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I opened my email account this morning to find the October newsletter from E-Magis, the newsletter of IgnatianSpirituality.com.  The intro to the newsletter floored me:

Silence allows us the space and quiet to pay attention to God. Whether we enter a time of silence through the Examen, focused breathing, or another prayer starter, embracing silence can help us deepen our relationship with God. 

Embracing Silence

In that place of inner silence, the language God speaks is love.

It is pretty much in a nutshell what I wrote last night in “Like a Bad Penny…“.  (My version just took 1127 words to get there!)  But I love it when stuff like this happens :-).

My first thought was “What a coincidence!”…my next was “What an affirmation!”  It made me smile.  Still does.  Thank you, E-Magis.

I admire Ignatian spirituality anyway, and I am always inspired by the E-Magis newsletter articles.  It is also a great resource for anyone interested in taking prayer deeper.

I first heard of the Jesuits (Society of Jesus), founded by Ignatius Loyola (hence, Ignatian) from my father, God rest his soul.  He had been educated by Jesuits, or “the Brothers” as he called them.  He always said “they were tough, but they were great educators”.  I wish he were here now so I could tell him that I, too, am benefitting from their great educators.

Early in my return journey “home” to church, I came across two books written by Father James Martin, SJ.  One is fiction, called The Abbey: A Story of Discovery; the other is non-fiction, called Between Heaven and Mirth.  The Abbey was simply a well-written, engaging, poignant novel.  Between Heaven and Mirth made me laugh out loud!  I admire writers who can make me laugh as Fr. James did throughout the book, and simultaneously I was drawn to his insights into Catholic spirituality and how joy, humour, and laughter intersect a spiritual life.

I think I’m following a fairly typical spiritual path, and it led eventually to learning much more concerning Ignatian spirituality.  I [try to] practice the Ignatian Examen, an exercise devoted to reviewing our daily activities, through a series of about five questions, to discern God’s presence throughout the day and reflect on how or whether we responded accordingly. We express gratitude for various events/people in our day/life, and then consciously look forward to the next day and ask for God’s grace to accompany us.

The Jesuits have a special place in my heart because they remind me of my father, and because they cultivate intellectual achievement and are renown for scholarly books and articles.  Check out IgnatianSpirituality.com and see for yourself.  Try the Examen – it can be considered a type of meditation, I would say; at any rate, you will at least have developed a greater self-understanding, and that is always a good thing!

So, yes, the intro for E-Magis this morning affirmed my own insight into silence and how it allows us to hear the voice that is love, the indwelling Spirit in all of us.  That voice more often comes through as a whisper than as a wind, which means we must be still to hear it.  Then we will learn, as the Jesuits say, to embrace silence.

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So, like a bad penny…I keep turning up.  Thank God, I say.

I haven’t written here in a while.  Three years, in fact.  Not really sure why I’m here now, but something called me to it.  I’ve learned to listen when that happens.  And then to act.  Because life usually takes a turn for the better when I do both.  That’s key:  listening and acting.

Listening requires something most of us don’t make enough time for:  Silence.  Quiet.  Calm.  And by that I mean solitudinal listening.  Yes, alone.  Just you.  Maybe the cat.  But essentially you, solo.  Okay, you say you will try it and so you sit on the floor on a pillow, and wait.  For what, you are not entirely sure.  You close your eyes.  And notice that inside your eyelids your eyes are blinking like mad.  That’s annoying.  Then the thoughts charge forth:  you’ve got an itch; your knee is aching; you’ve got emails to reply to; what’s for supper?; why am I doing this again?

It’s impossible to listen when you’ve got music playing in the background, or the TV on, or your phone at hand with all its bells and alarms turned up high so you don’t miss those all-important notifications of yet another “like” on social media.  And there are plenty of other excuses you can make for why this won’t work.

Listening can seem daunting at first, and annoying.  I mean, all those ruminating thoughts that you weren’t even aware of begin cascading down at warp speed, and your brain suddenly baulks and says “Nope, this is too crazy. I’ll never be able to do this”.  Ah-hem…that’s the ego, trying to make you think you can’t do it when in fact it’s the ego, feeling threatened.  So you get up and check for iMessages on your phone.  You gave it a whole 30 seconds.  Well, there’s a win for the ego.  You didn’t know you were so easy to manipulate, did you?

