Wascally weasel!

Weasel closeupOne of the things I love about Monkey Valley, which goes hand-in-hand with the stillness, is the presence of wild animals. Being so far away from people and their noise means being out where the animals live. Having an encounter with a wild animal is a special gift that sometimes happens out in nature. I find that if I haven’t seen a wild animal for a few days I start to feel something is missing. I believe that as a human species we evolved together with our animal friends, and our souls need their companionship. Without interactions with animals we get lonely.Weasel next to laundry tub leg

This is a concern for me as we encroach on the few remaining wild areas and the space left for our wild friends to live in becomes more and more limited. Many animals such as deer and coyotes learn to adapt to human presence, coexisting with us in small tangles of brush and stands of trees, but some animals cannot. And the simple fact is that if we are using up all the room, for cities, farms, clear cuts, roads, and mines, there isn’t much wild space left for our animal friends to live in. The numbers of species are dwindling, and I think also the number of animals within the species, especially of large mammals such as wolves, bears, and elephants.

Weasel attacking in a blur of motionBut one day last fall I had an unexpected visitor in the house at Monkey Valley. It wasn’t as big as an elephant—much closer to squirrel size, actually. I was in the living room watching a movie when I heard a strange hissing sound coming from the laundry room. My first thought was that the propane heater was leaking. I went up the stairs into the laundry room, sniffing for the smell of gas, but what I noticed was a strong skunk-like odor! The hissing noise was even louder in this room.

I noticed that Donald was crouched in the middle of the Weasel from above, showing mottled back, length, and black tail tiplaundry room floor, focused on the corner under the laundry sink. A little creature ran out, puffed up and hissing at me! It was a weasel! It was in the midst of changing from summer colours to winter, when it would become an all-white ermine with a black tip. Right now its back fur was a mottled brown with some white patches, but the tip of its tail was black.

What a feisty creature! It hissed at me very aggressively, although it was smaller than a squirrel, but thinner and longer. I don’t know how it got in the house. Perhaps through a small mouse hole—it was certainly thin enough to squeeze through a mouse hole—or maybe through Donald’s cat door.

Weasel next to bucketI opened the door to the outside, at the end of the hallway, and went to get a flashlight, broom, and towel. I’ve had some luck catching mice in towels in the past, but this creature was more aggressive. I started with the broom, trying to sweep the little weasel toward the open door. He leaped on the end of the broom, biting it ferociously, hissing all the while. What a little character! No fear at all. Donald had lost interest and left the room. I got the camera and took a few pictures of it, and continued to try to encourage the little creature to go out the door. It took many skirmishes with the broom, and retreats behind the bucket in the corner. I had Weasel with pie plateto clear away everything the weasel could hide behind, and close off any spaces he might hide in on the way out the door. More broom work, and then I finally got him to run out the door. I wonder if this is how the honourable Canadian sport curling got started!

What a gift to have this brave little visitor come into my house! The magnificent weasel would be an appropriate symbol for courageous fighting against enormous odds. Also for being true to one’s nature without fearing the consequences!

Prison guard blues

Youth in Prison (Incarceration Issues: Punishment, Reform, and Rehabilitation)I taught walking meditation to my two classes at the youth correctional institute on Monday night. The first class consisted of three young men. A male guard was in the room, the library, for the first part of the class, working on the computer. So I introduced the meditation, and as we began slowly walking around the room in a circle, we heard the magical sound of Windows starting.

But actually, this shows me how accustomed I have become to the prison environment. For while this new sound (of Windows starting) seemed intrusive, I didn’t even notice the enormous clanging sound of the heavy prison doors in the hallway outside the room slamming shut repeatedly throughout the class, which had seemed like a shock to my soul-body when I first started teaching there.

We made it one and a half times around the room in the five minutes, and the young men seemed to be in a calm, quiet space after the meditation. The guard left, and the rest of the class was tranquil and flowing. I explained that they could use the walking meditation when they are feeling upset. The focus on the feet, which usually are not upset (unless they happen to be sore or injured), helps the meditator to shift into a more positive state. At least, that’s the theory!

The next class was the young women. This time a female guard came to the class and participated in it too. This is a wonderful development, which, as teachers with Yoga Outreach, we are encouraged to promote. For the guards no doubt can benefit from the yoga as much as the students.

