Let it Be: A Practice of Non-Attachment

I was first introduced to the concept of “Non-Attachment” by my spiritual director a number of years ago. She often would encourage me to sit with my desire and take a posture of openness and non-attachment to the outcome. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Being a high feeler while also deeply analytical, there has been a lot invitations for me to practice this – lots of attachments over here!

Many religious and spiritual traditions have a similar concept or practice to what I’m talking about here, just perhaps different wording. Some call it “acceptance, letting go, surrender, detachment” etc. But they all ultimately point us to the same thing.

Over the years my spiritual practice has evolved and morphed, and I have discovered this practice of non-attachment to be one where a deep peace and openness to the world sets in. I am still very much a rookie and learner in this way, but as we globally sit and wade through the waters of this pandemic, I have felt the invitation to really open up to the possibility that comes from loosening my grip on my attachments.

My spiritual practice is often about becoming more awake. Becoming more awake to God, to myself, creation, to the present moment and to you, those who I encounter each day. It also means I wake up more to what drives me, what frustrates me, what controls me. I wake up to my desires, to my fears, and to what I seek to control. I become more aware of my need to be certain and to know the path ahead, to be safe, healthy and able bodied. To feel a certain way in my work, to understand love, to make meaning out of my solitude, to create and write beautiful things. The list goes on, as you can imagine.

Becoming more awake sounds blissful and wonderful, and sure there are moments of that. I don’t want to live any other way. But once we learn something, and become aware, we can’t unlearn it. We can’t un-see it. It calls us to respond, in some way. This awareness is good, but it isn’t the end of it.

The thing about non-attachment is that it doesn’t mean we stop caring, or we detach ourselves from the things that stir in us desire or emotional distress. It doesn’t mean that we are not invested or connected. On the contrary. In a paraphrase by Jonathan Foust on not attaching to non-attachment he says, “Non-attachment is different than apathy, indifference or emotional detachment. This practice helps us cultivate compassion and open heartedness to the world.”

See, we are still deeply moved by suffering, and inspired to respond to it. We are still lovers of material and people. We are still creative and ambitious creatures –  but we become less attached to the outcomes of our endeavours towards these things, and become a people who can enjoy, play and find pleasure in our days.

Foust goes on to say, whatever it is you feel yourself trying to control or expect something to go a certain way, instead of trying so hard to “let it go”, what would happen if we “let it be”? Can’t you feel the difference in your body when you sink into the letting it be, rather than trying so hard to let it go? There is an expansion that happens. The chest opens broader, and our breathing eases and slows. There is a sense of everything is how it ought to be, even when rationally or emotionally it doesn’t always feel that way. There is a deeper knowing, a divine knowing within each of us that succumbs to that gentle Presence of “okay-ness”. This is non-attachment.

“the practice: freedom” by Danielle Doby 

i am not in control of what lessons

others are here to learn

i am not in control of what lessons

others are here to teach me

when i try to control

when i try to tight grasp

when i try to bend and force

and push others somewhere

they’re not ready for

or maybe, do not even belong

i separate myself from trusting in the nature of all

that all is given

to bring us closer to love

all is given

to call us back home

 

There really is a space that exists where we can live from this open hearted, vulnerable, and peaceful posture. There is this sacred middle that is so subtle and quiet it can be so easy to miss. It requires a slowing down and quieting oneself to sense it. For me, it is cultivated by creating a generous space in my life to harness self awareness, where I become honest with myself, and take notice of the attachments and motivations within me. It all begins by naming those things, owning them, befriending them and welcoming them. And if we go a little deeper, underneath that first layer, we begin to see the deeper drives and feelings underneath that layer. And then the next. And then the next. And these layers inform us, they show us what we most care about.

Once you can take notice of what has been uncovered and revealed to you, it is important (and this is very important) to extend loving kindness and compassion to yourself. Because those things do not need to be abandoned by you or scolded by you for feeling them – they need to be nurtured and cared for. And once you’ve become softer towards all that is in yourself, open your hands as a posture of surrender and openness, and just sit with the words, “I too, let this be.” Perhaps then we will awaken just a little bit more to the moment and gift of now.

