Insight meditation returns at the right time

As I write this, as when I practice Insight meditation, I can hear the birdsong and the gulls and the crows arguing through their caws in the tall fir tree in the park nearby that I watch dance when it’s windy.

Often throughout the last six months there have been eruptions of anger, especially from one man, living in a tent in the park below and over from my balcony high above.  I hear him and sometimes I see him, the testosterone and anger sparking off him. Usually, he’s ranting at a woman who maybe lives in the tent with him.  Sometimes he is going head-to-head with another camper, like two rams on a mountainside locking horns.

I can’t see clearly through the trees but I can hear him, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon. I have empathy. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to live in a tent. At the same time, I’m amazed anyone can get that rage filled and I always wonder what precipitates it. Luckily this park has bathroom facilities.

Feeling work stress in the past month or more, and recognizing the symptoms of that, I decided to start meditating again. It was actually the urging of my friend Colleen who has become immersed in a Sufi meditation practice led by a sheikh in Toronto.

When she reminded me, I’d forgotten that I’d taken an insight meditation course and then belonged to a group that met for a few months afterwards. So much has consumed our minds in the past year that I was surprised such a thing had fallen so far down to the bottom of my conscious memory.

I have been now doing meditation since April 3. I am a super early riser, much to my chagrin at times, and so doing meditation in the morning is a natural fit. I used to balk at getting out of bed only to sit down and close my eyes again. I didn’t understand that meditation is about being present, not absent, so it is not at all like sleep in any way and for consistency, mornings are a perfect time for me.

I get up. I have a glass of water. I light my jasmine incense as a ritual to announce, now we will meditate, and I wrap my shawl that I love, bought in Chiapas Mexico in 1997, around me, and I sit down and begin.

Sometimes lately, as a way to be sure it’s not too difficult to become immersed, I listen to guided meditations by this woman, Tara Brach or sometimes the well-known Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock and it’s a luxurious way to begin the day.

I incorporate the cacophony of bird sound that begins at that time and I always, as required, go back to my breath. The coolness of where the air enters and leaves at the tip of my nostril is the focal point for me.

During this time, this seemingly never-ending time of unrest and apprehension and uncertainty and fear of the present, but more fear of the future, I think it is important to have some form of calming ritual, that we carve out for ourselves, whatever that may be.

Part of Tara Brach’s meditations ask participants to ask themselves, What brings me here? I like to add, What does my heart need? How do I want to change to be ready for the future I want for myself?

Just putting that question out into the universe is enough. You don’t want to get caught in the stress of answering it in the moment. Just let it be there.

Usually, I choose to end my meditation intentionally with the words, “Anything is possible.”

If anyone reading this has begun their own self care routine, let us know what that looks like.

Share if you want to.

Here are a few other links from my past blog posts related to self care:

Qi-Gong: Awakening the Tiger: http://gaylemavor.com/2020/01/

Daydreaming the past: http://gaylemavor.com/2020/04/daydreaming-the-past-in-april-2020/

Reintroducing yourself to yourself once a week: http://gaylemavor.com/2019/02/re-introducing-yourself-to-yourself-once-a-week/

Shawl from Chiapas, Mexico, that I use to wrap around me during Insight meditation practice.

Zooming into art worlds to make COVID life better

I’ve noticed during COVID, anything to do with drawing, painting, watercolour and art in general is sold out.

You see something fantastic, get all excited, scroll down to register and SOLD OUT is more than likely to be your instant nemesis.

A recent airing of CBC’s Cross-Country Checkup asked the question, “Has Zoom made your life better or worse?”

About 98% of callers described why it had made their life better even if some of them were reluctant to admit that.

