Tube Meditation

Can you observe stillness in movement?

I believe you can. Generally on the tube, I am busy reading, writing, or listening to music. There are few moments where I simply observe. But today, for at least part of the journey I did. Of course there were the regulars who had their eyes gazing towards their phones, or some people were reading the paper. Two Polish workmen who seemed to be coming off a day at a job, dirt lined shoes and pants sat across from each other. They barely spoke to each other, but also seemed to be in zombie post-work tiredness.

One woman who wore a knitted scarf, and a knitted pin of a sheep, sat and knitted another scarf. When the train got quite crowded, a man standing was full teeth smiling. He wasn’t talking to anyone, I didn’t see a baby in sight. Who was he smiling at? Is it wrong to question someone smiling for no reason?

I see a woman who looks familiar, she resembles my great-grandmother who died many years ago. She has a tiny pamphlet in her hand. I can’t decode the language from my viewpoint. Is it Korean or Sanskrit ? She is looking down at this pamphlet ? Is she sleeping, or praying as she sits on the tube? She looks peaceful . The woman sitting next to her catches me glancing at my faux great grandma. I smile. She looks away. We can’t make eye contact and smile simultaneously.

The norm on the tube and most subways are to stay confined to your own world, with a solemn face, absorbed in your own activities, while still being alert enough to ward off any lewd mishaps that may occur. Although personal space is non-existent, arms and feet may be touching, but there are no words generally said or eyes that are looked at. Smiles are only reserved for children or amazing musical performers.

We are all being transported the same direction, people flowing in and out of the doors, our minds are chattering, but can we be still?

As I walked out of the tube to my connecting stop, at pure rush hour, I put on my headphones. Sometimes overly crowded spaces where people seem to push each other, I need additional relaxation. The song was “Walk A Little Faster,” by Fiona Apple. Someone strongly brushed past me. If I was irritable I may have yelled or pushed back, but I simply allowed it to happen. Perhaps she really needed to be in a rush.

I can make these one hour tube rides enjoyable, even after a day at work with a two hour commute. Adding an additional two hours to transportation midweek has the potential to be educational and even refreshing.

The joy gained can be during the journey. But if not l, I find it upon arriving at my favourite tube stop: Angel Station. Generally an inspirational or humorous quote is awaiting me at the top of the elevator . And so today it goes…

Extending the Tech Sabbatical

 

I am debating to increase my internet sabbatical to two days a week.  For the past 9 months, I have opted for Saturdays to be my Tech Sabbatical. Initially I didn’t think my life could go without technology with one day per week.  Surprisingly I look forward to it.  My friends and family now know not to expect me to check emails or social media.  When I am out with friends, I am not the one who is looked at to search directions or fetch an uber. Not only have I survived this, but I have relished in it. The next day when I do check the tech, I realize there is nothing I have missed.

 

The sad thing is the remaining 6 days of the week, I notice how much my free time gravitates to the phone.  I check emails incessantly, even though only ten minutes have passed since the last time I have checked.  If my day is not busy, I notice this habit becomes more prominent.  My body starts to warn me that it has not adjusted to the shift that had just occurred.  My eyes have become tired, my hand starts to hurt from holding the phone, my head is busy inputting and rearranging data for the next google search to begin.  I’m also overall exhausted.  This evening, I tried to listen to a guided meditation when I got home, and I fell asleep for several minutes.  But I was more rejuvenated with the recognition that additional space from technology is warranted.

 

Perhaps I may need to extend this tech break to more than one day a week.  Or check emails only twice a day.  I have learned to turn the ringer off my phone, I don’t want the sound to give me a serotonin boost. A friend has joked with me that we text too much, and I have become too dependent on responses. The solution: old fashioned letter writing with proper stationary.

 

And I have to admit this is refreshing.

 

I need to set these clear boundaries with texting and technology, because if the framework doesn’t exist, it’s easy to get swept away.

 

My dogs too are also begging for attention, when I get home from work.  Put away the phone and tv, and observe their smiles, snores, and hilarious ways to get my attention.

 

At a recent retreat, I brought up to one of the facilitators my weekly 24 hour tech sabbatical.  I was proud, I had added this into my life.  He noted, “You only take one day off from technology? Why not more?”  I gasped when he said this.  24 hours was plenty, and already absurd when I mentioned it to colleagues and family. Anything more would mean I am regressing back in time or joining a monastery.  But now I think back to that moment.  Perhaps twice a week isn’t so crazy.   Maybe what is more crazy making is to continue the path I am on.

