Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

All things have a ripple effect.

I think I was born a sound-sensitive individual.  For as long as I can remember, I have been able to hear a pin drop from what feels like nine miles away, and that’s with earplugs jammed inside my head.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  As a Yoga therapist, I am grateful for the ability to hear the subtleties of my students’ breathing.  It tells me they’re in distress or at ease when their words speak the opposite.  But it sure does make sleeping and, sometimes, even making my way through this busy world a bit of a challenge.

It’s this noise sensitivity and my introverted nature that draws me to the practice of silent retreats.  No speech for days.  No books.  No phones, iPods, magazines, journals.  Nothing.  Just the very intimate practice of sitting, day in and day out, breathing and moving mindfully with others.  My teacher, Dr. N. C. once said during a training session that there is no pure stillness where there’s life.  I would add to this that there is no pure silence for as long as there is life.

Think about this – there is always noise.  As I sit here typing this, I hear the blue jays screeching in the backyard.  I can hear the squirrel’s nails on the tree trunk as it climbs down with two walnuts stuffed into its face.  There is the fan running inside this computer, and the ticking of the keys as I type.  Cars move endlessly on the busy street behind me.  And my breath moves in and out.  In life, there is no-silence. We can’t change that.  But we can certainly take steps to refine the quality of the noise we make.

While in the depths of retreat silence, I began to understand more and more how we disturb one another, often without meaning to.  There are fire doors at each entrance to each floor of the retreat centre.  Big, heavy pieces of metal and glass, they make quite the racket as they slam shut behind anyone who wanders through.  At day 2 1/2 of the retreat, when the experience of not speaking became very real for us and the mind started to kick up a fuss, I could see how even silent distraction led to increased noise.  Those fire doors slammed endlessly, no one seeming to want to take the extra seconds required to hold the door so that it swung shut quietly.  Who cares, right?  It’s only a door.  We have places to go, anyway.

Who cares?  Our friends who are battling headaches. Our scared friends whose frayed nerves cause them to jump at the slightest sound.  The ones trying to sleep in their rooms right beside the doors.

It always matters.

The young lady next to me, increasingly contracted into herself in what seemed to be an attempt at disappearing, would energetically scream outward as her arm flung across the face of her neighbour in the dining hall, groping for a serviette, and disturbing her neighbour’s hand-to-mouth eating movement. The heavily tattooed woman in the flimsy tops revealed to us her story-symbols on her skin.  The constant squealing of my nostril as I worked through my pranayama (breathing) practice spoke to the congestion that would never leave me alone.

We are never not speaking.

While on retreat, I become quite obsessed with deer.  Inevitably, as I walk slowly and mindfully along the property trails, I come across these majestic creatures.  This last retreat was no different.

I was trudging along, making my way through the final hike of the retreat, when I came across deer tracks in the mud (No, the photo above isn’t mine.  🙂 ).  That was it.  My mind got excited and I began following the tracks in the hopes of having a bonding moment with Bambi.  I was hooked, meaning I was no longer being mindful of where I was or what I was doing.  I was craving an experience and that held my entire focus. That craving, plus a minor back injury, led to sloppy and loud movement.  Crashing along the trail, rustling leaves, snapping branches, and heaving breath, I had no idea that I was being observed.  All I could see was my own want, my own desire.  It never occurred to me that there was any other perspective, that there was anything outside of me.  But there was, and it was the very thing I craved.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of movement.  The very deer I had hoped to see were running away from me.  All of my crashing around had scared them; my desire and the “blindness” that came with it had driven them away.  But that’s not what really struck me.  What was profound about that moment was how those long-legged animals could leap away, over and through fallen trees and piles of leaves, without making a sound.  It was the split second visual of them running away that captured my attention, but I heard nothing.  Here I was a much smaller creature on two legs, crashing through the woods and making enough noise for 500 people, and these animals soared away as if on wings.

In that moment, the lesson came home to me – We are always communicating, even if we stop using words.

I want to be as quiet and self-contained as the deer.  I want to be part of my environment without blasting through my environment.  As much as possible, I want to exist here without being a disruptive intrusion to the others around me.  Because you and your peace matter just as much as me and mine.

It matters.

Coming back to the here and now, it is much quieter than when I first started.  The bird calls have temporarily settled.  The rush hour frenzy of traffic has come to an end.  There is a soft breeze in the trees but it’s barely a whisper.  And still we speak, interconnected beings on this planet, together at this time.  My breath, moving in and out, becomes a story to the rabbit eating leaves in the yard.  Like the wind and the water and the fire, we can roar and activate, or we can calm and soothe.  We are never truly silent.