Here are some places I’ve been dropping into:

Virtual Walking Tours

It has now been 20 years since I’ve been to Paris but last weekend, I treated myself to a virtual and LIVE walking tour of the Montmartre district of Paris and it was great. It really came close to the feeling of being there in person following a guide through the streets, down the stairways, outside a famous drinking establishment, having him point out some of the places where artists like Camille Pissarro, Renoir, and Picasso lived. Redefine Essential Travel only and take a virtual trip.

www.virtualtrips.io

CBC Hot Air and Marcus Mosely’s Black History Month stories and songs

It’s Black History Month and Marcus Mosely has been leading songs and stories of Black history on one of my favourite programs on CBC, Hot Air.  I like nothing better than pouring a glass of wine, kicking back and tuning into Hot Air every Saturday afternoon at 5pm.  Here’s Marcus Mosely. Check in on it tonight.

MARCUS MOSLEY: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1863465027897

CBC HOT AIR: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-183-hot-air

BezArtsHub

Out of Langley, visit Bez Arts Hub for live streaming music events.

https://www.bezartshub.com/events-title and of course, can’t forget Side Door: https://sidedooraccess.com/home

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico

If you know me, you know how much I love Santa Fe, Taos, Ghost Ranch and Georgia O’Keeffe’s art and the stories of her personal history. They are offering online art classes and talks.

https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/event/breakfast-with-okeeffe-online-okeeffes-abiquiu-garden/

Ghost Ranch

Of course, you can also check out the courses being offered at Ghost Ranch at any time: https://www.ghostranch.org/things-to-do/workshops/

Whistler’s Audain Art Gallery Tuesday Night Talks

I’ve been checking into the Whistler Audain Art Gallery every Tuesday night for their Tuesday Night Talks between 8 and 9 pm.

Director and chief curator Dr. Curtis Collins facilitates a chat and visits the artists wherever they are at home to speak to images of their work.

https://audainartmuseum.com

Los Angeles Times Book Club

The Los Angeles Times Book Club is hosting free events with authors speaking about their fab books.  The upcoming book is Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy and she’ll be live on February 24th. You must RSVP.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-book-club-with-author-charlotte-mcconaghy-tickets-139709493857

Portfolio Reviews – Diego Narvaez

While I’m at it, I will add a young Mexican artist I met at the Sooke Fine Art show, Diego Narvaez, is currently living in Sooke, B.C.. He’s doing the hard 24/7 work of being an artist in a new country, much different than his home nation, Mexico.

He’s hosting a portfolio review that you can participate in if you don’t have to work during the day. I don’t personally know exactly what that means but he’s an interesting person and artist so check it out:

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/2021-sur-gallery-online-portfolio-reviews-tickets-141033066699?fbclid=IwAR2zZbtuynHg7uTwBclefgMx21GKq4CMrYwQLsVt8TED_sHa410aXbustkk

Oh and one more. Now I’m really getting off topic. Someone I work with told me about this. A course from the University of Alberta called Indigenous Canada. Dan Levy of Schitt’s Creek fame has conversations about Indigenous history and issues with Indigenous people. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hcBKumEbJg

So, yes, adding my voice to the “Zoom has made my COVID life way more interesting” camp.

Here’s an old post about travelling and yurts in case you need a trip experience: http://gaylemavor.com/2016/12/

Surrendering to COVID uncertainty

Surrender: to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.

Remember when you were a child you might have thought along the lines of, When I get to be [insert age older than current age]. Then when you got a bit older, thinking of post high school, you might have told yourself, When I graduate. When I get married. When I have kids. When I get a house. When I get divorced. When I get a new job. When I retire. Or insert whatever it was you desired.

Life as bullet train. Destination? Death! And yet, people rarely say, “When I’m dead.”

But that is essentially what all the forward thinking, the wishing, the being in our minds into the future, not right now, is what we’re saying.

The ultimate surrender is surrendering while we’re still alive. Living as if in a dream-like state but fully aware.

When people have anxiety attacks, they are guided to get into the now. Return to all the senses. What are you hearing? Can you smell anything? Focus on an object. What can you focus on to take your mind off the thought causing the anxiety right this minute?

Use “I am” statements. I am writing this blog post now. I am eating now. I am at work now.  I am doing the dishes now. Then give in to that moment completely. Savour the food. Look at the dishes, examine their form. Look at that tree, the bark, the leaves, the branches, the colour, texture, the moss up its trunk. It’s a really difficult challenge.