So go back and try it again.  To make it easier on yourself and so you are not mentally counting the seconds, set your oven timer or your phone’s alarm for one minute, sit down, close your eyes, take three deep breaths, and just let those ruminating thoughts do whatever they want.  They are just thoughts, and they come and go.  There will always be another one, believe me.  They come and go precisely because we are not aware of them.  But there is a fine line between being aware of and dwelling on something.  Be aware of thoughts; be aware that they spew forth, come and go, and they often are repetitive.  They want your attention.  So notice them, and let them move ahead to make way for the next one.  Just do not dwell on them.  Dwelling on thoughts turns them into stories in our heads, and the stories begin to include feelings; feelings manifest in our bodies physiologically where they act on our inner systems and do weird things like make our blood pressure rise, cause our hearts to pound, put knots in our stomachs.  Wake us up at 3:00 a.m.  And then we feel stuck with them.  How do we get rid of them?  Most often we don’t, because we weren’t even aware we’d been caught up in them.  See how insidious this is?  This is not the work of your Soul.  This is pure ego.  You can read all about the ego from great sources such as Eckhart Tolle, so I will just say here:  the ego is not your friend.  Well, not a good friend at any rate.  We all have an ego, and we all need one; it’s not bad per se; it just lives from a place of fear and so distorts our perceptions based on its fears.  It’s a trickster!

The voice of your Soul is never that of fear or negativity, and will never cause you distress.  It is the voice of love and its purpose is to guide you toward the fullness of joy…joy which has been there all along.  I’ve learned a little about this over these past few years.  Thank God.

The voice of your Soul is God, the indwelling Spirit.  People who don’t align with a religious practice call it ‘spirit’, ‘the universe’, ‘higher consciousness’, etc.  God speaks through our Souls.  Thankfully, like that penny, the Soul’s voice keeps turning up.  I know you’ve heard yours, knocking from the inside trying to get your attention.  I know you’ve quashed it.  I know you’ve pushed it aside.  It takes perseverance to do that!  I know…I was really good at it.  So why not use that same perseverance to listen?  What might your Soul want to say to you? Why not take one minute and sit quietly? And tomorrow, take two minutes.  Any gap created among all those ruminating (mostly useless, I’m sorry to say) thoughts can be enough for your Soul to make itself heard.  We need only listen.  The voice of Soul, or God, is most often heard as a whisper; it is not loud or vexatious or judgemental.  And when you hear it, you won’t forget it.

I should say:  Joy is not the same as happiness.  Happiness is dependent upon external factors and is (usually) short-lived, until the next happy event, while joy is inside us and long-standing.  Joy can even be experienced during times of strife, while happiness is out of there like a shot!  The beauty of joy is that it has nothing at all to do with the ego, does not require searching for or runnng after, does not result from a goal attained, and does not depend on what other people think about us.  The added benefit of getting in touch with our joy is that the more you are in touch, the less the ego can assert itself…such a relief!  Joy is innate, inherent in all of us…a gift from God.  It enables us to feel gratitude for even the smallest pieces of our lives, and it gives us strength during times of distress and turmoil.

I’ve changed the name of my blog to reflect the furtherance of my life’s path since I last posted an entry here in 2014.  During mindfulness meditation a few years ago, God reached me through a gap in my thoughts.  I listened.  I acted.  I returned to church and now attend a local parish administered by the Franciscans, a loving, compassionate, and community-oriented Catholic holy order.

The beautifully poetic Psalms resonate deeply with me, and this quotation in particular:

Thou dost show me the path of life;

in thy presence there is fullness of joy;

in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Psalm 16:11

Fullness of joy indeed.

So, here it is January 30, 2014.  Pretty darn near the end of the month.  Yes…my “month of good intentions”.  No, wait. It was “An Intentional Month”…I didn’t promise the intentions would be good! ;-).