In this moment, and then the next, and the next, what story are you telling the world around you?

It matters.

In peace,



Read Full Post »

Historically, I have found autumn to be an emotionally difficult time.  With depression as a long-time companion, the waning light, noticeable at the end of July, would create in me a sense of panic.  I would fret and worry about the descending darkness anticipating the release of my mental gremlins that only came out of the corners of my mind when the shadows grew long.  I’ll tell you a little secret, friends, when you walk around like that, with your head up your bum, anticipating nothing but the worst of what’s in store, you get exactly this–darkness and everything looking like shit.

It happened one year, for reasons unknown to me, that I accidentally lifted my chin, looked up at the sky and saw for the first time a whole new world.  The colours were dazzling with trees looking like heavily plumed Las Vegas showgirls.  It was as if Mother Earth had been standing in front of me year after year with her best negligee on, begging me to recognize her, and I was too busy with the lint in my belly button to notice her alluring display.  That year I finally began to take it all in.

I am now thoroughly mesmerized by this season.  The colours, yes, are magnificent but so is the sky.  With the dome of the Earth pulled further away the clouds have more chance to play and change their disguises from menacing, grim grey-black shrouds to eye-shocking splashes and swirls of bright pink, orange and heron blue; god is definitely an artist!  Mother Earth pushes forth her last hurrah of bounty as the remains of the harvest are collected.  The hellish heat and humidity of the summer has given way to fresh, crisp air that allows us to walk outside without suffering and, in the good old Canadian tradition, it makes for “good sleepin’ weather”.

Fall is a chance to begin to relax, to take a deep breath and stop the frenetic activity of spring and summer.  Our shoulders can come down a bit as we notice that, perhaps, we have just a little bit more time to do the things we’ve missed doing.  This is our time, energetically, to process and assimilate all that has gone on during the previous months when activity was so overwhelming that everything rushed past in a blur.  This is the time when the pulse slows and the vision clears and we just rest.  The planning time for the future will come; this is the grace period Nature provides for us before that empty canvas of the future is pulled from the closet waiting to be filled.  Autumn is the pause between the exhale and the next inhale.

I am no longer in the depressive slumber that used to haunt me at this time of year.  I notice and marvel at the razzle dazzle that sparkles before my eyes.  I also feel a deep sympathy for Mother Earth who has worked so very hard to support us during the growing season.  I’m at a point where I cannot in good conscience ask her to stick around, to continue living in a frenzy without rest, when I recognize my own need to slow down during the dark months.  I understand, finally, that Nature is not abandoning me, she is just taking a much needed and well deserved break.  And if I’m lucky enough I will still be alive to walk with her during all her phases, from deep, buried slumber and back to wake again.  This wheel of life truly is magic!

In honour of the Great Mother and all that I love about this world and this season, a wee poem:

Life Cycles

Shivering Earth Mother,

pull closer your coat of withered leaves

and brown wet grass.


Cold wind-tickled toes

Autumn sun-kissed face

drop deeply to slumber

and rest well.


From your shrouded stillness




shadowbelly rumblings

dark mystery murmurings

Earth-womb whisperings




for seasons yet to come.


–Tabitha Kot


What shrouds have pulled from your eyes recently?  What can you see that you’ve never seen before?  What bounty comes from your own personal harvest?

Wrap up, stay warm, find comfort, and may the spark of this season’s magic enter your eyes to fill your soul.


All my love,



Read Full Post »

How often do we waste our words, throwing them to the air for absolutely no reason?  This is a question that floated to me on the wind as I sat in silence by the lake.  It’s become a ritual now:  once a week I fall into silence for the better part of the morning, I walk to the lake at the end of the road and I simply observe everything in between.

It’s astounding what I’ve seen:  a beautiful brown hare sitting in the grass soaking up sunshine; a toad that led me to a patch of wild strawberries growing towards the lakeside rocks; the mating ritual of 20 swans; a skunk lumbering past, only feet away from me; a woodpecker feeding its young who sat protected in a hole pecked into a dead tree.

When I fall silent and choose not to use my voice I become part of a larger conversation, yet all around me are people charging the walking paths like they’re going to conquer new lands.  Friends storm the trails together in the name of “health”, nattering on, seemingly unable to spend time together without using their voices.  How much larger does the conversation become between people when the physical voice gets shut down?  How much more deeply can we connect with ourselves and with all that surrounds us when we fall into rich, deep silence?

