimes used interchangeably with happiness. They are two subtly different things.
When you’re happy, it’s really a state of being, influenced by a number of factors, including contentedness.
Contentedness, on the other hand, is a matter of being satisfied with what you have. It focuses on what you have and don’t have instead of just being a state of being. It influences happiness. However, you can choose to be content, just as you can choose to be happy, and if you choose to be content, you will be happy.
I don’t ever mean to sound like there is a magic button called “choose” that you just push and make everything better. I know it is harder than that. However, I do believe that by making one different choice in one circumstance you can begin to develop the strength and power to choose differently.
I believe contentment is an example of this. You can choose to be satisfied with what you have instead of filling up the pintrest board with things you want and feeling sad that you can’t have them all at once. Of course it is great to work towards something, but will the attainment of that “thing” make you happier”? Every time you want or need something it is a pinch from the world of disappointment: saying, hey remember, ” I can not be happy and content if I don’t have a new red car.” Why not take the first step in altering your perception and as you climb into your worn, but functional car, and say to yourself, “I am grateful to have a car.” Find contentment in what you have.
As with everything in life we need to find a healthy balance. In this case the balance between contentment and desire and longing. We all struggle with this.
When we get so caught up with “working at” being happy/content are we forfeiting the opportunity to be happy and/or content? Do we become lost and unable to see the potential for happiness and contentment that is all around us.
Looking for “ease-of-mind”? Contentment? Begin where you are and be grateful. Know why you are saving for something, why you “have to have” something….keep desire for “having more” or something “else”, at an arms length, and see where those things fit into your choice of working towards being content/happy. Keep it real.
April 28, 2012
Mind chatter is the mind noise that never stops. It is the inner conversation or inner monologue that constantly goes on in the mind.
We are often unaware of this mental noise, because it has become a deeply embedded habit, something we may consider to be just a part of life.
Mind Chatter is like an inner voice that constantly analyzes everything about our lives, surroundings and the people we know. It is a voice in the head that just keeps talking and talking! It starts sometimes before we even open our eyes in the morning making a mental list of what we need to do, and follows us through the day, and is even with us when we close our eyes in bed, wishing something different had been done or said. It happens when we gossip, or think negative thoughts about others.
These thoughts can loop, go round and round, over and over. How lucky we are if this “broken record” thought is a positive one! What a struggle it is if it is a negative thought filled with worry, stress, anger or frustration. How horrible to have that noise chattering away inside our head all day long. We really could do without it!
The first step to quieting this chatter, is to realize it exists! Then we have to sort out if it is our True Self talking, or is it our sub-conscious? Often the cause is fear, in some form: the “what ifs”. This chatter tries to bring some sort of order from the perceived chaos: we have to consider all the options so we will be safer.
When we get wrapped up in this noise, while we are focused on it, listening to it, we are missing out on life going on around us.
We need to stop the Mind Chatter by learning how to stop our unconscious mind’s habit of “running off at the mouth”. Pay attention to what it is saying. If you hear negatives: “I can’t”, “I should, “what will I do?”, stop the dialogue. Make the conscious effort to change your thought process: tell the chatter to “STOP”, say ” I can”,” I am OK”, “I can handle this, I can figure it out”. Take control. We need to repeat this every time the negative chatter gets going, until there is a natural replacement of positive, rather that negative dialogue.
We will always have this mind chatter going on. Our mind loves to be busy. We can, however, change the topic! We have to be careful because when our mind chatters, we listen, and we remember. If our chatter is negative, guess what we remember? Information is continually being recorded and stored for future reference.
Brian Tracey says, “Perhaps the most powerful influence on your attitude and personality is what you say to yourself, and believe. It is not what happens to you, but how you respond internally to what happens to you, that determines your thoughts and feelings and, ultimately, your actions. By controlling your inner dialogue, or “self-talk,” you can begin to assert control over every other dimension of your life.”
Remez Sasson offers these insights on what mind chatter is :
- Thoughts that repeat themselves like a tape that keeps playing the same tune.
- Reliving negative past situations or visualizing fears over and over again.
- Dwelling on the past or fearing the future. This prevents us from enjoying the present. The past is gone, and the future is the product of our present thinking and actions. The only time that exists is now, the present moment.
- Compulsive inner monologue that disturbs our peace and makes the mind busy.
- Never being here. Always thinking on something else, instead of what we are doing now. If we always think on something else we never enjoy the moment.
- Constant analysis of our and other people’s situations, reactions and behavior. Analyzing the past, the future, things we need or want to do, our day, yesterday and the distant past.