Do you have a spiritual practice? What does that look like for you? If not, are there ways you feel opened up to something beyond yourself? Are there things you feel a particular attachment to in this moment? How might you begin to loosen your grip on that, and let it just be in your life?

“Just Beyond Yourself”

Listen

Just beyond
yourself.

It’s where
you need
to be.

Half a step
into
self-forgetting
and the rest
restored
by what
you’ll meet.

There is a road
always beckoning.

When you see
the two sides
of it
closing together
at that far horizon
and deep in
the foundations
of your own
heart
at exactly
the same
time,
that’s how
you know
it’s the road
you
have
to follow.

That’s how
you know
it’s where
you
have
to go.

That’s how
you know
you have
to go.

That’s
how you know.

Just beyond
yourself,
it’s
where you
need to be.

 

Everyday Life

My writing partner and I decided to write on “Everyday life” before COVID 19 became what it is. At first I wondered if we should change the theme considering the global pandemic we all find ourselves in, but it really does seem fitting, doesn’t it?

It is difficult to write on this topic without at least addressing the state of our world. I mean, I sort of think they compliment each other in a very potent way; though I wish it weren’t at the expense of so many lives.

What a surreal time in history this is, for all of us. I often find myself pausing to think about how such a universal experience can be both beautiful and tragic. And yet, isn’t this the truth of our everyday life? Collectively we so often experience universal emotions, joys and tragedies, but how rare it is to collectively go through it together – all at once. How rare is it that we recognize our shared humanity in these more everyday events?

Perhaps it is in the more severe circumstances like this that we not only acknowledge, but experience the deeper truth of our interconnectedness that we have with one another and the created world.

I have found that my introverted-ness bodes well for me in times like this. I have noticed feelings of contentment due to the slowness of this time. In some strange way it does feel like a reorienting to what is most important, to what is nourishing for the body and soul. But I do not say that without an underlying sadness and anxiety. So many lives have been directly affected by this – I imagine “contentment” is certainly not the word they would use to describe this time.

This all wears on us all in its own ways. Some of us have partners, kids, live with roommates, pets, or live alone. Some of us have different illnesses, mental or physical that we carry in the midst of this. Some of us are unemployed, or work from home. Some of us have lost someone recently, some of us only read about it. Some of us work in the hospitals day in and out to help fight this thing. We have our individual stories that make up this collective one, and yet everyday life is the invitation for us now. For most of us, that’s a simple, mundane, quieter and slower everyday life.

For me, rituals are really important to experiencing the sacredness of everyday.  This can look like me making my morning and afternoon coffee, and lighting a candle (or 4). It looks like writing and reading for the sake of enjoyment. Making my two eggs and slicing an orange. It looks like actually getting dressed in clothes I would wear on the average day (some days I don’t…trust me). It looks like going for a run or a walk, or moving my body in some way to release the restless energy — weird kitchen dances or crouching up on top of couches. You know how it goes.

Sometimes it looks like participating in online classes, working on my thesis, or baking and cooking a new meal. It looks like spending time with my roommates around a table, watching another Murder Mystery series, or catching up with a friend on FaceTime. It looks like texting a friend or throwing my phone in another room because I can’t handle another screen.

Sometimes it looks like cleaning random corners in the apartment, or lying on my bed, staring at the wall. It looks like meditating, praying & deep breathing. It looks like child’s pose.  Sometimes it is me feeling useless. Feeling contented. Feeling happy. Feeling anxious. Feeling grief. Feeling numb. Feeling heavy. Feeling free.

Can you relate? 

Everyday life is full of so many little gifts and graces. It is the very container that makes up the overarching themes of our lives. Annie Dillard writes,

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

The particular is what makes up the whole. How we choose to live today, how we treat ourselves and each other, is how we generally just live our lives. Perhaps this is a time to  pay just a little more attention to that.