If we are wise, this is the kind of surrender that COVID has forced upon us. The acceptance of what is, no matter how much we might wish for a different reality. No matter how much we yearn for the imagined future.

I recall being in a meditation class about 4 years ago and someone said, Every time I try to meditate my neighbour turns on their stereo too loudly, drops something, bangs on something, and I begin to focus on the sounds and I become really agitated.

The teacher said, “Incorporate the sound. Find a way to incorporate the sounds into your meditation. To acknowledge them and fold them in.”

That was a revelation to me. I had never considered folding in the problem as the solution.

Acceptance is the fastest way to move through something.

There has never been a better time to go all Eckhart Tolle.

It has now been a year, March 27, 2020, since COVID arrived. I thought I’d share a few posts, I wrote at the beginning:

COVID life and eccentricity

I said to a friend the other day, I have nothing to say about COVID life. I have nothing to contribute. I really can’t figure out what to write on my blog. Garbage in. Garbage out. There is nothing of any interest coming in, not really, so what can you expect me to write about here?

I live alone. I see my coworkers on a Zoom call precisely one day a week. Sometimes I see my bubble buddy for a meal out. I talk on the phone. My stuffed animal, Rory the lion, brings me joy. My walks bring me contentment and relief. Reading brings me escape. Occasionally my friend from Mayne Island comes to town. This is not the lifestyle of the rich, famous, or come to think of it, even the living by pre-COVID standards.

Well, maybe I need more culture, I thought. So last night I tuned into Eventbrite on a Zoom call to hear Lisa See, a writer, and the author of my very favourite book of 2020 which was The Island of Sea Women. She was being presented by the Los Angeles Times Book Club. It’s free. Do it here. Good conversation in. That’s what I’m really craving. In person. She was coming to us from her home in California and she was as interesting as I expected her to be. Even more interesting.

Then today I wondered, What would David Sedaris say? And I’d really like to know because I had a ticket to his show here in Victoria which was scheduled for May 16, 2020 at the Royal Theatre. The ticket is still on my fridge. It’s like the kind of artefact you might find after the armageddon when the Martians arrive and every single thing is frozen in time but there are no people. The dishes aren’t done. The calendar on the wall is on the month when it all stopped. The bed isn’t made. It’s a Twilight Zone rerun. It’s creepy. 2021 is the new 2020 as they say.

The other night, I flicked across a show on Netflix with Martin Scorsese interviewing Fran Lebowitz. I actually only checked it out because I thought it was referring to that famous photographer, Annie Leibovitz. I didn’t care about Fran Lebowitz, but then I couldn’t stop watching her because it blows me away that some people, because of their fame, are allowed to just do monologues to Martin Scorsese. That’s my new definition of success. I loved how Scorsese was just this giggling, guffawing sidekick to her nonstop opinions. Where else could a woman over 50 be on a Netflix series just to spout opinions?

May 2020 is a lifetime ago in COVID time. Have you noticed there is such a thing as COVID time?  Some days it’s like somebody put on the cartoon speed-up-time roadrunner clock. And other days it’s as if you’ve fallen into the Groundhog Day of your existence. You walk into another room, forgetting why you went in there and when you come out four hours have passed.

I feel like instead of becoming more comfortable as time passes, I am becoming more paranoid, more anxiety ridden. There’s more at stake. I haven’t got COVID in 10 months and I’M NOT GETTING IT NOW! Get away from me. Maybe it’s the tone of the government press conferences foreshadowing even tighter restrictions due to THE VARIANTS. Good name for a band by the way. Maybe that’s what has set me off.

The other day, I was walking down the sidewalk and I could hear footsteps getting closer and closer behind me. Now, in the little village where I live, the city stole a strip of the road and made it into a larger sidewalk-like area because the sidewalks are so narrow that two people can’t pass.