But this time, the presence of the guard presented a new challenge, which I had never encountered before. For she had done yoga before (from a video) and thought it was appropriate to offer corrections to the students during the poses, as well as to give orders to maintain discipline in the class! So during the silent walking meditation she gave orders to the students to be quiet when they were giggling. And it went downhill from there. I totally lost control of the class, and it was a complete disaster! A new learning for me.

A few days after the fact, I can feel some appreciation for the universe bringing me this opportunity to learn new skills as a teacher. I now know that if a guard joins the class, I need to take her aside and lay down the ground rules; she is there as a student only, and must leave the class control to me!We're All Doing Time: A Guide for Getting Free

The final straw was when the students and guard were lying in savasana (corpse pose), the final resting pose that is the traditional way to end a yoga class. The guard took a call on her radio headset (which she had been wearing throughout the class and which occasionally emitted noises), and started speaking into it, from her mat. (Rather than leaving the room so as not to disrupt the students who were in a quiet, resting state after being very rambunctious throughout the class.) Then she said to the students, “OK, time to go get your meds.”

At this point my strength arose, and I took back control of the class. I have a strong sense of ritual and there are certain things that MUST be observed, such as ending the class in the traditional way. I said “I am not finished. I am ending the class, and need one more minute.” I gently brought the students out of sivasana, and we closed with the traditional Namaste salutation (which means “the divine light in me greets the divine light in you”). After saying Namaste to the students and thanking them for sharing their practice with me, I turned to the guard (who left the circle and did not participate for the closing) and said Namaste to her. After they all left I put away the equipment and drove home, furious with the guard for undermining my authority in the class, and with myself for not knowing how to handle it.

I must say, I felt much more compassion and understanding for my Diamond Approach teachers, whose classes I have interrupted and disrupted many times. Now the shoe is on the other foot! And walking meditation did not help me to regain my ground. It took a strong talking-to to my superego, who was having a field day with me for not handling the situation well, before I started to calm down.

The joys of being a wild woman and putting myself in situations where the unpredictable can happen! Of course, this is where learning and growth can occur. Even though it didn’t help me right in the moment, I still recommend walking meditation, for it will help us all develop a connection with something that is deeper than our emotional state. And in spite of all the disruption in the class, it was beautiful to see how one of the young women in the class really connected with the earth energy through her feet from doing this meditation.

So keep practicing!

If you are interested in more information about the benefits of teaching yoga and meditation to people in prison, check out this link to the UK organization The Phoenix Prison Trust. Once you’re at the site, click Why we do it.

Delightful feet

The length of my apartmentWell, how did it go? What did you notice as you did the walking meditation I described yesterday?

I did it in my apartment, and found that in five minutes I just made it from one end of my apartment to the other, and back. I have a small apartment! So that gives you an idea of how slowly I was walking.

I noticed my mind wandering numerous times, mostly with “to do” items. The feeling in my feet was delicious. A warm cozy feeling, in warm socks and slippers. Walking on the carpet added to the feeling of coziness. Some people find they almost lose balance when walking that slowly, and I did notice my gait and balance felt much different than usual. I felt the alignment of the bones in my legs and hips and ankles in a different way than I’m usually aware of. A sense of the weight of my body and how the bones move to support it.

The cushy feeling in my feet is was most delightful. It felt like the earth was a resilient force, receiving and yielding then slightly pushing back. Of course my mind wanted to get involved with theories about connecting with the earth, and how this is a step on the path to connecting with the entire universe. But the actual act of walking has a simple feeling that really felt innocent and delightful.

Now, after the meditation as I write this, I notice my feet feel more open, and I can sense the earth’s energy entering my feet through the soles, where they touch the floor. It seems like a white light entering my body. Wow, the vastness of the earth as a being feels like a huge energy, and as I sense the energy through my feet I start to notice that the energy field of the earth is all around my body too.

This totally blows away my notion of being a small separate self that is completely cut off from everything else and unsupported in the world. My body feels like a permeable spacious entity that is connected with the space and energy around it, so that the energy of the vast earth is through me as well as around me, and I feel a gentle humour and delight in the quality of the vast energy. As I sense into the quality of the energy, my mind activity stills, and I enter into the unknown of what is arising. Blissfulness, pleasure, but there isn’t the usual sense of “I” to experience it.