This is a time to reorient to the basics of life, to the important things that give our lives meaning and purpose. This is a time to remember that every single day is a gift. It is all that we are given in this moment. For some of us, this reality has become so much more pertinent with what we are now facing. My hope is that we would really let this time transform us.

This is a call back to the present moment. This is call back to presence. This is call to nourishment, spaciousness and generosity of spirit. This is a call back to our belongingness to all things; to one another. This is a call to embrace our humanity and our divinity.

This is today. Sink into it. Be here. 

Enough by David Whyte

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.

 

 

 

 

 

Moving through the Dark

I sit in my little corner chair, nestled in between two bookshelves today, and have been trying to ground myself in the midst of a week that, if I am completely honest, has been a bit of an internal fog. Like all of us, sometimes our harder and darker days are situational, and some just “are”. I find learning to move through the dark is always a thing to relearn, over and over again.

When I was young, I was very afraid of the dark. I always needed my nightlight, or the door to be cracked open just the perfect amount. I would imagine all sorts of monsters and creatures under my bed, or inside my closet. I was an imaginative kid. Great for dreaming up magical lands and talking trees; not so great when you’re lying awake, eyes wide open, long after everyone in the house has gone to sleep. My point is, I was afraid of the dark and I think many of us were, and maybe are.

We are afraid of what we cannot see, what we cannot understand. This is human nature, it is not foreign to any of us. We are afraid of not knowing, of not being certain, of being wrong. We are afraid that if we really were to explore the darkness, we might discover something we have never seen, heard or felt. We might brush up against something, and not know how to handle it, how to interact with it; let alone invite it to come closer.

I have gone through a number of very dark periods in my life. They have all been different, and varying in magnitude and length. But every time they come, I call to mind the voice of my dear friend and teacher, and in her South African accent I hear her say, “The only way out is through”. 

When I imagine myself to be stuck and in the dark (literally) what would I do? How would I love through it? Well, I usually would move a lot slower and gentler than normal. I am a bit more cautious and careful. I step softer, and put out my hands looking for something to hold on to. I stop worrying about all the things outside of that moment and just take the next small step in front of me. I would also, against all my will and independence, call out to a friend and ask for their help to come and walk with me. And, the more I just let myself settle into the dark, my eyes begin to adjust. Light always seems to find its way back to us.

Isn’t this so much of what we need when we are in the internal state of darkness too? To tread lighter, softer and gentler. To go slow and not rush ourselves so as to hurt ourselves in the process. To call out to someone, to let them in and receive a little help. This is not easy, that I know. Writing about it and actually doing involves great strength.

But perhaps we all need the reminder, that the darkness too has her gifts for us. In all of her mystery and depth, in all of her unknowns and doubt, she invites us to become more curious and less afraid. She invites us to drop down into our own selves, to the dark and unknown places within us, and to extend a bit of kindness there. To reach out a hand and whisper, “Hello dear friend. What have you to say to me?”

If you find yourself wandering through the dark, unsure of all sorts of things, may you be reminded that you are being held by the Light, and this present darkness is not something to fear. Perhaps it is meant to take you beyond the barriers you feel keep you safe, and into the space of real faith.

Though we may, at times, wander through a dull and bleak landscape, we must remember that we do not walk alone. And in time, after we’ve rested our weary souls, we return to the world with new hues of colour.

Some words from John O Donohue

“The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb- time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night.”

 

 

Begin, again.

There is something luminous about waking up to freshly fallen snow that wasn’t there before your eyes settled into darkness. It’s a gentle reminder of the mystery and beauty that takes place when we aren’t always looking. That life continues on in spite of us. Sure, that can be a humbling sentiment to swallow, but it’s also a refreshing truth, I find. To recognize that just as the earth is in motion, beginning again, afresh and anew each minute, we are invited to begin again; to fall into grace as we approach new thresholds on our journey.