I was getting really uptight about this person getting closer and closer to me, behind me, and the only way I could have avoided them not overtaking me was to jump onto the road, to start running, or to stop. I chose to stop. Then I turned around and said, “Have you heard of the 6.5 feet thing?” holding up my hands like I was lying about the size of the fish I’d just caught.  That’s how articulate I am when I’m pissed off. And I proceeded to say, pointing to the large area of road beside the sidewalk. “There’s this thing they created. You could go around me,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, as her dog came up to lick my pantleg, “I didn’t know I was that close.”

I didn’t say a thing. I just turned in my annoyance and kept on walking. Point made. Period. You are dead to me, lady.

Be kind. Be Calm. Be Safe.  These are the words of Dr. Henry, our public health officer celebrity. They rang across my atrophying pre-frontal cortex. But afterwards when I relayed this incident to a friend, I became fixated on the fact that I’d actually said 6.5 feet. I mean, really? Not 6.4 feet? Not 6 feet? Six. Point. Five. Feet. EXACTLY! Two metres to be exact. As if I carry around a tape measure in my brain because that’s how exacting I am as an individual (not!).  I find that hysterical now. NICE! I can only imagine her relaying that story to her husband when she got home, completely indignant.

And don’t even get me started on her dog. Of course, it was on one of those retractable leashes. Is it even possible to be considered human now without owning a dog? Isn’t it enough to have brought children into the world? Now every human can only be verified as human if they also have a dog apparently.

There. There you go. Now you know why I have not written anything since I posted about the book, The Plague. We are all the plague now, Baby.

The Plague, Albert Camus, 1947

…Thus the first thing that the plague brought to our fellow citizens was exile…Yes, that hollow that we carried constantly inside us, that precise emotion, that unreasonable desire to go backwards or, on the contrary, to speed up the march of time, those burning arrows of memory – all this really did amount to a feeling of exile. If sometimes we gave in to our imaginations and indulged in waiting for the ring of the homecoming bell or a familiar step on the stair, if at such moments we allowed ourselves to forget that the trains were at a standstill and if we then made sure to stay indoors at the time when, in normal circumstances, a traveller returning by the evening express might reach our neighborhood, these games, of course, could not go on for long. Then we knew that our separation was going to last, and that we ought to try to come to terms with time. In short, from then on, we accepted our status as prisoners; we were reduced to our past alone and even if a few people were tempted to live in the future, they quickly gave it up, as far as possible, suffering the wounds that the imagination eventually inflicts on those who trust in it.

Sprinklings of memories

Last night I walked by a sprinkler in the side yard of a beautiful old yellow heritage house in James Bay.  

It was one of those old-fashioned sprinklers from the 60s that moves back and forth in pinstripe lines of needle-like water. You can adjust the stream so it fits in small spaces or turn the water on, full pressure, so it can move back and forth across a bigger expanse of lawn.

This sprinkler was on a very small rectangle patch of grass and some sort of lush greenery, tall grasses that blocked the view slightly past the fence, if I’m remembering correctly. The grass was mostly in shade, but with the soft light of 7 p.m. shining onto a dry patch of it.

The water, jetting out of the sprinkler, glinted in a stream of sunshine that hit it. And in my two seconds of passing, because I was walking fast, I was immediately transported back to a side yard at my house in New Westminster during my sixties childhood.

I could feel the needle stream of wetness on my legs, hear the joy of running under it, especially if my best friend was there. The trying to avoid the water, running straight through it, putting my foot on top of the stream to prevent it from hitting me. I could see a red bathing suit bottom, perhaps of my friend but I’m not sure, and the way it sagged at the butt when it got wet. I could feel my brother’s hands trying to push me into the water. And see him being silly, his face over the stream, his black hair dripping wet. Two seconds of passing this scene in a stranger’s yard and I was right back at eight years old in another yard, during another time with the same type of sprinkler and all those visual memories.

Is this what happens with aging?

When you’re 90, should you live that long, does every image become stacked upon the scenes you’ve kept your entire life, little vignettes and snapshots hidden away, awakened only by an image or experience in the present as if every day is a taste test of the most delicious 14-layer chocolate cake, the most painful collage of things you’ve tried to forget?

Visions of daily life Post-COVID

When COVID has run its course at some point (we have to hope in the next 12-15 months), I think we all must have an inkling that on some level there is going to be an explosion of change – in personal lives, in work lives, in who we keep close and who we move on from and we can only hope, because humanity’s future is dependent upon it, in the organization of our society.

It’s good to pay attention to the thoughts that come up for you at all times. That was not so easy to do in the busyness pre-COVID. It’s even more important to pay attention to the thoughts that arise during times of crisis. I really believe these thoughts are signposts about a vague vision of your future that is already formulating inside of you.

I’m not sure if this happens to others but there are places I’ve visited that keep coming back to me. For years! I think of them as places as visitors, ringing the bell of my consciousness, calling out as if home is a part of their imagery.

One of those places that keep visiting me is a little village I spent time in when I went to Thailand in 2013. I got on the train in Bangkok. I got off the train about 3 or 4 hours later farther south. While journeying there, the train was open air, and all the seats were taken. Uncomfortable seats, very upright, if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me. We stopped once or twice to let passengers on and off and at one stop vendors selling food came on during the stop. There were women carrying bags of ice, Thai ice tea, in different colours, pastel pink and orange, and noodles as well.

It was beautiful, rural countryside, the opposite of Bangkok’s frenzy. Tall palms dotted the grassy landscape. The breeze, extremely warm, was blowing in through the windows and the tracks clacked as we moved farther south. I was one of the few foreigners on it, or at least that’s what I recall about the compartment I was in.

A middle aged white woman alone always piques interest, pity, admiration, curiosity at the very least, especially in those countries organized around the sanctity and cohesiveness of family.

I got off the train and walked, late in the afternoon, towards the sea because I had been told that’s where the best old hotel (owned by the Russians) in this small place was. I had been told by someone who recommended the place to me to ask for a room close to the top floors in what was a five or six-story very sparse building.

I checked in, English not really spoken, except in gestures, and took the stairs up four flights and opened the door to my room. I inhaled quickly, a gulp of heat shocked the inside of my mouth and my lungs. I went to the balcony and the view from my tiny deck was stunning. Limestone cliffs rose from the blue grey of the Gulf of Thailand and the heat, mist like, fogged the scene in a mirage of heat waves. Boats that looked like Chinese junks were in the distance. There was no denying I was in S.E. Asia.

Over the course of four days I explored the small place. There was a daily market that ran the full length of an alleyway. There was a 7-11 on the corner, or a store that resembled it. The entire length of the waterfront had a walkway where early in the morning, individuals would dry the catch of fish from their nets, small squid I think. I remember, even then, thinking to myself that this was the kind of place I could just hang out for a while. To just take in its rural version of small town Thailand, a version I’d enjoyed more of than any other place I’d experienced in Thailand.

I walked along and there were children in uniforms behind big gates, running through a dusty courtyard and I said Hi to them through the gates of their school.

There were smaller Stupa-style temples with gold and turquoise tile works and small clay elephants and roosters arranged like offerings on the tile around ceramic elephants standing three feet high. On Friday evenings there was a local market on the waterfront and I spoke with a Thai man who spoke English. He was curious about where I was from and of course I had to correct his immediate impression that I was American.

Along the waterfront there were a few local Thai restaurants, and further along, past a military checkpoint, there were beautiful stretches of beaches that had lots of room, the softness of murky waves rippling along the sand-coloured shore and back out again, melding with the blue-green sea.

I could image going back there. It keeps poking at me. I always pay attention to those places I’ve visited that never leave. Oban, Scotland is another one.

I could imagine renting a place to live and just being in this small Thai town for a while at some point in the future. One thing I’ve learned from the pandemic, although I sort of knew this beforehand, is that I can be in the world, by myself, and be relatively okay regardless of where that might be, especially in the age of Zoom.

I’m genuinely curious to know whether any of you have places you’ve visited in the world that accompany you psychically and you’ve never really been able to explain precisely why.