I started out great.  As intentions are wont to do.  And then Life intervened.  And doesn’t it just??  How many times have you been on a roll, and suddenly Life intervenes.  There’s just no rhyme or reason.  Life happens.  Sometimes it knocks you for a loop.  That’s how I feel right now… knocked for a loop.  And in that fell swoop, my intentions collapsed.  My meditation practice ceased altogether…didn’t even enter my mind (no pun intended! LOL).  The cushions and yoga mat are still where I’d left them three weeks ago – spread out on the living room floor.  I ran twice in the past four weeks so now I’m really de-conditioned, to make matters worse.  I was completely unable to get up before 6:30 any given weekday morning, and I don’t recall having had breakfast at home before work any morning this month, as I’d intended to do.  And, I haven’t done yoga nidra more than twice this month, and those times were in the first week.

I have, though, done a fair bit of knitting…I’m not sure why that one prevailed, but I’m really happy it did!  I finished the second wrist warmer – Yay for me!  I haven’t sewn them up yet, so have no “finished project” pic to post, but I have renewed that intention and will do so this weekend.  I’ve also picked up another unfinished knitting project – a sweater I had begun a few years ago for a 2 year old who is now 5 years old…but I’m doing well with it and it’s progressing, albeit slowly.  It will just go to another 2 year old :-).

But, and perhaps this is the one that bothers me the most: my blogging suffered.  I had intended to blog three times per week.  That went right out the window!  I felt as though I had nothing to say.  Maybe because I tend to only want to express myself when things are good?  I don’t know.  Did I simply “reset the thermostat”?  Restore the status quo?  Did I allow my vikalpa to take over, thereby ensuring I would not manifest my sankalpa, the affirmation I’d written that will allow me to fulfill my dharma code, my life’s purpose?  Could be.

One thing led to another with no active input from me.  I wanted to be like a tree in a storm, bending gracefully and going with the flow whichever way the winds blew.  But I really think I am more like a rock – landing with a thud and losing my momentum in the process.  I know that if I continue to sit here, feeling bruised, nothing will happen.  I won’t move forward, and I can’t depend on someone else to move me.  I’ve got to have faith that the winds of change will blow softly upon me once again, and I’ll find the requisite inner strength to push myself up from where I landed, bruises and all, and carry on.  I don’t particularly feel that wind billowing around me at the moment.  I’m confident it’s in the air though, heading my way.  It’s never failed me yet, faith.  It’s just that sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to find it. 

So tonight I blog despite not feeling that I have anything worthwhile to say.  Other than this:  sometimes, intentions are all we have.  I see them as faith, as the sankalpa – the affirmation of my highest truth that enables me to live, to prosper, and fulfill my dharma code.  The sankalpa is – it’s not a wish, or a resolution.  And nope, it’s not an intention.  It sure isn’t a month of intentions, at least not this month’s.  It is a statement of a deeply held fact.  Which means that no matter what winds buffet about me, my foundation doesn’t have to crumble…because it’s solid, and it’s been there holding me up all along.  And I’ve been buffeted about before.

What I will do then, because “right action” is required, is re-align myself with the four desires:  purpose, happiness, prosperity, and freedom.  And know that once I am out of the loop I was knocked for, however shaky I may feel my foundation will support me.  And I will take deep breaths, meditate a time or two and, like those unfinished knitting projects, pick up from where I left off.  I will brush off the cobwebs that grew around my intentions, knowing the intentions are still there, waiting for me. 

Just because we haven’t finished something, doesn’t mean we failed.  We only fail when we never pick it up again. 

It’s Jan 7, the eighth day of my intentional month.  Just over one week.  How am I doing?  Not bad.  I meditated for the first four days in a row; I did the yoga nidra three times; I blogged twice, and I knit twice. Check, check, check, and check.