The vastness is a full darknessThe usual I has faded more into the background, but I notice she has some fear about being with the unknown. I am part of a much bigger awareness, and my usual I wants to go back to the usual activities of my egoic mind. What will this bigger awareness require of me? What is happening in it? What is it? The collective energy of my neighbourhood? I hear the birds and cars outside, and someone hammering. There is peace in this vastness. An imperturbability, that seems to be reminding me of its truth. The vastness informs me that I can be aware of that imperturbable peace as I deal with a problem I’ve been irritated by since yesterday, that my egoic mind finds annoying. And curiousity can be there too. Hmm, why is this person I’m annoyed with behaving this way, and what is arising out of the vastness through their actions? What boundless generosity the universe has, to not only make me feel supported as part of something much larger than myself, but to also help me with a very minor problem in my life!

So, I am sure your experience of the walking meditation might be different than this. I have had a daily meditation practice pretty steadily for about 10 years, and I use a practice called inquiry to notice my experience and follow it into the depths and breadth of reality. Plus Saturday morning relaxation, tea, and chocolate allow me to shift out of my usual awareness and pay attention to a bigger reality in a way I don’t usually take the time to do.

I invite you to share what your experience was of the walking meditation, and what you were aware of at the end of the meditation. If you don’t want to share it on this blog, maybe you’d like to write about it in your journal or tell a friend what you noticed. I invite you to use this practice every day this week, for 5 or 10 minutes. Keep seeing what you notice. It’s never the same day twice! (Except in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, but that’s another story!)

Walk your blues away

Walking meditationYou’ve probably heard that walking is good for you. It’s one of the most highly-recommended forms of exercise. It’s gentle on the body, and good for the psyche. The physical activity can get the juices flowing and even create a little endorphin high. Going for a walk is good for clearing the mind, and it’s also a great technique to use for controlling anger. Just being outside for a while and touched by the sky can lift the spirits. But this isn’t the kind of walking I’m talking about.

I’m talking about a simple practice called walking meditation. It’s different from regular walking, in part because the pace is slower. Its benefits are more profound than regular walking. It is a spiritual practice, and like many spiritual practices, the purpose is to support us in a different kind of awareness than our usual consiousness.

Our usual consciousness involves a lot of thinking! It is sometimes called our egoic mind. We use it to function in the world—planning how to talk to a coworker about a problem or new idea, deciding what to make for dinner, remembering a warm moment with a friend. As you can see, the egoic mind is usually oriented towards the past or the future. Don’t get me wrong—the egoic mind is useful, and developing a healthy ego, which includes a sense of being a separate self and other characteristics that ego psychologists have listed, is an important developmental achievement for humans. But it doesn’t stop there!

We are much more than our egoic minds, but unless we are remarkably lucky or have done a lot of inner work, we may not be aware of what that “more” is.  Actually, we may not be aware THAT there is more. I believe that the midlife crisis is a waking up moment when we realize that the life of the egoic mind is not entirely satisfying. Perhaps we’ve raised a family or achieved career success. Relationships may have ended or they might be continuing, but somehow didn’t bring all that we hoped for. Maybe there’s a feeling that something is missing. A richness and aliveness that we remember life having when we were children. Or a sense of being at peace. There are many qualities to our being and to the nature of all that is that we might long for and sense are possible, but don’t experience as often as we’d like.

Walking meditation is a way to drop out of the busy thinking activity of the egoic mind and open our awareness to what else is true in the present moment. It can be a doorway into a more expanded awareness of reality. I’ve learned different forms of walking meditation over the years, at Naropa University, at Diamond Approach retreats, and elsewhere. I taught walking meditation as part of a meditation class I taught in Merritt, in which I introduced students to a variety of meditation techniques. I think having a daily meditation practice is very difficult, and also very important for developing our capacity to be aware of more than the egoic mind. I think it is so difficult that without a context such as a spiritual understanding to give meaning to the activity, and without the support of a spiritual community, it is probably not possible. But I could be wrong—if you disagree, or have had a different experience, I’d love to hear about it.

I stopped teaching meditation because I felt that without the support of a spiritual path, people wouldn’t be able to sustain their practice. But on the other hand, even meditating once and never meditating again might have a benefit. So I’ll invite you to try this for yourself, and see what you make of it. Whether or not you have a spiritual practice or want one!