I have never loved New Years Eve. I always found it to hold expectations that I couldn’t live up to internally and definitely not externally. But this year was different. I got off a plane in Montreal and was scooped up by friends, who I just met a few months ago, to travel to Quebec City to ring in the New Year (if you ever need a wintery, romantic, old European style getaway – go to old Quebec City this time of year. It will not disappoint!) All that to say, the celebrations began as soon as we arrived, and we were greeted with so much hospitality and warmth.

Though I can feel the weight of expectation on NYE, I have always enjoyed the invitation it brings us to reflect, and set intentions for a new year ahead. And though this year was special, with those few days of laughter and merriment sandwiching the past and anticipating the new; I know it won’t always be like that. So, I give thanks for the moments that remind me of the joy of new beginnings.

The arrival of a new decade felt significant. Perhaps it’s because I have been embarking on a new academic journey, moved to a new city, or that I will be leaving my twenties this year and entering my thirties. Either way, it felt monumental. And so, I honour that by practicing a sense of openness and not attaching to what I think will or “should” be.

Isn’t there something in it though, the start of a new year? It is a threshold of sorts. A time when all of us, globally, begin again. Whether we admit it or not, I think most of us are grateful for this moment in time that shouts, “This isn’t the end of the story!” All of the experiences of the past year isn’t where time stops. It keeps going, and small mercies keep coming. I like to think, that NYE is a macro event representing all the micro one’s in our daily lives. Though it ushers us into a whole new year, it reminds us of the little new beginnings we get every single day.

As I think about what the gift of a “new year” and a “new beginning” gives us, I do think of all the times we have felt let down, or let down someone we love. The times we have been hurt by others and hurt others in return. I think of all the moments that we have not lived into our fullest potential, or have made decisions more out of fear rather than from love and trust. We have all been these people or done these things, and to begin again is to say to ourselves and others, “I forgive you. Try again“. It’s in these moments we are able to extend grace, compassion and inspiration for all the times that we chose not to. It’s in these moments we have the chance to make things right; to change the things we know we need to change. This is the gift of beginning again — we also get to.

And so, may we embrace that with full hearts, not taking these small graces for granted. May we live them, live them full and true.

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

 

A Response to Tragedy

The irony of me writing a post is that I have had trouble finding the words to describe my thoughts and feelings around this week’s tragedies. The same day, Wednesday, that there was a fatal shooting just a few blocks down from my house, Flight PS752 from Iran to Ukraine crashed. I don’t know how many of you have been following the news and stories surrounding the crash, but it is terrible, tragic and absolutely heartbreaking.

I am not one of the victim’s friends or family members, so I can only imagine the grief and heaviness those directly affected must be feeling over these events. A handful of the victims on Flight PS752 were students and academics here in Ottawa, and 63 in total were Canadians. Though I am not one to focus solely on nationality, as I think we are all connected across the globe. When one human suffers all of humanity suffers. Yet, there is something about feeling the nearness of people affected in your hometown and country.

I am not writing to put any of my opinions or views out there, but as a way for me to process it. Perhaps you too are in need of some form of outlet or space for things like this. I have been sick to my stomach for days over the news of these events, and have been asking myself, “How do I respond? Can I respond? Is there anything I can or ought to do?” 

I have learnt over the years that when I get that sick feeling in my stomach, my body is saying something to me. She is trying to get my attention in some way or another. So, I have tried to lean into that a bit this week and listen to what that might be.

If you have read any of my writing before, you will know I am a huge advocate and believer in Contemplation and Mindfulness as a vital part of life; especially if we hope to live full, meaningful, present and actively engaged lives. And so, those themes have trickled into my thoughts here.

I think we are called to respond to events like this in some form. I do think it is probably wise to not just consume copious amounts of news, and yet also not to turn a blind eye to it either. I think sometimes we fear hearing about tragedy so much that we pretend it is not existing at all. We fear how it will impact us, how it will impact our future and ultimately reinforces this belief that maybe the world isn’t a safe place after all. Like most things in life, there are two sides to the same coin, but I believe in a third way to engage with things like this. I suppose I believe in a third way for most things.

