Lessons in Gratitude For Our Modern, Stone-Age Family

The events that have transpired over the past few weeks have me feeling like I’m the matriarch of a modern, stone-age family. But unlike Fred Flintstone, I’m not feeling compelled to shout out with glee, Yaba-daba-doo!

It all started a couple of weeks ago when our dishwasher that’s slightly more than five years old kicked the bucket. More precisely, it began leaking buckets of water all over the kitchen floor, and then wouldn’t run a cycle past the 10-minute mark. Knowing the likelihood of being able to fix it was slim to none (because LG doesn’t make replacement parts for its appliances older than five years), we opted to save our time and energy and just go buy a new one. Now we’re waiting the two to three weeks for delivery and installation, and we’re doing dishes the old-fashioned way in the mean time. Scrubbing pots and pans and constantly having dishpan hands has got me feeling quite primitive. I mean, come on, even Wilma Flintstone had an octopus to wash her dishes for her!

Then, earlier last week, our house was a touch chilly, despite the furnace being on, or so we thought. My husband went downstairs to check, and not only did he discover the furnace wasn’t running, but also that he wasn’t able to reignite the pilot light. We placed a service call to our friendly neighbourhood furnace company, and when the technician came out the next day his assessment was that our furnace was destined for sheet metal heaven. This left us feeling a little blue—because we were cold AND were facing a huge, unplanned expenditure to replace our home’s primary heat source. And once again, just like cave people thousands of years ago, we sought warmth by fire while we we waited for our new furnace to be installed. Thank goodness for fireplaces!

In spite of all of this, and all kidding aside, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of viewing these trials for what they really are—challenges that are simply a part of life, without feeling oh-so sorry for myself, being too over-the-top dramatic, and creating all kinds of stories around what was happening. This may be partially due to the fact that I do my best to practice an attitude of gratitude, and my daily meditation practice may also be helping to keep me more grounded and centered. Whatever the deal is, I realize these kinds of things just happen and it’s really not worth getting bent out of shape over. Acknowledge. Address. Move on without any stories and attachment.

Nonetheless, these situations have, once again, presented me with the opportunity to see life from a different perspective. And, oh, the lessons they’ve revealed. Here’s just a few that I think merit being shared:

  1. While I had initially thought otherwise (probably because it gave me flashbacks to the numerous marathon dishwashing sessions of my youth), doing the dishes by hand hasn’t been as completely awful and tedious as I thought it would be. On the contrary. Washing and drying our dirty dishes by hand has very subtly provided time for me to bond with my husband and children. Surprisingly, everyone has been quite willing to help out, so that’s a HUGE positive right there. Plus, I’ve had some interesting and heartwarming conversations with my family members that I may not have otherwise had if not for our time washing dishes together. And, to my credit, we haven’t even resorted to using paper plates and plastic cutlery to eat our meals!
  1. Related to the point above, I’ve seen how our incapacitated dishwasher is teaching my children the value of hard work and doing something productive with their hands, aside from holding a device or playing video games. The situation has allowed us to explain to our children how not everyone in the world has all of the luxuries and amenities we do, which I hope will instill in them a sense of appreciation for how privileged they are. Also, having them help with the dishes gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. (My son now tells me he is a dish-drying expert.) I’d say this is a win-win for all of us.
Kids caught in the act of helping.

Kids caught helping. Who needs an octopus, or a dishwasher, when you’ve got these two?

  1. As I already alluded to above, these circumstances have framed and reaffirmed for me just how fortunate we are to have modern conveniences, such as central heating, air conditioning, and hot water, and the luxury of a machine to wash and dry our dishes for us. Much of the world’s population can only dream of having access to these things at some point in their lives, while it’s easy for us to take them for granted. And while it causes us some minor inconvenience to be without, I know we’ll have these things working again in relatively short order. Choosing to see beyond the initial inconvenience allows me to see how truly blessed we are.
  1. I believe it was Oprah that said, “You are responsible for the energy you bring” (to every situation). This is something I am aware of and watch closely about myself. The concept was further illustrated for me by our furnace installer. The first day, he was visibly frustrated from the moment he arrived at our house. As I was home for the duration of the work being completed, I observed his behaviour on that first day, noticing how he cursed when things weren’t going according to plan and how his mood mirrored the angry thrash metal music he had blaring in the basement. At the end of the day, he shared how his work truck had broken down on the side of the road the day before, he was without his regular helper, and the guy who had been assisting on our job was quite inexperienced. It was obvious to me what had been happening, so I simply smiled and told him to have a good night’s rest and come back the following day with a clean slate. The next morning he showed up with both of his helpers and a notably sunnier disposition. His music selection had morphed from the previous day’s death metal to The Beatles and other assorted softer classic rock music. And, as you can well imagine, the installation process went much smoother that second day. The shift in his mood and energy was palpable, and the trickle-down effect that had onto the installation process was nothing short of a miracle.

The bottom line in all of this is, no matter how bad things may seem, we can always choose to find something for which to be grateful. It can be tough to do in practice sometimes, but it’s a choice each one of us has the power to make. And when we consciously choose gratitude, positivity, and happiness, the odds are pretty good that we’ll make life easier for ourselves and those around us.

What are you grateful for today?

How do you measure a year in a life?

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago on a day much like today, I took a huge leap of faith by leaving my job in favour of devoting more time to my family, as well as to explore my passion for writing. There was something so magical and almost intoxicating to me about what I imagined I would be able to accomplish, and the one-year mark was the first and most important major checkpoint on the journey of this new life.

With one year having come and gone, I’ve struggled to use my time effectively and to create a solid routine for myself. I’ve been tripped up, time and time again, in my attempts to balance the obligations of running a household and raising two young children against the pursuit of my own goals and dreams.

And somewhere between the crushing expectations I place on myself and (learning) to relax my tendency to control every microsecond of my life, I became frozen in place. Frustrated and overwhelmed, I threw my hands up in the air and did nothing. And so I find myself one year down the road with virtually nothing to show for the lapse in time.

On second thought, perhaps it’s not entirely accurate to say I haven’t accomplished anything… I’ve read books and completed courses. I’ve done a great deal of self-reflection and personal work. And I feel, from the deepest parts of my being, that I’m inching ever closer to being reacquainted with my most authentic self.

When I set aside the disappointment I feel about the lack of writing I’ve done, what I can do is measure the past year in the valuable lessons I’ve learned. And so I’d like to share the top 10 big ones that I’ve had both the pain and pleasure of experiencing:

  1. I create my own suffering. It’s human nature, really. But once I really began to understand how my thoughts create my reality, I also realized that I can choose to see things differently, and there is tremendous freedom in that. This is a practice that isn’t easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.
  2. Everything is temporary. Impermanence is the way of the universe. This means I can change my mind, and I can change my self. And so I am. Change is the precursor of growth, so I am growing.
  3. Related to point number 2 above, it’s best not to become attached to anything, even the stories about my past. No, especially the stories about my past.
  4. Fear can be debilitating, if I allow it to have that power over me. That’s why when something really matters, I need to summon every ounce of courage I have and do (whatever that thing is) anyway. When given the choice between comfort and growth (and I always have a choice), I choose growth.
  5. It’s simply not possible for material stuff and things to fill the emptiness inside. Even if it does provide some satisfaction initially, the effects wear off quickly and leave an even greater emptiness in their wake. For this very reason, I find myself growing less concerned about the acquisition of stuff and more focused on experiencing life. At the same time, I have learned how letting go of stuff and things creates space for new possibilities. This realization is extremely liberating.
  6. Living a numb existence and being on autopilot day in and day out is really no way to live. Emotions are energy in motion, and must be acknowledged and felt so they can be processed and released. If not, this energy gets trapped in the body and will inevitably cause problems, such as spontaneously erupting like a volcano at an inappropriate time later on, or causing illness and even disease. What’s the moral if the story here? Feel my feelings. Feel my feelings! FEEL MY FEELINGS!
  7. Having a healthy dose of self-worth, nurtured by regular portions of self-love, is the absolute best way to nurture my personal power and live an authentic life. I am learning to love myself because doing so is essential to my happiness and success.
  8. I am far more important and powerful than I have given myself credit for. We all are. We’re all here for a reason; we have all been given this life to accomplish a particular purpose that is unique to each of us. And we are all connected—our thoughts, behaviours, and actions send ripples out into the world that have an effect on others.
  9. From a growing awareness around my own resistance, I’m learning how important it is to get to its source, such as understanding why a particular person or situation pushes my buttons. There’s two big reasons why this is so: 1) Resistance is fueled by ignorance and fears, therefore harboring resistance to change and simply to what is makes life more difficult overall, and 2) When you recognize resistance as a tool for growth, you can embrace and learn from the lessons that you are presented with, instead of being stuck on repeat. This one is definitely a work in progress and one that requires me to be fully awake to the present moment.
  10. I cannot underestimate the absolute value of faith, particularly in the face of adversity and in the absence of the fruits of productivity. And this is where I am reminded of the divine timing of my life. I trust that I am exactly where I’m meant to be, learning what I need to know, and that everything I’m doing now is necessary for me to move forward in the future.
  11. Ok, I know I said there were 10 lessons, but here’s a bonus just for you: Love will light the way (if you let it)!

faith_fearEven though I bought in to the idea of what I should have been able to accomplish over the past year, and subsequently admonished myself for falling short on my goals, I also know that undoing years of conditioning and patterns simply doesn’t happen over night. I am erasing the old, worn out recordings of my limiting beliefs and replacing them with a new inspirational soundtrack for my life. I can hear the music playing faintly in the distance, so know I am on the right track to creating a life I love.

Do any of these lessons resonate for you? Which ones in particular can you relate to and why? I’d also love to hear how you measure a year in your life.

I leave you with the lyrics to a beautifully fitting song, Seasons of Love from RENT
By Daniel Noonan
SONGWRITERS
Jonathan D. Larson

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments, oh dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love

Seasons of love (love)
Seasons of love (love)

Five Lessons Learned in Yin Yoga Class

Lately, I find myself being taken up with several new and varied fascinations—one of these being Yin. The concept comes from the Eastern philosophy that duality (Yin and Yang) are both present in all living things, essentially meaning there are two complementary parts to every whole. The idea further states that the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

Here’s a quick and dirty on Yin and Yang: While Yin is generally viewed a symbol of earth, femaleness, darkness, passivity, and absorption, Yang is revered as heaven, maleness, light, activity, and penetration. It is undesirable to have deficiency or excess of either yin or yang.

yin-yang-1280x800

Yang, as it applies to yoga, is more commonly practiced in our western world, focusing on movement and poses (asanas) that emphasize strength and muscular contraction. Yin Yoga, by contrast, targets the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis, and lower spine based on the premise that this tissue responds best to gentle stress over a long period of time. This is why Yin postures are generally held for anywhere from three to 10 minutes per side. Yin practice complements the more muscular yang style of yoga, and is said to restore energy, calm the nervous system, and helps individuals learn to sit in meditation. Further benefits of the practice include calming the mind, increasing mobility, reducing stress, assisting with TMJ and migraines, and promoting deep relaxation.

I was not really surprised to learn Yin is less popular in the west. In fact, I dismissed the thought of attending a class for quite some time, myself, not really understanding anything about the practice and ignorantly viewing it as an inferior form of yoga better suited for old people. However, as I was introduced to the benefits of meditation and became more aware of the state of my body’s energy system independent of my yoga practice, I was naturally and almost magentically drawn to try Yin.