- Almost all involuntary thinking and daydreaming are some sort of mental noise. This is often a constant background noise, which often intrudes into foreground in the middle of everything we do.
How do we gain control? Through some hard, thoughtful work and patience.
We have to be aware of this noise. Then we have to understand that it is our brain’s attempt to protect us from the unknown by pretending it knows what will happen. First we have to tell that noise, the chatter, to STOP. Then take the negative thoughts and turn them into positive: “I can’t do this…” to, “ I can do this”.
Breathe, count to 10, sing a favorite verse of song…let your mind know you are not interested in the negative chatter. Learn to “see” the chatter, imagine it written on a blackboard and watch as it is erased and the see the board clear and clean and blank……and then keep the board blank, do not let anything else be written.
We can also work to change the chatter, and make it useful and powerful in a positive way. Begin a routine of beginning your day with positive thoughts. Instead of “oh, I HAVE to take a shower”, turn it into “The hot shower will feel good.” Replace “I have so much to do today”, with “I am going to accomplish a lot today”.
Mid-day, find a few moments and slow down. As thoughts creep in…erase them. Be still. Pat yourself on the back, “I’ve made progress”, “I am handling things well”.
At the end of the day, tell your mind to STOP chattering. When it starts up, divert and recite a poem, sing a song, do a multiplication table! Do not let it get chatting….
Some ideas of how to quiet your mind chatter include this from
- Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Do not make excuses, “I am busy then.”, “I already have plans.” Make a conscious decision to say the absolute truth, or what you actually mean. The absolute truth doesn’t have to be harsh or hurtful, you can do so compassionately and authentically, but firmly. When you own what you say, no one can reject it, even if they don’t like what they hear; because you are telling the truth and you mean it. Make a conscious commitment to yourself to mean everything that you say, and not to make empty promises that you cannot, will not, do not intend to fulfill. Do not tell someone you will call if you know you won’t. Telling the truth prevents the mind from having something to chatter about!
- Don’t say to anyone unless you can say to everyone. “Make a commitment to yourself, that you will not say something to one person, unless you can announce it to the world, to everybody. Make a commitment to stop the spreading of drama and bad energy.”
- Don’t say inside, what you cannot say outside. When the chatter starts, especially when the thought is full of negativity like “I am so stupid”, or “I feel like a failure”, say to yourself, or even out loud: “STOP! From today forward, I choose to let this thought go, for it does not uplift me. I am exposing this thought as being false, for you are not real! From today onward, I am free from this thought.” Whatever thought you are not able to say out aloud to people (anyone), don’t even bother entertaining inside your head. Keep your inner space clean. While you may share your self doubt with others as a means of processing, you would never go around introducing yourself as “stupid” or as a “failure”, so stop your mind chatter from saying it to you.
Don’t let Chatter say it unless it is true, useful or kind. Be conscious of what you say and only say it if any of the following is true:
Is what I’m saying …
- True to me? An authentic statement from my heart?
- Useful or helpful to someone or some situation?
- Kind or compassionate? Such as a compliment, or an offer of help.
Don’t let your spoken words run rampant either. Be conscious of what you say out loud. Your mind chatter will begin to reflect that, and you will not have to battle the mind chatter caused by speaking meaningless, gossipy, hurtful words.
Another interesting site is: http://www.aquietmind.com/2011/09/28/day-1-quiet-mind/
It offers simple, short, day by day suggestions to slow and quiet your mind chatter through attainable steps.
As we change and grow and move towards fulfilling our potential, free from mind chatter that slows us down, we also begin to change those around us. And one by one, the change spreads. You are good, and strong, and kind and of value. Make sure your mind chatter is telling you the same thing, or else tell it to STOP, so that you can GO forward.
April 8, 2012
On Christmas Day, one month and two days before my father died, he gave a Christmas dinner blessing based on an article in one of the Process Studies journals. The article was called You Are`What You Eat. But, it wasn’t about food. It was about the sustenance we receive from other people, other experiences, situations, events. What we experience, absorb, shun, embrace, hear, say…..create the person we are.
Jay McDaniel outlines 8 points central to PT.
Everything is in process…always flowing,all things are inter-connected, all of nature has value and deserves respect, we find happiness in sharing experiences with others: we become whole through reciprocity, the universe is a continuous creativity: all things are expressions, all beings seek harmony, thinking and emotion cannot be separated, every human experience begins with feeling the presence of the world and being affected by it.
The world is constantly in process and everything changes. And so do we.
How do we learn to be pliable in order to flow with being in constant process and change. What do we hold on to, what do we have to let go of in order to hold on?