How to Meditate with a Golden Retriever

It’s a challenge. But I’m breathing my way through it.

Buddy, in a state of mindful relaxation.

I have wanted to meditate for several years now. My thinking is getting more and more scattered, and my self talk more and more negative. So better relaxation and focus could really help.

But the Resistance is large with this. It’s as if it knows that better calm and focus will make its destructive job harder. So I thought about it but never started.

Last week I went for my regular long walk around Wascana Lake and listened to the audio of “Real Happiness” by Sharon Salzburg and for whatever reason it got me jazzed to try again. (The reason: it’s a 4 week program so there’s actual things to do. Oh do I need prompts!) So I’ve made a 20 minute meditation session part of my routine.

First thing in the morning I get up, feed the animals, let them outside, then head downstairs for my meditation time. My back’s too tight to sit cross legged for 20 minutes, so I lie on the floor instead.

Just lie there and focus on my breathing. Start thinking about work? Go back to breathing. Relationships? Back to breathing. Past failures and future worries? Breathing. The fact that my back still hurts? Breathing.

Then Buddy, our 10 year old golden retriever, barks to come inside. Breathe. Bark! Breathe. BARK!

Ok, I’m coming.

Back downstairs, and back to breathing. Now he’s beside me. He wants me to pet him. Just breath. He inches closer, (breathe), closer, (breathe), closer, until he’s leaning against my right arm and chest. Now I’m breathing while petting him.

It worked! He’s gone now. Back to breathing.

And he’s back with a toy. Plop. He drops it beside me. Breathe. Plop. He drops it closer. Breathe. Keep breathing and throw the toy. Bud’s a golden retriever but he doesn’t retrieve. He’s got his own Muse.

But this time he retrieves! Breathe. He’s back with the toy. Breathe. He lies down with his toy. Ahh…breathe. Across my feet. Breathe.

Ding! Time’s up. Good session today, Bud. I’m feeling relaxed, focused and strong.

Same time tomorrow?

The Resistance Won A Battle. But I’m Still Fighting The War.

There’s reading about it, and then there’s living it.

I’m a big fan of Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.”  The book is a kick in the head for all creative people, including writers and entrepreneurs.   It both names and to helps fight the Resistance, that shitty part of your brain that stops you from doing the (seemingly) risky, scary and essential creative work you were meant to do.

I’ve read all of Steven’s non-fiction work and it helps.  But oh boy it’s not helping this month.  The damn Resistance has me hard.  It’s clawing at my brain stem right now.

Some may call it a migraine, but I know exactly what it is.  You don’t just get a migraine when you sit down to write.  But I’ve had three over the past week. Each time it takes me three days to get the courage up to write again.

I tried to trick it, by painting or recording a video instead of writing.  Smart, eh?

Well it wasn’t me that was being smart.  It was that f’ing Resistance again, deflecting the whole time.  Don’t create!  Research a new medium instead.  Look for tripods.  Adjust the lighting.  Watch yourself umm and ahh on video instead of writing clearly like you can.

It took a ‘knock me in bed’ migraine today to finally get it.  I See You.  You prick.

I’m writing about you now, Resistance.  Then I’m hitting Publish.

Then I’m finishing my article.  And starting another one.

You won for the last three weeks.  I won today.

 

 

Time to be Fearless

Paperbag_head

I went for a Canada Day walk through Wascana Park today, with Marc Maron’s interview with Neil Young in my ears.  If I was going to ignore the cover bands playing in the park, I figured I should at least listen to a Canadian interview.

They were talking about love and art.  Neil said the key was to be fearless.  If you’re fearless, you open yourself up to real love.  You can’t make art, or make love work, if you’re hiding.

I turned 50 two days ago and this morning I caught myself, once again, worrying about everything.  Money, time, and the lack of both.  Fear of being rejected or worse yet, ignored.  Yet again, being afraid to write and to work and to live.

Enough!  I’m 50 years old for crying out loud!  What, am I going to be afraid till I’m 60?  70?

If not now, then when?

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

 

Orlando

I should be getting used to it by now; it seems like there’s at least one mass shooting in the US every month. You just process one and then there’s another. But the shooting on the weekend in Orlando struck closer to home than usual.

My kids are young adults; they go to night clubs all the time. And my daughter is part of the LGBT community. I woke up Sunday morning and realized they’re a potential target for someone’s ignorant, pathetic hate.

She’s got a trip planned to LA next week. I’m scared to have her go. Even though there’s seemingly a lot of people there who are armed to the hilt for ‘protection’, it doesn’t give me comfort.

And honestly, the crazy nonsense I’ve been reading online over the past few days has me worried that there’s no ‘normal’ any more down south. Hell, I’m sticking to stamp collecting forums and I still see more hate, ignorance and paranoid fear than I can stomach.

All of us are just floating through space, you know? Just trying to make sense of this crazy messed up thing called “life.” And when I read some of the reactions to the latest disaster I realize I’m no closer to figuring it out.