 

 

How has technology impacted your world? Is it under control?  Do you notice how it interweaves into your daily life? Are weekly sabbaticals doable for you?

 

“Disconnecting from technology to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential.”-Arianna Huffington

Death of An American Poet

This past week, I learned about the death of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver. I had just been introduced to her work via the infamous poem Wild Geese, which had been read at silent retreats and yoga sessions I’ve attended.  Poetry has re-entered my life in recent years, particularly with the assistance of the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett.  Krista interweaves conversations about our daily spiritual lives through talking with astrophysicists, monks, priests, psychologists, politicians, poets, and numerous other professions.

Listening to poets share their reflections in interviews is such a beautiful experience.  Their language is full of metaphors.  They have the ability to capture themes that seem unspeakable and relay the messages into bite size bits for us to chomp on.

In tribute to Mary Oliver, On Being replayed an interview with her from several years ago.  Throughout the interview, Mary was asked to read several of her poems. This poem below, I Happen To Be Standing, I couldn’t help but listen to again and again.   Witnessing the interview felt like prayer.  I was driving as I was listening, but if I was at home perhaps I would have knelt down to the ground as I took in the rest of the interview.  Perhaps the prayer vibe will arise in you as you take it all in from the link below:

https://onbeing.org/programs/mary-oliver-listening-to-the-world-jan2019/

“I don’t know where prayers go, / or what they do. / Do cats pray, while they sleep /      half-asleep in the sun? / Does the opossum pray as it / crosses the street? / The sunflowers? The old black oak / growing older every year? / I know I can walk through the world, / along the shore or under the trees, / with my mind filled with things / of little importance, in full / self-attendance. A condition I can’t really / call being alive. / Is a prayer a gift, or a petition, /         or does it matter? / The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way. / Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not. / While I was thinking this I happened to be standing / just outside my door, with my notebook open, / which is the way I begin every morning. / Then a wren in the privet began to sing. / He was positively drenched in enthusiasm, / I don’t know why. And yet, why not. / I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe / or whatever you don’t. That’s your business. / But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be / if it isn’t a prayer? / So I just listened, my pen in the air.”

 

 

New Year, New Clutter Free Me

It is a new year and with that I binge watched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series on Netflix.  Marie and her translator visit various homes within the Los Angeles area to assist families in getting their homes organized and revitalized.  Although I have read the book, seeing it visually has been inspirational.  What’s particularly interesting in this show, is it highlights people of various ethnic backgrounds, ages, and life circumstances.  Clutter is a universal issue.  And since it’s the new year, and I am attempting to move within the next month, I need to get started decluttering.

Last year I attempted to get rid of 365 items, one for each day.  I landed at 225ish.  Not bad, but not enough.  At this point, I am going to try to rid of 365 items from January 1stto May 2nd, my 40thbirthday.  So far, I hit 61 items.  Not bad for January 13th.

But as I began discarding more and more, I began finding gifts from others that I had not even looked at before.  Sometimes I receive so much or end up having so much, I pile it to the side, and don’t even have the chance to appreciate it.  This week, I actually took the time to wear three gift items that I have yet to utilize. Sometimes I value these gifts to the point of waiting for the right moment to “premiere” them, but then the moment never comes. And I forget about what was given to me with care and thought.

As I looked closely at the gifts given, particularly two necklaces, I noticed they were given with such care.  One even had my initial carved into it, another offered various precious crystals that were well thought out as to what I may need to welcome into my life. I wore one shirt with my beloved foxes with pride.  Why did I put these gifts off?  My room was full of clutter, I didn’t have space to allow them to shine.

It’s easy to start having negative thoughts about who we are as a friend or family member when we recognize the lack of appreciation and disregard we may have had for what has been given to us.  How could we be so thoughtless as a recipient?  But it’s never too late to change.

This is going to be a new effort of mine, to actually appreciate gifts that are given to me when they are given to me.  Live the joy in the moment, versus waiting for the right moment to come.

