To Hold and To Be Held

This coming weekend there’s going to be a party in my house. Usually, I like parties. I enjoy planning the menu, prepping the house and feeling the buzz about the place. However, this party that is coming is feeling like it is tipping me over into a place of overwhelm. I just don’t have the time. I don’t have the time to clean, to cook or to enjoy. And yet, this party is still coming.

IMG_6379Thankfully a few months ago, while teaching on the MSc: Studies in Mindfulness (click here), my colleague Choden gave a profound teaching on our ability to move toward being ‘The Holder and The Held’. This concept is the idea that we all have the ability to hold our difficulties with compassionate arms, while also having a sense of being held at the same time. We can be the holder and we be the held.

So how do we do this?

Well, we start by building our resources or filling our tool boxes with methods in which we might practice kindness, warmth, and open-heartedness towards ourselves. We build our capacity to hold.

In our Level 2: Responding with Compassion course (click here) we explore all sorts of practices (both mind and body) that help build and strengthen what Tara Brach calls ‘the unfolding arms of acceptance’ or holding our experience/embracing our pain as a mother holding her child. Again, this is our capacity to hold.

However, there is one practice that has really stood out for me. It has been Choden’s practice of ‘The Holder and The Held’ that has really been helping me open up to my struggle and to notice how my struggle is manifesting in my body, my feelings, in my heart. Once, I’ve brought an awareness to what is present for me, I can move towards stepping into the stability of my body and allowing this stability to hold what is present with a kindness and a warmth and an open-hearted attending to. It has been incredibly powerful.

So, as I face this party that is coming, I can stay with the difficulty of the overwhelm and really have a sense of being held by my compassionate self. It is still difficult; however, I feel like I can do this one step at a time.

This week, I invite you to listen to Choden’s practice and give it a go. Are you able to open up to difficulty and possibly even hold that difficulty with a warmth and tenderness? Or, as Tara Brach says, what is it like to move towards tapping into ‘the unfolding arms of acceptance’. Sometime it is easier said than done! But we can set the intention to. 😉

Click Here for Choden’s practice of The Holder and The Held.

-Jane

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A Measure of Light

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Over the past weeks, for a number of reasons that are too tedious to get into, I have been grounded. And by grounded, I don’t mean in the ideal state of being grounded and stable. No, I mean that I have not been travelling very much and have been ‘stuck’ close to home.

At first this caused me much distress. The travel that has accompanied my life has balanced out the ‘working from home’ element of my job. However, slowly and in their own time, there have been some juicy nuggets of revelation that have burst through the clouds of ‘stuck’.

This past weekend, I found myself without kids AND without work. So, I decided to take advantage and do a bit of local sightseeing with my friend and our first port of call was a small Quaker village located about 15 minutes away. I had always heard that Ballitore was a Quaker village but I had no idea what that meant. I knew that the Quakers met in ‘meetings’, where they sat in silence and waited for inspiration and for God to speak through them. However, once in the museum in Ballitore I learned a bit more. I learned that the Quakers believe in equality, admonishing hierarchy. And I learned that their founder, George Fox, spoke about how no matter who you are, everyone has a measure of light within. And it is through this measure of light that inspiration is born.

I love this idea of a measure of light. It reminds me of the Buddhist theory of Buddha nature or the belief that all of us have a fundamental nature that is capable of enlightenment. Or as my colleague Choden has explained it to me when I was studying the MSc Studies in Mindfulness: “Buddha nature, is the fact that each one of us is intrinsically whole and well and free, and nothing that happens in life can damage or destroy this”.

For me, the idea that there is light inside of me or a life force that spurs my inspiration, that is ‘intrinsically whole and well and free’ had gotten lost along the way. Oh sure, I knew the theory and loved the sentiment; however, I had misplaced the felt sense of being whole and well and free. I had been searching for inspiration-  well actually, I had been searching for time to find inspiration.

And now it has come. It has come in this quiet of ‘stuck’. It has come with the stillness of slowing down, with sitting with my breath, with the space to allow things to just be.

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My curiosity has taken centre stage and I find myself exploring my town, the land around me, the neighbouring villages and the people who inhabit them with beginner’s eyes and a deep appreciation for all that is around me. John Darwin, who is teaching our Mindful Ageing weekend, speaks about the importance of cultivating this sense of awe, this child-like wonder, as part of the healthy ageing process and as a path to well-being.

So, with this space and time of my being ‘stuck’, I’ve re-found my inspiration and I’ve reconnected with a sense of being ‘whole and well and free’. Moreover, I’ve been exploring. I’ve been listening and I’ve been observing. To my body, to my neighbours, to the land, to the wonder of it all. I’ve tapped into my measure of light and I wouldn’t have been able to notice all of this without my mindfulness practice!

After our visit to the Quaker village, my friend and I took a long ramble through the mountains that make up the landscape in which I live. On that ramble, we ate beside rivers, we shared space with deer, we felt the sun on our faces: we savoured. And it was in this savouring that we felt even more inspiration to make plans for further exploration, we shared ideas for our work, for our homes, for a life well-lived.

This got me thinking- wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could all take a slice of time to put on our beginner’s eyes and walk our streets, our fields and to listen and observe and to cultivate some awe? To see if we can notice the workings of inspiration and how this inspiration might lead to a further and more enriched engagement with our life and maybe even a healthy ageing process.

This week’s challenge is to take what John Darwin calls a gratitude walk. Seeing if we can take a walk with the intention to use our mindfulness practice to notice all of the beauty and wonder around us and maybe even savour some of that light and inspiration that we might find and see where it can take us.

This being stuck ain’t so bad after all 😉

-Jane

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To Remember…

When the Mindfulness Association mentioned the possibility of running our Level 1 Mindfulness: Being Present course as an online course, I felt a bit cautious. I have done quite a bit of online teaching in different forms- the weekly sits, The Wonder of The Everyday, The Stillness of Movement (Mindfulness of Body), etc… However, running a Level 1 online requires quite a bit of commitment (logging on every 2 weeks over an 8 month period), 2 and a half hour sessions online (my experience of sitting through online meetings that went on for longer than an hour have felt exhausting), and I questioned the drop off rate.

Last night, our first online Level 1 Being Present course finished its third session. And you know what? It works. Not only does it work but it has actually been quite rewarding.

First off, teaching from the comfort and intimacy of my own home has really enabled me to feel grounded, at ease, and dare I say it, close to the group. Plus, we have participants logging on from all over the world, from the comfort of THEIR own homes. And even the comfort of their holidays!

We have a 15 minute break, stretch through transitions, and due to the fact that our Level 1: Being Present is the required course to carry on with all of our training pathways, the course is well attended by a dynamic group who contribute in all discussions and who practice together.

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So, during last night’s session we addressed the practice of bringing mindfulness into our daily lives. This has always been a question put to me when teaching mindfulness- how do you bring mindfulness more fully into the everyday? And what a question it is. This is the reason why we teach formal practice- this is why we do formal practice! So that we can create the conditions and the new habit of being mindful as we move about the world.

I’m sure many of you who have a mindfulness practice will agree with me- sometimes itIMG_6663 is easier said than done. Sometimes I can feel quite mindful, where other times, my practice is out the window!

This past weekend I was able to bring my practice into my daily life without much effort. This got me wondering why… And what I could discern was that it all boiled down to intentionality.

This is the ‘on purpose’ of Jon Kabat Zinn’s definition of mindfulness meaning to “pay attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Last Saturday and Sunday, I woke each morning with the intention to walk my Nelly in the early morning hazy sunlight, to open my senses to the birds, the crisp air, the quiet of the town that had not fully sprung to life yet. I came home with an intention to spend a day in my kitchen being mindfully present as I baked my bread, putting my energy and love into the food that I created for those who I love. I set an intention to engage my children in gratitude practices, in conversation, in breaking the bread, in taking a break from screens. I set the intention to connect in with my environment and with each activity with care and attention.

Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I forget to pay attention, to live ‘On purpose’ in the present moment. Sometimes I forget to set intentions.

IMG_6667However, when I remember, life feels rich. Life feels full. Gratitude fills me.

Perhaps, the challenge for us all this week might be to set an intention to make ‘life’ the practice. There is no need to separate cushion time and ‘mindfulness’ from the intricacies of our day to day moving about the world.

I am so fortunate that I get to teach mindfulness and that I get to teach it online from the comfort of my own home. It helps me to remember- what is more, it connects my home to the teachings. There is no separation between my practice, my teaching practice and where I live. They all weave together into a tapestry of this mindful life.

So, if you would like to know more about setting intentions or the ‘On purpose’ ness of creating a mindful life, come practice with me. You can log on to our weekly sits, live teachings (for more on our membership click here) or maybe even join the Level 1: Being present course that will be starting in September. Or, if you already are on a Level 1: Being Present course and have missed a weekend and need to make it up, come join me online (for more information, click here).

Together, we can remind each other….

-Jane

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Happy Scientists…

Last week, I stumbled upon an article that asks 9 scientists about their happiness practices. This peaked my interest- scientists with happiness practices! How wonderful!

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I knew some of the practices that were outlined: Loving Kindness meditation, Mindfulness of Body through exercise, gratitude, gratitude and more gratitude, meditation, etc… However, there were a few nuggets in there that were new to me.

For instance, there was one practice that asks that we are ‘alert to high- quality connections (HQCs) that [we] have with other people during the course of the day’- along with many mentions of the importance of community and affiliation. In other words, feeling connected, feeling in relationship with others and feeling supported all can contribute to our health and well-being.

After reading the article, I took out my journal and made a list of all of the HQCs that I had experienced throughout the week. There were many and gratitude immediately stepped in.

I don’t see many people throughout my work week as I work from home; however, in any given day, in any given hour, What’s App delivers me messages from the beloveds in my life. Skype brings my parents into my living room. And walking through the town carries encounters with my community and my best girlfriends who are really like sisters to me.

So, as I set an intention to be ‘alert’ to HQCs, I started to notice them all around me, and I started to really see if I could help transform any connections into high quality ones.  I am trying to do this through slowing down and really being present for other people- hearing and seeing them.

As part of our mindfulness teacher training, we learn of the importance of hearing and conveying back to others what they share as a means of encouraging connection and making sure that we in fact do hear and do understand what they are saying and that they are seen. This has really come alive for me in my day to day living. For instance, my son was telling me about his day at school and how he was feeling fed up. I didn’t try to fix it for him but told him that I heard him.

He thanked me. This is huge for my 16 year old boy.

It has been a bit of a revelation for me. Rob Nairn often quotes Krishnamurti when he says ‘the seeing is the doing’. Noticing my HQCs has helped me BE a high quality connector.

We have just launched a new membership site at The Mindfulness Association. Our new website was created so that we can connect people. So that we can support community and help build relationships. So that we can facilitate some HQCs.

Members can log on, create profiles, join groups and participate on our many forums. I’ve set up a discussion post to discuss just this- connection and the happiness that might arise from connection. If you are a member, why not log on and join me in the discussion? Maybe together we can create some HQCs.

Interestingly, I was also reading a research paper titled ‘Community Perspectives and Subjective Quality of Life’ by Bramston, Bruggerman and Petty (2010). In it they state that ‘[r]ecent research has demonstrated that community integration needs to be more than simply living within a community, people need to use the community and feel like they belong’. So this week’s challenge is for members to log on and use the membership website so that we can all belong together!

Oh- and also to notice high quality connections wherever you!

Not a member? You can sign up for a £10- 6 month trial here.

Click here for ‘9 Scientists Share Their  Favourite Happiness Practices’ article.

-Jane

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My Favourite Chair…

My grandmother lived until she was 92 years old. And not only did she live until she was 92 years old, but she lived on her own, cooking and cleaning and even shoveling the snow from her walk. I can remember flying home for the summer and dropping into her world for an afternoon or two, listening to her stories of the 19 year old version of herself and feeling a deep peace and restfulness in her presence.

IMG_6586I longed for her quiet routine of waking,  making her one cup of coffee for the day, preparing a meal, watching her TV show (Walker Texas Ranger- AKA Chuck Norris- this may be a cultural thing, but even for a Canadian this was a weird pairing), speaking with her daughters on the phone, etc. She didn’t need anything- she had everything she needed. The same worn blanket sat on her favourite chair where she would watch the world through her window, the same sheets adorned her bed, the same hand creams stood by her bathroom sink. This may sound boring but she was happy. She was settled.

In her later years, nothing really disturbed her or excited her. She handled all of the family dramas with poise, integrity and acceptance.

She embodied equanimity.

The Merriam- Webster dictionary defines equanimity as “evenness of mind especially under stress; right disposition : balance”. Moreover, Gil Fronsdal, explains that “ while some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.” (https://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/equanimity/)

My grandmother was filled with generosity and warmth and deep, deep love, even though for some, her life may have been viewed as tedious.

Lately my life has been filled with anything but equanimity. It has been overtaken by one intense experience after the other. In the past two weeks, I have experienced pure bliss, life-stopping fear, great excitement, painful anguish, all coupled with moments of gratitude. My head was spinning- waves were surfed! However, my grandmother and her quiet routine kept popping into my mind as if it was shore to rest upon.

Then yesterday, I was reading Sharon Salzberg’s book ‘Real Love’ and she states that “[o]ur tendency, of course, is to seek out intense experiences in order to feel alive. If our attention is not trained to notice routine or subtlety, we simply wait for the next big hit and switch off until then” (p.123). And I smiled with the realization that throughout these turbulent weeks and ‘big hits’, and with the unspoken intention to reach that shore,  I actually have started creating some routines.

I have started sitting in my favourite chair, working away on my laptop as I watch the world through my window. I have started preparing meals in the morning so that I have good healthy food for when I am finished work. I have started re-watching my favourite Canadian TV show ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ as a treat in my evenings.

I don’t need much more than this. I feel more settled. The ‘big hits’ are being faced and moving on without my needing to intervene. I’m feeling less reactive. Most importantly, my mind feels more stable and I am noticing the beauty in the subtleties.

So, this week’s challenge is to set the intention to notice the routines, to notice the subtleties. For me, these small routines can feel like little ceremonies in themselves. In fact, I’ve heard Jon Kabat Zinn throw away all working definitions of what mindfulness is by simply explaining that mindfulness is living life as if each moment is important.  And maybe if we can move towards this noticing, we will not need big moments to feel alive, rather a more equanimous peace may just settle in (for awhile 😉)

This is what my grandmother was so good at. Living each small moment with intentionality and with attention. She was a wonderful teacher.

-Jane

I’ll be guiding the membership weekly sit tonight from my favourite chair, why not log on and join me? Not a member? You can sign up here

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This is Suffering, Sister

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If you read my blog regularly, you will know that this time last week I was supping on Italian cuisine and soaking up the charm of Bologna. It was a fantastic trip filled with amazing food, historic sites and the most beautiful, creamy cappuccinos that anyone could imagine! I came home with a grin on my face and a desire to order an I Love Bologna t-shirt- only I didn’t as I know my kids would die of embarrassment.

I felt grounded. I felt mindful. The sounds, the smells, the tastes, the eventual Italian sunshine on my face all supported my practice and truly helped create the space for a deeper dropping into my body. Well, for the most part that is. Indeed, I was feeling incredibly out of body when I climbed the 498 steps to the top of one of Bologna’s tower- only to look down from its dizzying height. This was an exception, though. For, as we made our way to the airport to go home, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for my life and the wonderful opportunities that seem to arise when I am least expecting it.

Sounds all warm and fuzzy- and it was. However, this all started to shift when we got to the airport. Once we arrived, we immediately checked the departure board. All flights leaving before ours was scheduled to leave had been cancelled. This seemed strange. Why? The sun was shining in Italy and surely there couldn’t be bad weather throughout the whole of the Western world.  Flights that were destined for Spain, Sweden, England, Greece… the USA- all cancelled! Well, it turned out that there was a strike happening at the airport. This meant a later departure time, a missed connection and a night in Amsterdam.

Spirits were still OK. Mind was still stable and mindful moments were still weaving themselves through the experience. Although, the odd feelings of frustration and worry were starting to rear their heads. I could feel tension starting to build in my shoulders. However, I could also feel a softening with my breath.

Then, after all of these travel mishaps, I was unable to get to work where I was scheduled to teach for the weekend. My ‘what felt like’ unwavering, mindful equilibrium started to waver. Worry, some panic, sadness and frustration had invaded my headspace. Tension and heat were now radiating throughout the whole body.

What happened to my mindful gratitude?? It was here less than 24 hours ago! I could feel it slipping, being replaced my rumination and anxiety. And just like that, things started to get topsey turvey.

So how do we cope when life seemingly goes from relaxed, cool, calm and collected to what feels like the rug being pulled from under you?

Well, I started to practice moment to moment mindfulness- three small breaths. These breaths would bring me back from my ‘try to fix it mind’ and into the body and into the environment that was all around me- instead of a meditation hall, I was now actually in a warm, sunshine filled apartment with the sounds of Ireland beating Scotland in the 6 nations Rugby coming from the TV. (Something that cheered the mood for this Irish inhabitant).

IMG_6508And even though I was not sure that I felt up to it, I went for a walk through the Scottish snow, finishing with a picnic in the sunshine. The crisp air and the connection with the elements stimulated my senses and I once again could feel my awareness drop into the body. This created a space and a clarity where I could still see the opportunities, still feel the gratitude and still find a sense of presence in the midst of the struggle. My equilibrium was still a bit shaky but I was, as Jon Kabat Zinn says, ‘riding the waves’.

I eventually returned to Ireland. The snow had cleared and I was home in the warmth of my own bed. That’s when I got the news that my father’s health was not doing so well. And that’s when, once again, it felt like I had been sent into a tail spin with the ground being swept from beneath my feet.

The waves were beginning to swamp me and at times throw me into the green room. ( In surfing terms, this means the inside of the barrel of a wave).

So while, for the most part I was able to keep my balance on my own and through my practice, I was starting to lose my footing completely. However, and thankfully, during a peer teacher supervision meeting, a fellow practitioner and friend asked me what was alive for me in this moment. I began to speak and share, feeling a bit shy and almost needy in my struggle.

Thoughts like ‘God Jane, get yourself together’ ‘Everyone has their problems’ ‘You need to toughen up’ kept hitting my chest like a ton of bricks. I was feeling unstable.

Yet, when I finished speaking and looked up at my friend, all he said (with hand on heart) was ‘This is suffering sister. I feel for you and can so understand where you are. How can you take care of yourself through this difficult moment?’

Boom. There it is was. ‘This is suffering, sister’. Or, this is Mindfulness- knowing what is happening while it is happening. I was suffering. His acknowledgment of the suffering allowed me to accept it. His use of the word sister told me that I was not alone. And his question of how I might take care of myself through this tough time gave me permission to be kind to myself.

I had an epiphany:

This is practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty.

We all have times of difficulty. We all struggle and feel alone from time to time. I’ve been through many of these moments myself. However, sometimes when the difficulties arise we can forget that perhaps our practice needs to bend and adapt to the moment. Also, sometimes we forget that speaking with other practitioners, and indeed maybe even our teachers, can be extremely helpful in remembering.

I am grateful for those words ‘This is suffering, sister’. I am also grateful for my practice and for the training that I have received and for the ‘practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty’ sessions that I have delivered and for the reminders that come when we are mindfully aware of all that is happening around and inside us.

Practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty can carry me through.

So, this week’s challenge is to see if you can identify someone or maybe even a group of people.to support you in your practice- to ask the question ‘what is alive for you?’ To remind you of all that you know so that you can find your footing.

If this feels impossible, why not sign up for our membership? Our new site that will be launched at the end of the month and will have the facilities to accommodate practitioner gatherings via Zoom, discussion boards and ways to connect with others. (click here for more details)

We also meet once a week for a weekly sit or a live teaching (tonight Heather Regan Addis will be joining us to introduce us to the practice of On/Off duty.

Or, email me at membership@mindfulnessassociation.net and ask about some tips on practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty. I would love to share with you any resources that I can.

Sometimes our practice can be difficult, just like life. However, if we can come together to practice and share, we can create a community that not only supports our practice and us but sustains it and us.

-Jane

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I Have Arrived, I Am Home

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After reading Heather Regan Addis’ blog post this week ‘Walk with Me’ which details the movie based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen community of mindfulness practitioners, I was reminded of a wonderful gatha or the short verse that Thich Nhat Hanh uses to help us practice mindfulness in our daily activities:

I have arrived, I am home. In the here, In the now. I am solid, I am free. In the ultimate I dwell.

I love this gatha and I usually bring it into my mindful walking practice. The words I have arrived, I am home are powerful reminders that I am simply practicing being present- there is no where that I need to go. Presence is not a destination, rather it is a state of being that is accessible In the here, In the now– in EVERY here and now. We just have to remember.

This teaching was especially relevant for me over the last few days and it moved beyond my mindful walking practice into my informal practice of daily life.

As many of you might have experienced, the snow that swept across Europe last week caused some disruptions. And for the most part, these disruptions did not really cause me any great distress. I was pleased to have my kids home from school and keeping me company, my internet was still working and I was able to do my job and the snow was, well it was pretty.

However, as the weather warnings kept rolling in and were continuously being extended, it became apparent that my planned trip to Italy might be cancelled.  This led to my preference system moving into overdrive- I wanted to go to Italy. I had a destination. I hadn’t arrived. My destination was ‘in the over there’ and ‘in the day or two’. I was starting to feel the pressure of anticipation.

Stressful images were swirling. Images of being stranded in a car on the way to the airport, of not flying until half of the days I had set aside to enjoy Italy had passed, leaving me ‘ripped off’ of some down time, of losing money on the airline ticket that for some reason Ryanair had not cancelled, despite the red weather warning- these imaginings were robbing me of the enjoyment of a snowfall that only happens in Ireland, once every five years or so.

And then I would remember- there’s nothing to do but be with the moment- or rest in the arriving into this moment, in the here and the now.

In fact, I smile remembering an online meeting during last week with Heather, who was snowed in at her house in Scotland. We both laughed at the situation with a surrendering into the unfolding moment- with an arriving.

And then I would get a phone call, a text, a neighbour knocking on the door asking what my plans were- how would I get to the airport? did I have a plan B? Plan C?

I would then go back to the mini panics and sufferings and imaginings and the disturbed peace.

I flip flopped between ‘I have arrived’ and ‘I need to arrive- oh I need to arrive- oh I need to arrive’ for those days leading up to my flight.

However, what has become apparent and almost comical is that this flip flopping is how it all happens for me. When I am sitting on my cushion practicing, when I am engaged in mindful walking, and sometimes even when I am having mindful conversations, I flip flop between having a sense of arrival with no place to go and having a sense of a need to arrive, a need for destination.

This is the practice.

image2I am happy to report that I am indeed, in Bologna. When the day came, without trauma, I packed my car with provisions, and I drove to the airport. All of the worry, all of the anticipation had been for nothing. In fact, the drive up was quite peaceful and full of presence. I had arrived. I was in the journey with nothing else to do but be with it.

And now that I am in Bologna, the architecture, the food, the stimulation of all of my senses is holding my attention. I have arrived, I am home.

Well, at least until my mind starts pulling me into the weekend and the teaching that I am scheduled to do. Then, the flip flop starts back up again…. And I smile at its familiarity and I rest with the knowledge that this is simply the practice. The practice of remembering that when I do notice, I can choose to arrive In the here, In the now.

So, perhaps this can be our weekly challenge. Can we stop a few times a day and be with the words and the meaning of:

I have arrived, I am home. In the here, In the now. I am solid, I am free. In the ultimate I dwell.

-Jane

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