I don’t know what’s worse: the sick hatred that’s behind these crimes or the fear and ignorance that fuels the flames. All I know is that the story is getting really old.

I can’t remember a time in my life when we weren’t encouraged to hate another group, be it national, religious, racial or sexual. Can you?

What Are You Up To?


Saturday Farmer’s Market, Estremoz, Portugal

Cindy and I walked down to the Farmer’s Market today. It was fun to see the vendors again and catch up on things. It’s been two years since I baked for the Market but lots of people still want to see our bread there.

There was lots of interest in our trip and what we saw. There was even more interest in what we were doing next. Sadly, I think my response was a poor one.

I have this habit of telling people I need to figure something out, because I can’t be “unemployed” for much longer. But that’s the wrong answer.

  • I’m already talking to several places in town about starting or improving their bread production
  • There are people signed up to The Baker’s Bench who are ready for another baking course
  • I’m running into people on the street who say they enjoy our travel blog and want me to keep writing

So whether I say it or not, I’m already a baker, a teacher and a writer. And I’m doing all those things. I just didn’t get paid today.

It’s too easy to describe ourselves only in terms of what we do for money. That’s a trap. There’s a lot more going on in all of us.

A Tale of Two Bridges

Funky drawbridge, Rotterdam
Funky drawbridge, Rotterdam

During our recent cycling trip through Holland I was repeatedly struck by the beauty of what we would call the ‘infrastructure’ of the place. The street signs, the light posts, but especially the bridges.

In a country with as many canals as roads, you’re going to have a lot of bridges. I was surprised to see that many of them had unique and beautiful designs. They were functional works of art. And many of them had the builder or designer prominently displayed right on the bridge.

I can imagine the effort that went into designing these bridges. The design competition and the decision process to install this bridge here, and this different design three blocks over.  It would’ve added to the cost, but added something remarkable into the landscape.

Nameplate on a drawbridge, on the main road somewhere between Utrecht and Amsterdam

There’s a new footbridge near my home in Saskatchewan too. It connects the high school with a park and, beyond, a small library on the way to the city centre. The old bridge, no more than 60 years old but, alas, made of wood, must have been deemed unsafe in this modern age.

There is no art to my new bridge. It’s exactly the same as the other new footbridges that cross Wascana Creek. It’s made from galvanized steel (same as the recent grey/silver light posts) and pressure treated lumber. It may not be beautiful but it’s likely the cheapest way to cross the creek on foot. There’s no name on the bridge, or any of the other bridges crossing the creek, identifying the designer or the builder.

No doubt the decision to build the bridge in my town was based solely on cost. What design can give me the most bridges for the least money? Can we use existing ‘off the shelf’ components? Which installation crew is the cheapest? Then ask those questions in a blind bidding process and pick the cheapest option.

It won’t create anything lasting, or beautiful. It won’t make my heart sing every time I walk to the library. The galvanized steel handrail won’t feel good when I hold it. But hey, at least the builder was chosen through an objective and fair process. And Our Tax Dollars were used ‘responsibly.’

I find that sad.  And a missed opportunity.

There are a hundred opportunities every year to add art and beauty and good design to the world we live in. To choose the beautiful and interesting as well as the functional. To move people with our public spaces.

It’s time to add beauty to the conversation.

And We’re Back!

FTP Screen
I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at this FTP screen lately.

It’s been a fun three days.  I decided to make some changes to my hosting setup, which changed the location of this blog among other things.

After several emails to my hosting support, including one step that only they could perform, I have my hosting configured properly.  My bakery website is not completely moved to a new hosted wordpress environment and this host is configured for this blog and a some other blogging ideas I have.  (The skeleton of my next project is underway.)

The biggest unforseen hiccup was that I was without email for two days.  One day for the hosting folks to make their change and one to adjust all my MX records properly.  But even that’s all working now.

Onwards and upwards!

My Three Words for 2016

I’ve been listening to what Chris Brogan has to say for at least 8 years now.  One thing Chris does consistently is to pick three words to guide his work and life for the coming year.

Three words.  Way simpler than a vision statement or grand manifesto.  Or is it?

I mean, if you’re going to dedicate the entire year to focusing on only three words, they better be pretty good ones.  Broad.  Vibrant. Important.  Talk about pressure!

I’ve never done this before, but I have been struggling with focus lately (some may say for a long time) so I decided to do the three words exercise this year. I need some direction and it’s gotta come from inside me.  So here goes.  My three words:

Present.   Open.  Carnal.

Oooh, deep!   Let’s break this down.

Present

I have a really hard time living in the here and now.  I’m either full of regret about the past or worried about the future.  It’s no fun, believe me.

When I’m working, walking or talking with friends,  I will focus on the present. What I’m doing, seeing, hearing right now.

Where I am is much, much better than where I was or where I think I’ll end up.  So let’s love what’s happening around me now.

Open

When I’m caught up inside my head, everyone suffers.  I’m going to open up a lot this year.

I’ll open myself up to truly listen to people.  Their dreams, desires, problems and joys.  I can better help people if I’m truly listening.

I’ll share my hopes, dreams and challenges too and ask for help.  There’s no point putting on a strong face if I’m struggling with something.  And there’s no sense being afraid to say what I want to accomplish either.

I’ll take a page from Austin Kleon and show my work.  If I keep things bottled up till it’s perfect I’ll never ship anything.

Carnal

Here’s a word I picked up from Mary Karr.  It’s powerful.  Possibly controversial. It’s also perfect, so I’m using it.

The way she uses “carnal” it isn’t referring to sex specifically.  It’s referring to experiencing the world and talking about it, using all one’s senses.

That’s what I’m going to do.  When I write, I’m going to capture everything: the feel, smell, taste and sound of thing I’m describing

I’m going to capture the light and colour of the world around me when I paint

And when I travel, around town or around the world, I’m going to capture everything I experience as vividly as I possibly can.

Carnal is also a reminder to write the truth of what I see and experience.  I often sand off the rough edges of whatever I’m describing so as to not offend anyone.  I’m likely going to turn some people off with my writing this year.  That’s OK.  I’m going to turn others on even more this way, I know it.


 

So there you have it.  Three words that will get me out of my head and seeing things in bold, loud, smelly colour.  I’m very excited about the year ahead.

Fear of Music

I bought a premium subscription to Spotify several months ago.  It’s really starting to grow on me.

The main purpose was to have some peace at the bakery.  My Dylan-heavy playlist was getting on the nerves of the other bakers, but I wasn’t willing to listen to their house music or kiddie pop.  The Spotify subscriptions has a wide enough selection of music that there was something for everyone, even (god forbid) customers.

It’s really cool to be able to think of pretty much any music artist and be able to find their music in one place.  We can get a reggae playlist in seconds.  Same with soul music (you want classic or contemporary R&B?)  New music, old music, rock, country, folk or classical, it’s all there.

Sure there are a few things missing.  The Van Morrison collection is very, very slim, and I can’t find a good version of David Bromberg’s “Testify.”  And the Spotify curated playlists can be woeful (“Your Favourite Coffeehouse” is so mellow I’d need to order 3 extra shots of espresso.)  But Discovery Playlists make up for all of that.

The Discovery Playlist is a playlist selected just for you.  It’s around two hours long (30 songs or so) and is  based on the music that you pick regularly.  The twist is that the algorithm picks similar music, both old and new.

A new playlist shows up every Monday and exists for only one week.  So I have a week to listen to the whole thing and flag the artists and songs I want to hear more from.

It’s a neat trick.  I’m reminded of older artists or albums that I haven’t heard in ages, but the playlist also highlights new artists that I want to check out further.

I’ve been paying attention to my Discovery playlist for several weeks now.  If there’s a song I like, I add it to a special playlist so I won’t forget it (my Discovery playlist refreshes after a week and I can’t get it back any other way.  That “Master List of Discoveries” now has over 300 songs and I’ll likely add 20 more next week.

The only problem, and the one that inspired the title of this post, is what the algorithm says about my current musical tastes.  It’s trending towards 60’s and 70’s folk rock and American roots music.  I love it, but my tastes are actually more diverse than that.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to experiment with listening to specific styles to see if they will show up on my Discovery playlist.  Will listening to AC/DC for a week get more hard rock on the playlist?  What about a week of Orchestra Baobab?

I’ll keep you posted.  🙂

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want

We just got back from a Christmas holiday to Calgary and Fernie, and not a moment too soon.   Another day or two and I’d end up causing a big fight.

The trip was great, but highlighted by a series of strange communication errors. Either I would only hear half of what someone was saying, or I’d only say half of what I meant.  So many situations were unnecessarily strained, from arranging a meeting with my aunt and uncle or sorting the recycling as we cleaned out the condo in Fernie.

Inevitably I’d get frustrated by the misunderstanding.  Of course we were going to meet today!  Clearly this pile is recycling and that is garbage!  Then I’d get accused of being ‘snippy’ which would raise the tension three more levels.

Luckily we had a nine hour drive home where I could stew, mope, then try to figure things out.  I was taken back to a “Crucial Conversations” class I took years ago where the instructor kept quoting the Spice Girls.

Tell me what you want.  What you really, really want!

If what I really, really want is smoother, easier, stress free conversations with my friends and family (and I do), then that’s what I need to focus on.

Relax.  Get centred.  Explain in detail what I’m thinking.  Ask for feedback.  Ask for input.  Ensure we have understanding.  Then ensure we agree on the next step.

It’s hard for me, because I’m either experiencing life in big gulps and don’t want to stop, or I’m anxious about something and am dancing around the issue.

But if I’m going to reduce the number of Defcon 4 moments, I better stick to the program.

Relax.  Get centred.  Explain in detail what I’m thinking.  Ask for feedback.  Ask for input.  Ensure we have understanding.  Then ensure we agree on the next step.

I’m not really one for New Year’s Resolutions, but it seems I have one this year.