Portland: The Happiest City in America

As a wanderluster who has travelled the world non-stop for the past five years, I would like to make the big jump to guess that Portland is the happiest city in America.  Although I am an American, I haven’t lived in the country for over five years.  Therefore, each time I come to the US, I feel as if I’m a visitor.  Most times I connect with family and friends, but sometimes I squeeze in a new city to explore.  This is the case for Portland. At the age of 39, this is the first time I visited and I am solo.

 I am exploring places to relocate to when my time for repatriation nears.  Moving back to America from Europe will be quite shocking, especially during these times.  I want a city that can ease the blow.  Many people have encouraged Portland, and therefore I took the jump to squeeze it in during the holidays.   

My interaction with Portland is quite limited, as I am travelling solo.  But what I have witnessed is joy.  People are happy here, despite the gray cold weather, grittiness, and numerous homeless that grace the streets, bridges, and sides of the highway.  My brother tried to correct me saying that some of these people choose this lifestyle and are not homeless per say but known as “wanderers.” 

On two different occasions, when I tried various coffee and donut shops the staff were dancing.  It was not a gimmick, they were simply jamming out to either Michael Jackson or some hipster song.  What a joy to witness that.  Dancing and joy are contagious.

Portlanders also exude this sense of Midwestern kindness.  As an Ohioan, this is comforting to experience in other towns.  It’s odd when a large city that is full of pedestrians, bicyclists, tourists, and people overall actually take the time to be kind. Each store I went into, the staff made an effort to say hello and good-bye.  They may have even offered up a chat.  In many other metropolitan cities, staff members will opt to ignore you while staring at their phones hoping you may leave.

Being pet-friendly is another reason why this town may be so happy.  Dogs may come in and out of establishments.  I have heard from someone who recently located from San Francisco that one of the draws of the town was this feature.  All the homes they looked at renting were open to welcoming their large older dog.  She actually felt bad about turning down potential landlords because they were all so kind.

 “Keep Portland Weird” is one claim to fame here, which you may definitely witness.  I saw someone wearing a Ramen Cup onesie during the day time. Nobody glanced twice.  Crazy hair colors, piercings, mismatched clothing, excessive tattoos….all are welcome. Numerous stores even boasted on their exterior walls how accepting they were of everyone.  It’s a liberal town that embraces all.

There are hidden spots of refuge such as the Lan Su Chinese Garden, which transports you to a different country after you enter it’s walls.   Drop in tai chi classes were available, or you could opt to have a tea ceremony in their tea shop. 

Powell’s Books, one of the most notable independent book stores in America, can also be a place of wonder.  With the decline and closure of many bookstores throughout America, it was awe-inspiring to see a type of place exists here. Perhaps it’s the love for literature that brings happiness.

Maybe it’s not a huge jump to make this conclusion of Portland being the happiest city in America.  The Nordic countries generally place in the top 3. One would think with the minimal sun and cold temperatures that people would automatically grumble.  But perhaps these towns carry what the Danish like to call “hygge”.  It’s coziness with friends, coffee and tea, delicious sweets which you don’t carry guilt for, books, being warm and comforted by your wool sweaters or layered attire, bicycling, nature, and kindness. 

Although I may not be relocating to Portland anytime soon.  I can appreciate it, and would definitely return.  I can see why people are drawn to the laidback lifestyle, eclectic vibe, and warm hearted locals. 

“Portland was a dream both in the literal sense and the metaphorical sense, both tangible and not – a fleeting affair you want to hold on to but can’t, so you try memorizing her every detail only to fail to do so in the consumption, in the savoring, in the absorbing of yourself into her. When she’s gone, she comes to you in snippets, replaying in your mind like a fragmented picture show.”
― Jackie Haze, Borderless

“How was I supposed to survive here? These Portlanders were an entirely different breed of white people.”
― Gabby Rivera, Juliet Takes a Breath

 

Unexpected Life Coaches

During this holiday season, I have been lucky enough to meet up with friends and family. Some of them I haven’t seen for several years. Although it has been amazing to catch up on squeezing in shortened stories of our lives in a small amount of time, there has been an unexpected result of these connections. People who have been in your world for more than ten years are witnesses of your life. They may not know the everyday details of the fluctuations that occur, but they are observers who see the general arc of your story. You provide the same role for them.