Preparation: Choose a place to walk where you can walk slowly without worrying that people will think you’re weird. This could be in your home, or outside. Decide how long you’re going to walk for; I suggest 5 or 10 minutes the first time.

  1. Let your eyes rest gently on the ground about six to eight feet (two to three metres) in front of you. Soften your gaze so your eyes aren’t focused on the details. Walking at night is good too.
  2. Clasp your hands loosely in front of you, with your arms relaxed and hanging naturally. One way is to insert your right thumb between your left thumb and forefinger, so your left hand clasps your right thumb, and the rest of your right hand clasps your folded left hand.
  3. Bring your awareness down out of your mind and into your feet. Feel your feet. Feel how they feel in your socks and shoes, or sandals, if you’re wearing any. Feel how they feel making contact with the earth.
  4. Begin to walk slowly, keeping your awareness on the sensation in your feet. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your feet.
  5. At the end of the time you have set, increase your awareness to include the space in and around your body. Take a few moments to notice what you are aware of.

Blessings on your journey.

Wild neighbours: cougars and their ways

Beautiful cougarAt Monkey Valley, we place a strong emphasis on keeping retreat participants safe. One of the ways to do that is helping people learn about the wild animals that live in the area. I’ve written extensively about cougars on this blog, to tell you the story of how I learned about cougars and why I feel it is safe to be out and about at Monkey Valley when there might be cougars in the neighbourhood.

For some reason, this has been a very popular topic for spammers! And with readers, too. I think we are all fascinated by the magnificent cougar. If you are planning to come to Monkey Valley and would like to read up on cougars, here is a summary of the entries about cougars and their ways:

Winter in Vancouver: service not snowplowing

Donald in the snowAs I have mentioned before, I am spending this winter in Vancouver. I wanted to stay at Monkey Valley, to enjoy the incredible stillness that comes when the entire landscape is blanketed in white. But it was not to be; the snow plow company was unable to commit to plowing my roads to keep them open for the winter. I was unable to risk getting snowed in for several months, given my commitments to my people here in Vancouver; teaching yoga to the youths in prison in Burnaby, and assisting my chapter of the Society for Technical Communication as its president. Both of these require my presence in Vancouver occasionally, though ironically my technical writing work does not, as it is conducted entirely by phone and internet.

Vancouver backyard snowYesterday morning I found a light dusting of snow in the backyard of my place in Vancouver, and at Christmas time there was actually over a foot of snow! Very unusual weather for Vancouver, but it was a nice compensation for missing out on the snow at Monkey Valley.

I didn’t give up easily on spending the winter in Monkey Valley. I looked into what would be involved in plowing the roads myself this winter, and came up with several options:

  • 4-wheeler with blade attachment or blower attachment
  • hand-held and pushed/walked powered snow blower
  • custom-built blower attachment for my Tracker
  • tractor with blade or blower attachment

As well as costing anywhere from $1,000 to over $10,000, these options would also require me to do the work, which is to plow 7 KM of road. The time this takes varies depending on the type of equipment, but would be a minimum of 1-2 hours for that length of road each time a few inches of snow falls. Given the 8 inches of snow that fell in early December, I was glad I made the decision to leave when I did. I just did not want to spend my whole winter plowing the road, as much fun as that might be! Maybe next year.

Of the options I mentioned, I think mounting a snowblower on my Tracker would be the best way to go. It would involve permanently altering the vehicle’s front bumper, and attaching to a point higher on the front of the car as well, so it would definitely alter the appearance of the car. But why buy a 4-wheeler or tractor when the Tracker has more power and can do the job!? MORE POWER!!!! As Tim Allen used to say on Home Improvement.

Carnival ride poseSo I have been enjoying serving my people in Vancouver this winter. I recently taught a class I developed, called Yoga for the Office, at the STC’s January program meeting. It went really well. It was a thrill to teach to many people who had never tried yoga before, to help them feel the benefits of it for themselves. The treasurer of the chapter told me it made her headache go away, and the public relations person said her shoulder ache disappeared. Plus people had various interesting experiences of changed mental states due to the breathing we did. So I was very pleased with how the class turned out. I am considering offering this one-hour workshop to offices in the Lower Mainland. Please let me know if you’re interested!