What if we didn’t turn away from the troublesomeness of this weeks events, or perhaps your own more personal “news”? What if we didn’t let it just bounce off of us and let everyone else deal with it or feel it? What if we decided to sit with it. What if we let our thoughts and emotions surface, our questions and fears bubble up? Perhaps you are thinking, “Yeah, well what do I do with all that though? Where do I put it?” This is where I think having a spiritual practice, a sacred space and community is crucial. We need spaces and practices that allow the subtle voice that whispers tales of a safe world, a kind world, a world where there is healing and forgiveness where there is shalom. Aren’t we desperate for that?

These things are too big for us. And yet, I do think they beckon us to recognize the interconnectedness among all of us. They call to us from the ashes and tears of our fellow brothers and sisters, to see our our oneness, and our togetherness amidst joy and tragedy. I think it is through letting these things affect us, letting them seep into our bones that we are invited into transformation. We are invited into greater capacities for empathy, hospitality, generosity, hope and kindness — ultimately, love.

I am not saying that we use events like this as a means to transform ourselves. Never do I wish these things to happen, ever. But I do think this is a call for us to wake up. To wake up to what is bigger than ourselves, to wake up to needs and grief of one another. I do believe, ultimately, that we are called to one another.

Dare I say that I think this inner transformation is part of the answer to most of our issues on both a personal and global scale? Yes, I do. And so, I invite you too to make space for moments like this. Of reflection, meditation, prayer, lament, a meal around a table with those you love, attend vigils, engage in conversation — however it looks to you. I think we are being called to and I believe it is on behalf of all human dignity and love that we must listen and respond.

 

 

 

Results from a Social Media Experiment

The thought came to me a number of weeks ago. Through various conversations, and hearing people’s ideas about social media, I was finally inspired enough to go for it and pitch the idea. It originally started just from a desire to experience life away from these platforms and to invite people along for the ride. Though I’m a Master’s student, currently doing my Master’s in Counselling, this didn’t have anything to do with my studies (I know some people wondered that). However, the data and results are something I couldn’t keep to myself, and so, I wanted to share with the community at large.

I know I’m not the first to take a “break” from social media, and certainly won’t be the last. Every time I have done this myself, it has been incredibly enlightening and refreshing. But, the idea of doing a communal “fast”, if you will, was a fascinating thought. I think many people are motivated to participate in something if they know their community or circle of friends are also signing up. It offers a sense of connectedness, accountability and camaraderie.

HOW IT WORKED:

Ironically, I invited people to participate by using social media! Through Facebook and Instagram, I asked people to participate in a week long experiment by taking a break from these two platforms. We began on Dec. 1st and ended on Dec. 8th. During this week, people were not to access either of these sites (aside from small businesses who depended on them for cliental and/or financial income). There were about 60 participants! I was so pleased with the response.

Before we began, I asked people to keep in mind three things as the week went on:

1. How you feel within yourself. What comes come up for you?

2. How do you experience your relationships?

3. How is your overall mental health and well-being? 

The results and feedback after the week was up was overwhelmingly insightful. I asked people to send me their thoughts and reflections so that I could share them, where they would remain anonymous, for the wider community to read. I asked people to share the positive, negative, and neutral aspects from their week in however many words they would like.

RESULTS & RESPONSES:

The general consensus at large was that this break from social media was “much needed” and extremely clarifying for most.

Below, are some quotes and reflections from those who participated in the experiment:

“I had way higher productivity.”

“I found myself contacting friends more during this week away from SM. I couldn’t see what they were up to, so I had to ask them. When you can’t see what your loved ones are up to, it stirs up your attachment emotions and initiates seeking drives to move you into making sure they’re alright. In other words, seeing my friends online all the time partially inhibits or dulls my ability to ‘miss them’!”

“I was so much more creative and present to my life.”

“I felt brain space opening up as the week progressed, without other people’s thoughts and activities to think about. I had a hard time when I had big feelings to deal with, as Instagram is my primary self soothing thing to turn to when I’m upset, and distracts me to calm down. I finished a whole book and started another in the week — I was pretty happy about that. I found myself a bit more present to my own life, and a bit more bored with it at times. I found that when I went back on on Sunday night I had some things confirmed: ‘There really isn’t anything new on there, on Instagram. I hadn’t missed anything important. And when using it, I found the same negative thoughts creeping in.”

“This was ultimately only liberating and freeing.”

“I was less frustrated with my kids, like a lot less. I felt less divided and more present. They were no longer an interruption to my ‘tune out everything going on around me’ moments. My capacity for relationship has been much greater. I feel more ready to engage in conversation and more eager to have people in my home. I’ve been more productive. The things I do on my phone have more value. I’m getting through books faster. I enjoy those small moments of downtime more. I feel more prayerful and more in tune with God and my own spirit.”

“I reached out to family and friends more. I made points of real contact and connection with people instead of scrolling and thinking I had a sense of what was happening in their lives.”

“Working and studying in the mental health field, I often ask myself, ‘Should I be following suit? Do therapists need to have an online presence?’ I am not a therapist yet, but hope to be soon. My feed is crowded with all their advice and reflections. Having time away from all that noise (although potentially helpful), a question came to me: ‘Do I need others to know/read my reflections? If so, why? Do I feel unheard?”

“I spent more time being with the people in front of me and had more time focused on my needs.”

“I’ll be deleting Facebook entirely and cleaning up my e-mail accounts. Basically, I’m going offline as much as possible. The people who love me can e-mail me, or phone me. I’m curating my life, not having it curated for me.”

“This week made me more keenly aware of how much I tend to reach for my phone when in-between moments come up. It made me aware of how much I felt on Instagram to stay in the loop on peoples lives in a very impersonal and disconnected way versus an intentional text, or phone call.”

“This break continued me in my trajectory towards mindfulness.” 

“When I was with others who were on it (SM), I didn’t really know what to do with myself. It made me feel self conscious at times, really. I would pick up my phone and do honestly nothing… Given that my family and friends live far away, I did really miss them more. I felt disconnected from what they were up to (even though they’re hardly posting!) I’m not sure how much of that was just perception.”

“I was less anxious. Had more time to do meaningful things. I was more present.”

MY FINAL THOUGHTS & CHANGES MOVING FORWARD 

The responses above are direct quotes from people who participated. As you can see, all of them who shared had an entirely positive affect. I didn’t receive any responses about how it affected anyone negatively, or even in a neutral way — and I did ask people for those insights if appropriate.

I am a firm believer that just cutting things out of our lives isn’t always the “answer”. However, having space from things like this gives us a chance to reflect on our relationship to the thing we are “abstaining from”. My hope for this experiment was for me, and those involved, to “re-think” our relationship with social media.

For me, I found myself more creative in a number of ways. I had so much more space within myself for people, for my assignments, for my spiritual practice and just enjoying the things in front of me. I had a deeper desire to connect with my family. I opted for more “Facetime” conversations with those far away. I felt so much more engaged in my life. More present, more calm, and more inspired. I also left my phone in other rooms way more often, and found there to be so much liberation in that.

I am convinced that MINDFULNESS is crucial here, as it is with everything in our lives. How can we be more mindful, and intentional with the ways in which we use social media? How can you?

Facebook was not really my addiction, but rather Instagram. I read up recently on one of the original employees, designers and creators of Instagram, Bailey Richardson, and how all but three, herself included, have left the company because it is not the same platform they first designed — “the sense of intimacy, artistry and discovery that defined early Instagram and led to its success has given way to a celebrity-driven marketplace that is engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being.”

Moving forward, I have decided for the year 2020, to only use these platforms through my computer as much as possible. I have deleted the Apps from my phone and will use them via my laptop. Though the process is much slower, as I have a 2010 version of the Macbook Pro, and had to research how and if you can even upload photos via your computer anymore. This small decision has helped me to be so much more intentional with how I choose to use it, including much smaller fractions of time. I want to use Instagram to share my Blog primarily, and to limit the itch that pressures me to share so much. It is ridiculous really, how much I felt that pressure at times. So unnecessary and frankly, WHERE and from WHOM is that even coming from?!

A new year approaches, and it is my thirtieth year. As cliche as it may sound, it feels important for me to lay a foundation for this new decade. It feels exciting and empowering — to take more ownership over my life and to make the changes I want to make. To live the life I want!

I have been so inspired by the reflections and responses I received from all those who participated. It has been the fuel for me to cultivate greater spaces for freedom and vitality in my own life. I hope it has done the same for you.

 

 

 

 

 

From Presence to Wonder

December has begun, and many of us can already feel time quicken. The days spent travelling over the holidays approach, and we foresee the hours spent buying gifts and baking cookies until our hands are cramped – But, “just one more!” right?

I have been reflecting on the Advent season more this year, the weeks leading up to Christmas, or Epiphany in some traditions. Perhaps for some of you there is no religious affiliation, but maybe a sense of “anticipation”, a sense of hope or longing for all things visible and invisible.

As you think of the weeks ahead, I invite you to take notice of how you feel in your body. Does your breathing change? Do you have tightness in your chest? Do your stress levels increase? Or, is there an openness and spaciousness within you? I find myself asking, “Am I really going to be present this year?

I have been taking notice myself and I wonder – how often do I actually feel that sense of anticipation anymore? Where is the wonder in it all? Well, I don’t think it has truly left us, but I do think our pace of life has altered our ability to recognize it.

Growing up, the Christmas season was a magical one for me. It evoked this sense of wonder and curiosity in me as a child. From my belief in a big, jolly, generous old man dressed in red and white, to the Divine becoming human so that we could be met with true Presence. I was enchanted by it all. And this year, that longing for magic and wonder has resurfaced and I’m left to cultivate it, if I so choose.

I think, as we get older, we are tempted to let the more harsh realities of life dictate our sense of faith in wonderful things. Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly severe realities that cannot be ignored. But, when I reflect on that little girl from all those years ago and give her the space to be present in my life now, I am reminded of the courage she had. The courage she had to hope, and to marvel at the world in front of her.

More than ever, I am convinced that we need contemplative space and a sense of presence within us to cultivate this wonder. Contemplation is a fancy word for “thoughtfully gazing”. It is a posture of being reflective, slowing down and gazing at what “is”. It is waiting at the bus stop without your phone out, and observing the trees, watching the snowfall, and smelling the crisp air. It is sitting with your morning coffee, and well, just sitting. Feeling the warmth around your hands, and watching the steam dance up from your mug. It is becoming aware of your own presence in this world, aware of one another.

Amidst the hustle and frantic energy that can so often come with this season, isn’t there this deep longing within us, to just be? To enjoy the people closest to us, to experience the presence of something bigger than ourselves, to enjoy good food and drink and to truly be merry? I know I can feel it.

This is the invitation of the Advent season to us – Presence. And I don’t mean the kind we wrap and place under our trees – presents (though, those are in some ways extensions of what I mean). But I mean that real, earthy, flesh-like kind of presence. The kind you feel when you come home to your friends and family. When you come home to yourself. When you come home to the earth beneath your feet, and realize that all of this is gift.

How can you cultivate contemplative space this season, so that you may genuinely be present to your life and relationships?

May I suggest one thing… each day, wherever you find yourself sitting or standing, take a moment, or two, and just gaze. Gaze at your surroundings. Stare at the objects in front of you. Let yourself be bored. Let yourself be, however it is you are arriving this day.

This Advent season, may you awaken a little bit more to the wonder and Presence of all things.

This piece was featured on Convivium, you can read more here:

https://www.convivium.ca/voices/the-present-of-advent-s-presence/