Continuing with my practice over the past several months, I’ve come to understand how Yin is steeped in physical, mental, and emotional intensity. For me, Yin has become a weekly ritual of creating space to get safely uncomfortable, examine my own darkness, and gracefully release guilt, shame, and a host of other emotions that had become lodged in my hips, pelvis, shoulders, and sacrum.

In the safety and warmth of a candlelit room, the following realizations have continued to come up for me as lessons that I believe can be equally applied off the mat. I’m not generally a fan of the gimmicky nature of the Internet/blog post numbered list of reasons to do this or not to do that, but in my ongoing endeavor to be less rigid, here are the five lessons I’ve learned about life in Yin Yoga class (sometimes you just ‘gotsto’ break your own rules).

1. There is power in softness.
There is a time for power and a time for softness, both in yoga and in life. The balance lies in the contrast and knowing when which of the two is most appropriate. Yin Yoga is a lovely and gentle reminder of the place and purpose of softness, and the power that can be derived from it, because releasing resistance and allowing yourself to be passive without forcing, are, at times, what you need most. The act of surrender has long been a challenge for me, and I still struggle when it comes to putting this concept into practice off the mat. However, I am also reminded of how constant pushing, forcing, and attempts to control outcomes will eventually take their toll, culminating in exhaustion and burnout.

2. There is beauty in stillness.
As Yin Yoga poses are held for an average of five minutes, one of the most challenging aspects of the practice is remaining still, without moving, fidgeting, or adjusting. The ego-driven mind is a powerful adversary, delivering the temptation to move, scratch, or reach for a sip of water during these longer-held stretches. But when you can get to the place where you notice the thought of the desire for movement without actually giving in to it, the thought will often pass. What is left in that space, which would have otherwise been occupied with scratching or some other movement, is beautiful stillness.

3. There is freedom in accepting and “being” with discomfort.

“Yin Yoga is not meant to be comfortable; it will take you well outside your comfort zone. Much of the benefit of the practice will come from staying in this zone of discomfort, despite the mind’s urgent pleas to leave.”

Yin requires a high level of intimacy with the self—with our feelings, sensations, and emotions. While these feelings may also come up in other styles of yoga, it’s much easier to avoid them in classes that move at a faster pace. When subjected to longer periods of time in uncomfortable positions in Yin yoga; however, we have little choice but to “be” and “accept what is” in that given moment. The perspective Yin Yoga has provided me in this regard has been tremendously valuable, as I have noticed a strong aversion to feeling my own physical and mental pains. The lesson I’ve learned, though, is when I am mentally stuck in my everyday worry and frustration, I can bring the same kind of attention to the sensations in my body. Most importantly, by observing these thoughts and reactions and deliberately staying with them, they will eventually go away.

4. There is life in each breath.
Breath is life, and the highly meditative nature of the Yin Yoga practice requires that participants keep coming back to this fundamental truth, which I suggest is equally important off the mat. By focusing on each inhale and exhale, noticing the quality of the breath—whether it gets caught in a certain place in the body, is rough, or jagged, or it is fluid, smooth, and even—we remain grounded and focused in each moment Just keep coming back to the breath, on your mat and in your life.

5. There is growth in playing your edge.
The body’s edge in yoga is the place just before pain, but not pain itself. Consciously bringing the body to its various limits or edges and holding it is the way to gently nudge it toward more openness. In this way, time and awareness are the fertile soil in which the slow process of expansion will begin to blossom. As the range expands and the edges move, we gently push the envelope toward growth and change beyond our limitations. This concept requires a high degree of mindfulness, striking a balance between the body’s physical cues and how they are perceived by the mind. Just like in life, the key to growth lies in listening, honouring, and accepting. For me, this requires practicing a heavy dose of patience, too, which is yet another valuable lesson we all can apply off the mat.

I hope you enjoyed this list, and maybe even learned something that resonates for you.

Namaste.