One of the most interesting things about this though, is being able to share your goals for the future. They don’t just know you from the past, or are hearing about the present, they are containers to breathe in the shape of the next phase of your life. One after one, as I retold how I want this next part of my life to go, they listened and supported how I plan to carve out my path. Sometimes my goals can appear quite lofty, but each time I explained them they seemed to solidify deeper in my bones. They are becoming reality. I am starting to believe it is possible to achieve my dreams for the next decade.

Old friends grant you the gift of being mirrors of the past, present, and future. They remind us of how certain values have traveled and remained consistent with us throughout our various haircuts, partners, jobs, apartments, body sizes, or financial status. Yet they also can observe the shifts we have made as a human being in how we want to carry out the remainder of our lives. Through inquiry and reflection with these special people, the universe is providing a sacred space to pause to determine what is truly essential and meaningful.

This upcoming year I will be turning 40, I met with friends who have been in and out of my life due to relocations since my early 20s.

When I brought up my midlife crisis of this upcoming birthday year to a friend who just turned 40, he said “Congratulations. You made it to the next level!” If life is a game, and I am true to the statement of a previous post of being a trickster, I am making it to the next level. What will be in store?

With each “level”, more is unraveled. Our authentic being is longing to be revealed. We remove the layers of our youth in which we try to please our parents, friends, and society. What is left is questioning what our soul longs for.

I am so grateful for each friend and family member I have been able to catch up with. I cannot fully verbalize the impact of how these brief meetings have landed and touched me collectively. As we head into the new year, pause to take in how your experiences with friends and family have potentially served as catalysts of reflection, inspiration, and hopefully action.


Sacredness

Today is Christmas Eve, and before I make the long journey on the 11 hour flight back to the states I went to church. But it was not any church, it was my gym swimming pool which exists in an old church. For a moment, it felt sacred. I was the only one in the large space. The pool was still, the room was dimly lit. It was magical, as if I stepped into a dream. But it lasted a mere 30 seconds. Then one by one people joined me in the pool. The staff came into the room , and the sacredness vanished.

This happens often, sacredness is in our midst but then it escapes us. Sacred moments do not just have to happen when we are alone. It is available at all times, we just have to work through the noise to see it. As I swam, change lanes, had people pass me, pass others, it’s easy to lose sight of the beauty of the pool. We are in a church swimming on Christmas Eve! I reminded myself to slow down and check out the stained glass each time I turned my head to take a breath. Breathe in during the midst of a workout. Sacredness exists here.

This past month I have been on a kick of listening to guided meditations by Sarah Blondin, they are truly exquisite. A link to her website is below. Without planning this theme for today, I listened to one of her guided meditations of making everything sacred. Perhaps her mantra of sacredness repeated in my head with each lap I swam.

These modern times of busy-ness, non-stop online activity, consumerism, and travel all are all heightened during the holiday season. Can we slow down and witness the sacred ?

I now sit on a plane full of vibrant chaos… crying babies, disgruntled passengers, arguing family members, and exasperated individuals. For me to take the fast track to zen, it includes zoning people out with headphones playing the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duet album. I’m not yet at the place to be calmed to zero without them. But some people are.

I read a book by Pico Iyer this week called The Art of Stillness, he mentioned a story of a woman sitting next to him while taking an extended international flight. They exchanged pleasantries initially, and after that she sat forward in her chair. She did not read, sleep, listen to music, or talk to anyone. She just sat there, comfortable with silence. Pico was mesmerized and it reminded him of a conversation he had with a spiritual leader regarding how to get over jet lag. This individual stated that he viewed flights as short retreats in the sky. This individual voiced “there’s nothing I can do, so it’s really quite liberating. There’s nowhere else I can be. Clouds and the blue sky. Everything is still and everything is moving its beautiful. “ Pico then added that think how Buddhists see our mind. The clouds are our thoughts, but underneath the passing clouds is always a blue sky. Be patient and clear skies will appear.

Wherever you are this holiday season, be it traveling via crowded airports, trains, cars, or in solitude – may you find the sacredness available in each moment. The path you take doesn’t matter (including the quick fix of old school jazz tunes). It doesn’t matter how you get there. Simply breathe and take it in. The blue sky exists, as long as you are patient enough to wait for the clouds to pass and dissipate. Sacredness will emerge if you are willing to see it.

May you have a sacred holiday season.

https://www.sarahblondin.com

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