I’d also signed up for Yoga International’s 7-day Challenge:  Overcoming the Five Universal Obstacles, with Amy Pearce-Hayden – this is a daily challenge in which you learn about the five kleshas (obstacles): fear (anxiety/worry), false-identity (ego/self-judgement), attachment (expectation), aversion (resistance), and ignorance (judgement of others) — afflictions that Amy says are “the keepers of our happiness.”  Each day I received an email with a video describing a klesha, and I was to reflect on it and become aware of when it presented itself throughout my day…as they invariably will!  I learned a lot about myself from this, in particular that the two areas that presented themselves most frequently were resistance and false-identity.  I’m sure the frequency of these changes at various times throughout one’s life, and it’s probably possible to experience more than one of them simultaneously.  It was easy to see that they are all part of me, and refreshing to note and observe them without judging myself for them.  Now that I am aware of them and how they affect me, I can’t return to that state of not knowing about them.  I like that.  There is something freeing in being aware…it’s like an inner waking-up.

So what have I taken from this?  I realized that I do experience fear, I identify with things that are not “me”, I attach to outcomes and experiences, I resist what is, and I judge others.  I also don’t.  And now that I am aware, when I do these things I can observe them, and observe myself, and determine how to act in response to a situation rather than merely (and often on auto-pilot) react – it’s a much more empowering and compassionate approach!

I’m also still getting my head back into work mode as I return after a two-week holiday break.  I’m quite productive, and note I am bringing the results from my inner work with me – it’s making a difference to how I approach my work.  I feel more grounded than I had previously.

Italian classes resumed tonight – what a lot of fun we had this evening!  I’m so happy to be in this class.  There are just ten students, and it’s a group who have been meeting regularly for a few years so the atmosphere is inclusive and positive.  I was happy to see, when I did my “compiti” (homework) last night in preparation for today’s class, that I was able to write a full-page summary of a film, Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips), in Italian, and it was fun!  Even though I was tired last night, I became energized from the homework.  I had been feeling tired prior to class tonight as well, but was energized when it ended, so much so that I thought in Italian all the way home!  That’s what Italian does for me. It’s a keeper.

The tiredness is just part of the return-to-work adjustment.  It will dissipate as the week progresses and my schedule becomes more routine.  I am also getting back to running after a month’s hiatus…ouch, I know!  That requires the absence of the kleshas, for sure:  no fear, as I get my ass out the door (or rather, when I get my ass out the door); non-resistance, to the reality that I am de-conditioned after a month; non-attachment, to the outcome; non-judgement, of myself; and non-ignorance, being aware of all of the above.

So, all is good.  And now, since I am being stared at really intently by a cat who has been trying to tell me for the past half hour that it is past our bedtime, I am hitting the “publish” button.  Blogging during week 2:  check.

Resistance is futile, according to the Borg in Star Trek.  Sounds like intimidation, to me.  Or, knowing the principles of the Star Trek crew, in their case likely a challenge they’d be happy to meet!

Resistance implies a struggle.  Should I/shouldn’t I?  Do I want to, or not?  Push/pull.  Will I win, or will I lose?  The little child on the playground, bullied for their allowance or lunch money, quickly learned that resistance was futile unless they were prepared to be hurt.  Sometimes we love to give in and stop resisting, like with temptation – that first bite of a piece of decadent chocolate cake tastes almost sinfully good.  But often, after we’ve given in we feel guilty.  So we endured a mental battle with ourselves, and for what?  Giving in was only momentarily rewarding, and now we are left with a new mental battle as we attempt to deal with our guilt.  Or maybe it’s not guilt; maybe it’s just regret.  Or disappointment in ourselves.  None of which is a positive feeling, though.

I think that more often than not, all we need to do is just pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try, try again.  The more we do that, the greater our chances of success.  And that’s the thing…I think we become too focused on whether we’ve succeeded (immediately, of course!) or failed.  Just because we didn’t do something 100% the first time, or even the fiftieth time we tried, doesn’t mean we failed, nor does it mean we are a failure.  I think the failure is in giving up completely.  The in-between attempts, well, that’s just learning!

We also resist good things.  We resist going to bed at a reasonable hour that would give us seven or eight hours’ sleep.  We resist the call of the alarm clock that tells us it’s time for our morning workout, convincing ourselves that an extra half hour of sleep is really what we need and we’ll make up the workout after work or in the evening.  How often do we follow-through on that?  Not often.  And aside from the disappointment in ourselves at, once again, not following-through on our promises to ourselves, now we’re also not enjoying that extra half hour of sleep because there is a mental battle going on in our head, interfering with that sleep we told ourselves we needed!  If we’re lucky enough to go back to sleep, though, there is bound to be regret when we do get up, over not having gone for the workout.  Or it will surface throughout the day, like when we find ourselves irritated for no apparent reason.  On reflection later, we’re saying “right, well, if I had just gotten up when the alarm went off and did the workout, this could have been avoided.”  But then we do it again, and again, and…

I’m interested in why I resist doing things I have told myself I want to do, like meditate.  I have meditated, so I know I am capable of doing it, I know how to do it, and I enjoy it.  So why hasn’t it become a daily practice?  Intellectually, I get that it doesn’t require much of my time…in the course of 24 hours, less 8 if I get the required sleep I need, and say 8 hours for my job, and 2 or 3 for daily travel, errands, meals, and 1 for exercise, 1 for pleasure like reading, that still gives me over 1 hour each day unaccounted for.  Meditation only takes ten or twenty minutes.  It’s certainly do-able.  But I somehow “forget” about it.  But with some things, like meditation, my spirit or soul keeps bringing it back to me.  I first meditated probably more than twenty years ago, and between then and now I’ve taken it up and put it back down a number of times.  I’ve taken classes, I’ve done a variety of meditations, and yet it hasn’t become a regular practice.  But something within me still wants me to do it, or else why would it keep presenting itself?

This is when I believe resistance IS futile.  Futile means “incapable of producing any useful result; pointless”.  My resisting meditating IS futile, because it does absolutely no good.  The desire or thought or wish, keeps coming back to me.  I’m not, therefore, giving in to it; rather I am hearing its message.  It’s a sign, and I haven’t been paying attention to it.  I’m going to honour that tug, and be open to it.  It’s not meant to be a struggle.  Meditation can only produce good or useful results.  Not that practitioners focus on the results, of course!  That would be making meditation a means to an end, which it is not.  It’s also not a goal to be reached, so there is no striving involved.  It just is.  I don’t actually have to DO anything…just show up.  Meditation will teach me what I need to know about it.  Each session is unique.  Having faith in the process really takes the weight off me for having to “do it right”, for instance.  Yes, there are some basic precepts, but it’s not like dancing where a foot placed incorrectly can lead to disaster.  There is no right or wrong way to sit, there is no right or wrong bench, cushion, pillow, or chair.  There is no right or wrong chant, if one chooses to chant.

It’s about tuning in, calming down, going quiet, being still.  It’s a relief!  It’s such a relief to do that…  Yet that is not to say it’s “relaxing”…it can be, but for the most part it’s not.  It’s a way of hearing one’s spirit speak, getting in touch with one’s heart.  Resistance to that?  On the contrary, I’m grateful for the persistence of my spirit to continue to knock on my door, and equally grateful for my having responded to it and now having established the intention of making meditation a daily practice.

Happy New Year, 2014!  I haven’t made any resolutions per se; rather, I have set intentions.  There is a subtle difference between the two. I see resolutions as something arising from my mind or my ego, suggesting that something must change, that perhaps something is “wrong” or “lacking” either in my life or…within me.  Intentions, though, I see as stemming from my spirit or my soul.  Intentions are literally heart-felt.

I’ve set intentions for the month of January, and I will document here the process/progress I’ve outlined for myself.  Some intentions are to be done daily, others three times per week, and I will note how things go throughout the month, keeping flexible and adjusting as needed.  For instance, I am going to meditate daily.  The meditation practice is just that – practice – and I will start with a 10-minute guided meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  To me, meditation is not about tuning out, but rather about tuning in, and I do well with guided meditations as they help me focus on the breath; I don’t find the vocal component at all distracting, and often it can be soothing.  I have also meditated, in the past, with eyes softly focused on a candle and flute music playing in the background.  I have meditated in complete silence.  I’ve tried morning, evening, ten minutes, twenty minutes.  I’ve taken meditation classes.  My intention is to be open to the many ways of practicing meditation, and to keep consistent with it during January as I believe a full-month of practice will establish it within my life.  For now, ten minutes of guided meditation early in the morning before heading off to work will suit me very well, and I have the option on the CD to extend the practice by going directly into a second ten-minute session or to do a ten-minute standing yoga practice, or even a full body scan.  Three times per week minimum, I will practice yoga nidra (a practice of deep relaxation while fully awake, in corpse pose (lying down), as a way of reinforcing my intentions before sleep.