My memory takes me back to the silent retreat of a couple weeks ago.  No voices and still there was conversation.  What I noticed was how the quality of the interactions between people changed as soon as the voice was taken out of the picture.  Things became softer.  It was impossible to hail for someone’s attention so other tools were employed: touch, eye contact and facial expressions, for example.  People approached one another quietly, not wanting to frighten them.  Touch was patient and kind with people moving slowly to make contact.  Arms and hands did not abruptly shoot out towards another; instead, the movement became more of a glide with hands lighting softly on another’s skin.  People looked deeply into each other’s eyes and many times this exchange included a smile.  Beautiful.

How different is this from what I observe on the park paths?  There is no contact between people as they walk side by each, no eye contact, no physical contact, just the voice uttering stories, words falling into the air about things not present in that moment.  Stories taking up space between people so the magic all around them, the larger picture of which they are a part, gets missed.  Stories, thought to bridge gaps, in this case, creating distance between people. Would the park experience be richer if two friends travelled there in silence with no voices to shield them, just the soft, tender, openness of humanity?

This week’s silence challenge is this:  Can you take some time, 5 minutes, even just a moment, to connect with someone in a silent way?  Do you dare walk together and spend time together without having to speak?  Can you allow yourself to reach out gently to touch that person in order to capture her attention?  Can you look into her eyes to see the response?  Do you dare be soft, tender and human with another? 

If you do dare, please, let me know how it goes.  🙂

Many blessings for your journey,



Read Full Post »

I have often thought a garden reflects the keeper’s state of mind.  I imagine that an overgrown, stressed-looking garden is kept by someone who has very little space in her life, or who is not coping well with the circumstances she faces.  A professionally tended, manicured, “perfect” garden belongs to an uptight, image-oriented man, or perhaps to someone who is prone to handing off responsibility for his life to someone else.

Recently I stepped out into my yard and could almost hear my heart break.  In the middle of May, autumn leaves still lay on the surface of many of the garden beds.  Weeds were throwing a party in there.  Grass had swarmed the edges so I wasn’t really sure where the lawn ended and the gardens began.  Every angle of this picture told the story of a woman who has been too long away from her land, too involved in other things, and not grounded in her work. It has been a tough year establishing my yoga business and working to understand who I am and how I operate within this business world.  Like the dense, compacted soil beneath my feet, my spirit has hardened making it difficult for new and beautiful things to grow.

This past weekend I waded through the piles of things stored for winter in the back of the garage, pulled out my favourite garden tools, and made my way to the patch underneath the now massive honey locust tree in the centre of the backyard.  I began digging and fluffing the earth, and pulling at the weeds, looking for signs of health and life within the soil.  With the sound of birds laughing overhead, I surged with joy at the sight of a fat earthworm; there was hope for this garden.  Did the same hold true for my heart?

As I continued tending to the patch of earth, my mind wandered and I began to realize how very much gardening is like meditation.  When I garden, I pull weeds and nourish the soil so that the new and beautiful life growing there has a chance to flourish.  I edge the beds drawing clear boundaries between what I want to happen in that space and what I don’t, and I move things around so they make better sense.  I notice the plants that have encroached on my garden from other yards and I decide which I will adopt and allow to remain, and of which I will dispose.  I create space for beauty to flood in.

The same holds true when I come to my meditation practice.  How long I’ve been away will tell me how many weed-thoughts are likely to have encroached on my mind.  Breathing in and out, I begin plucking at the thoughts that have overwhelmed my personal space, choking out any real possibility for clarity and evolution.  Like my garden’s plant invaders from other environments, I notice thoughts in my psyche that are not mine, seeds that have been planted by outside forces like family, friends, work connections and the culture-at -large, and that have taken root in my mind.  Which do I allow to stay and which do I remove?  In what way shall I edge and boundary the beds of my mind?  The choice is entirely mine.

By coming to my practice over and over again I become the gardener of my existence, creating an environment that allows the winds of enlightenment to blow through, and the colours of creation to light up the sky of my mind.  Gently inhaling and exhaling, I nudge out the dense thoughts that keep me downtrodden like cold, unmanaged soil; it is so much easier to do when the weed-thoughts are still small and less established.

The soil beneath the tree in my yard now looks fresh and fluffy, tender loving care having prepared it to properly sustain new life.  The boundaries around what stays and what goes are a bit more defined.  Bright pink and white flowers planted in the openings add colour and zing to the previously drab, sad space.  The splash of colour beneath the tree has painted a streak upon my soul.  Stepping forward into my life, I bring breath and awareness, the “earthworms” that signal a renewal and regeneration of the tender earth that binds me.   With a lightness of being, my laughter meets that of the birds and, together, we float through the sky–free.  The garden has shown me there is indeed hope for my heart as well.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: