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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.

Yes, I am too jazzed to sleep.  I should have gone to bed two hours ago, but was having too much fun practicing knitting with beads, watching how-to knitting videos, and getting lost in the amazing knitting blog Sapphires-n-Purls. The dimple stitch? Who knew?? It’s gorgeous. And I watched the entire thirteen-minute video!

Knitting is about so much more than actually knitting the project – it’s about the planning, the yarn shopping (oh, those yarn shops…they should come with a warning!), organizing “the stash”, including all those needles. Needles is a whole category in itself…fixed or interchangeable tips? Addi Turbo? Bamboo? All so enticing. I am determined this fall to overcome my fear of circular needles! Actually, it’s not the circular needles per se I am afraid of, it’s that damn twisty cord between them! But I realize much of the problem stems from using needles with plastic cord. So, I will invest (and I don’t use that word lightly) in some good-quality Knitpicks or Addi Turbo needles with non-twist cord. I am also going to devote time to beading…I absolutely love knitting with beads! It’s fun, and looks wonderful. And there is no much you can do with it! I’m very inspired, as I sit here with one eye ogling my little glass bowl of silver beads waiting to be added to my Lucy Neatby fiesta wool – the silver looks amazing against the turquoise, yellow, royal blue, purple, and green wool…would make a lovely scarf or wide wrist band. Christmas is coming…!

So is NaNoWriMo! National Novel Writing Month. Last year I participated in this writing competition, where you write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November, typically 1667 words per day. It was not only fun, but challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly I became motivated to keep up with the word count – the NaNo (as we call it, affectionately) word meter that tallies your word count every day and produces a graph to show your progress. It is very satisfying to see that graph grow every day! And oh yes, then there’s the story you’re actually writing…seeing it come to fruition through your diligent effort is VERY rewarding! I haven’t gone back to edit my story, not much anyway. I have re-read it, and I still like much of it. But my thoughts are already on my new novel, so far titled “The Length of Days”. Very briefly, it’s a novel about finding joy. Sometimes real events from within the writer’s own life find their way into a story and, as I told a colleague today, one of my characters may well also be fighting the battle with circular knitting needles! Not to scare you off…the book is not “the joy of knitting”!

I’m also pumped because I ran two 10K runs in a row, yesterday and the day before. I have run countless 10Ks, but I rarely run on consecutive days – no reason, it’s just worked out that way and the by-product is that I also have not had any running injuries (other than from adjusting to new running shoes, but that is another blog post, not yet written!). My running partners and I have had a series of things occur among us – illness, shoe issues, muscle tightness – that have pretty much prevented a smooth improvement in running, for all of us; however, this seems to be at an end. I am really itching to start increasing the distance of our long runs…I want to run one 15K before Christmas, and maybe…maybe…a half marathon in the spring.

I could easily have put this blog in three of my blog site categories…that’s just how things happen with me – one thing leads into another and sometimes they mix and mingle. But I love it. However, all this thinking and planning and video watching and getting out all the tools and practicing with beading…even writing this blog…just jazzes me! It’s now two hours past my usual bedtime, and I’m not sure I will be able to sleep! My mind is a-go. Liam, my cat, is not impressed – his usual efforts to get me back into our routine were not successful, and he has given up and is now cuddled up to the back of the laptop, with his head resting on a bag of wool!

However…sleep I must. After all, tomorrow is a running day.

The Writing Life

Writing.  I am a writer.  I’m even a novelist.  …”published novelist” is yet to be, but I’m working on it.  The whole NaNoWriMo experience has changed me, I must say.  It dissolved the belief that I might not be able to complete a novel, for one thing.  So that concern is gone.  It also gave me something to call “finished”.  There is something in a finished product that changes its creator, whether it’s a finished novel or a finished knitted project – in my case, that would be the felted knitted bag I completed just after Christmas 2011.  I’d knit the darn thing in about a month, here and there, sitting and watching TV…it wasn’t difficult, and with felting projects you don’t have to be perfectionistic (did I actually write that?) with your knitting as it’s all going to meld together into a smooth new fabric once you wash the hell out of it in hot water, so who cares if you twist a stitch?  But I put that bag away for about a year after I’d finished the actual knitting of it, thinking it would take too long to seam together, and then I was nervous about the felting process…  As usual, when I took the project out it took all of a half hour to seam together!  An entire year with that bag sitting in my stash of unfinished projects, and it took a bloody half hour to finish.  And another half hour in the washing machine.  Talk about agitation! LOL  (come on, you know…agitation…washing machine…?)  And now whenever I look at the finished bag, it makes me smile!  I love it.  I keep it in sight, on top of a bookcase where no purse should be…but it covers up another unfinished knitting project very nicely :-).

With NaNoWriMo you get one month to finish your novel.  30 days.  1666 words a day.  Or in my case, 2000 words three times through the week, and 5600 words on Saturday.  But technically, the only thing that happens if you don’t make the 50K word requirement is that you are not a “winner”.   This could play havoc with one’s ego.  Good!  Egos need to be played havoc with from time to time.  And I let mine run amok…it was so much fun to do!  I got into the challenge of the word count, so that was the initial motivation, but the true motivation was my story.  Which is why I was writing at all.  But I needed something to get me out of my head and into my creative side.  It doesn’t take much…just writing “The…” gets you writing.  Or I would actually have….FUN with it, and “allow” myself to write badly.  And “badly” more often than not turned out to be “well”.  You just never know how it’s going to go.  And those moments where you’re lost in the story, fingers flying across the keyboard as you try to type as fast as your creative mind is telling the story…those are moments to be cherished.  Those are the ones where I suddenly stop, look around, and go “what time is it??” and see that absolute hours have passed.

So joining NaNo this year served more than one purpose, but the main one is that it got me out of a writing rut, or a non-writing rut.  I know now that I can write a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  And that ending is very rewarding.  I used to look at “endings” as a loss of something, as they often are, but even “good” endings can feel sad, like when I ended my education for my degree – although I now do not feel a compunction to go back to school for anything other than sheer pleasure in taking a language class, I felt sad at the ending of the role of “student”.  I had identified with it and liked it.  It took awhile to let it go from my psyche, but it wasn’t as painful as I thought it might be.  And now I’ve added the role of “writer”.

And what a community I’ve joined!  Holy cow…I’ve met so many people this past year who write, some of whom are published.  It’s wonderful.  I’ve joined an online writers group of knitting friends on Ravelry, the knitting website.  So now I write in the company of writers who knit.  At work I’ve just met another writer who works in my building and who will shortly be published – Aretha C. Smith.  And I’ve decided to start a writers’ group at the university where we all work.  Aretha’s publishing journey began a year ago when she made a new year’s resolution to finish (there’s that word again) a novel she had been writing for a few years.  Once she met that goal she didn’t hesitate to submit the story for publication, and the rest is writing history.

This is the writing life.  It’s a community of people whose passion is to tell the story their creative spirit wants told.  It could be romance (Aretha), sci fi, how-to, Young Adult (Nicole), or murder mystery (me).  E-books or paper.  Published or not.  But most of all, writing is a process, like running – a night of bad writing is better than no writing at all, just as a bad run is better than no run.  Tonight is Ravelry writing night.  I have no idea what I’m going to write…I will let my protagonist, Alex, decide how he wants to behave and I will just be the conduit for his story.  Happy writing!