Another intention is to note my observations in this blog, three times per week minimum.  I could write daily, and had considered it; however, I don’t want my intentions to be “the thing I must do, or else!”  I want them to be achievable, and inspiring, not a regimented “chore”.  It feels…vulnerable…blogging to the world, or at least to the world wide web, for sure.  But I am in very good company :-).  I need to express myself in writing – that’s just a part of who I am – and I want to explore and expand it, hone my writing skills, and in the blogging world I will be in the company of many liked-minded writers.  It feels right.

This has all manifested through a personal/professional course I took recently at the university where I work, called Life on Purpose.  The program is based on the book The Four Desires:  Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom by Rod Stryker, an American yoga and meditation teacher.  The opportunity to participate in the course came at just the right moment in my life, when I knew I wanted to explore “purpose”, namely my purpose, but wanted a teacher.  What’s the saying…”when the student is ready the teacher will appear” – it’s true!  I will write about the program in future blogs, as it has had a profound impact on me.  The course provided the basis for the follow-through I am now embarking upon, and I am grateful to the time I had during the Christmas holidays to research some of the aspects I wanted further information on, as well as for the time I had to reflect on the key areas.  I now have my dharma code (my soul’s unique purpose), am aware of my vikalpa (those deep beliefs that obstruct the attainment of one’s soul desires), and have established my sankalpa (my vow or intention to align my actions with my dharma code) – these are loose definitions and come from my “beginner’s mind”.

An Intentional Month is all of the above, and more, I hope!  It’s apropos of the start of a new year as well…timing is everything.

So, as I wrote on a social media site today, “May all your intentions be realized, and your inherent true nature guide your choices during this year.”

ImageLife is like an unfinished knitting project (mine, pictured here).  It’s one of two wristwarmers made from a lovely merino and possum (yes!) wool blend from New Zealand.  The wool is gorgeous, and softens more the more you work with it.  I started the project over one year ago, perhaps two.  And here I am, asking myself the knitter’s eternal question:  why didn’t I finish this?  I loved working on it, loved the colour and feel of the wool and, to boot, it really was an easy project yet had enough of a pattern to make it interesting.  So here I am, taking it out today and noting, firstly, its beauty.  Feeling its softness, exclaiming over its depth of colour and that almost magical hint of black shadow hovering over the brilliant blue wool.  And being astonished yet again that I have wool made from possum fur.  With all of that, I shake my head over why I might have put down this unfinished project in the first place.  Especially considering that, as I type, my hands are cold…I could be wearing those wristwarmers right now!

2nd wristwarmer

[January 4, 2014:  Partial second wristwarmer, on the way!]

Luckily, life is like an unfinished knitting project – we are able to pick up and complete something we’d been working on and, more often than not, when we return to that project or part of our life we’d set aside, being grateful that it has been there all along, just as it was, patiently waiting for us.  Life is forgiving, as is most knitting.  Stitches too tight?  You can loosen them in the next row and they’ll even out in the end.  Stitches too loose?  Tighten them up evenly across the next row and all is well. Dropped a few?  They’re pick-up-able, and if you are not skilled sufficiently to do that, there is always someone more skilled who would love to help.

So it is with life.  Did you muck up a friendship?  You might be surprised at how little it takes to mend it.  Said something you regret?  Regret not saying something?  It’s never too late to go back and do it.  And if you don’t feel sufficiently skilled to go it alone, there is always someone who’s been there, done that, and would love to help.

Blogging, apparently, also waits.  It’s almost two years since I last wrote here.  Yet, returning to it I am able to pick up where I left off.  WordPress changed my blog theme, but everything else was just as I’d left it.  Now I have a new theme, which I quite like – it’s a small, but refreshing change.  I don’t, though, have new wool or new knitting needles, but I am going to finish the second wristwarmer.  Sometimes you don’t need change or something new – you just need to pick up your project, or that part of your life, and carry on.