Write with me!

Happy Friday!

Let’s play a game. I will post a picture and the first sentence to a fictional story to go along with it.

You help me develop the story by adding a sentence, or up to a paragraph, in the comments for this post. I will string them together along the way and see what we can come up with. Anyone can play! I’ll post the full story on Monday.

Just like the car game, “add-a-line,” only, don’t play this one while driving, please!

Here we go:

“Lulu entered our world under unique circumstances.  ….

This Vibrant Now

My girl is a sea sprite. I’m standing in the surf– frothy waves shimmer like liquid quartz and jade, churning circles around my shins. And she is joy itself, in the form of a child. 

She laughs into the breaking waves, falling into them and allowing them to receive her, and they push back, holding her up and offering their own sudsy celebration. She looks back at me after each leap, eager to share her bliss as it pours from its secret infinite source.

Now she splashes towards me and gifts me with a kiss, squishy and cold on my salty lips, before she plunges back into her element. My feet sink into the silky sea floor and I am held in the most vibrant of places, called now, called Home.

This is your second chance

I woke up this morning with a list running through my mind of everything I hoped to accomplish today, this week, in life…  The wiser part of me said, “This worrying through the ‘shoulds’ is not helpful.”  But that knowledge didn’t help me to feel less pressured.

Knowing that a change in perspective can really change what we experience, I sought to feel better in my body.  I breathed for a few minutes, enjoying the comfort of my blankets, the sound of my dog breathing at my feet, and the sensations of aliveness in my skin.

Then I went into the kitchen and played some feel-good music as I made breakfast for the girls.  I chose “Second Chance” by Miten, a song that I was so moved to hear at a mantra concert a few weeks ago.

I found this lovely video that some beautiful soul made to go with the song.

Taking in the beauty of the music, I stopped to watch my girls.  They were now making bracelets as they ate their breakfast, consecrating the kitchen table with a confetti of muffin crumbs and rainbow rubber bands.

I heard Miten say
“And we all come and go like waves on the sea
Each with our own responsibility
To leave this world more beautiful than we found it.”

It occurred to me that every moment is a kind of second chance.  Enjoy, and may your day be infused with beauty, and the fresh perspective of second chances.

Summer

bone tired photo by shannon mayhew

Something about when your dog is sprawled out, bone-tired from chasing rabbits, and you lay your head on her chest. Her fur smells like cut grass and honeysuckle. It’s so warm, like it still has the sun in it, even though the peach of the sky has given way to darkness hours ago.

peach of the sky photo by shannon mayhew

Something about all that is how you know, not in your mind, but in your organs and your teeth and the cracks in your skin, you know it’s summer.

Summer run photo by shannon mayhew

Happy Summer!

Love,
Shannon

Flower Power

Daffodil

“Every flower is a celebration of the goodness of life.  Look how it exists in its incredible beauty, open to the sky and the sun, like an act of worship.  I’ve never found a flower that has a problem.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Happy early Spring!

Love,
Shannon

Phoenix Meditation

The phoenix is a mythical bird with flame-colored wings that symbolizes regeneration and rebirth.  In my previous post, I mentioned that I had the opportunity to lead a Yoga Nidra and guided meditation session at the Evergreen Yoga Phoenix Women’s Retreat in August.

In writing the meditation, which was centered around an empowering encounter with a phoenix, I was inspired to draw and paint this creature to get to know it better.  This picture is a little askew, but it was the best one I got before sending it off to a dear friend who needed a little phoenix magic.

Phoenix by Shannon
Phoenix by Shannon

Many of the retreat attendees had asked me to share a recording of the meditation I led, so, I have recorded it and am sharing it here for anyone to enjoy.

The meditation begins with a guided Yoga Nidra practice. Yoga Nidra is a deeply relaxing, meditative process that guides you into a state where theta and delta brainwaves are produced. This creates deep rest, healing and physical regeneration.

The Yoga Nidra session is followed by a guided meditation where we meet the phoenix, for a profound process of renewal and empowerment.

More about Yoga Nidra:
In yoga wisdom teachings, Yoga Nidra is a method of purifying the “samskaras.” Samskaras are patterns of thought and behavior that are repeated, and thus create grooves that become our well-worn pathways for acting and reacting.  Imagine tracing a line through the sand with your finger, then re-tracing that same line over and over again. The line becomes deeper as that pathway becomes more and more ingrained. It can be difficult to create a new groove when the current ones are so established.

sand grooves

Yoga Nidra gives us access to the subconscious mind, where we can know our Self as separate from our thoughts and patterns of behavior, and where we can access intuition and information beyond our normal conscious awareness.

(Note — some exciting news… the talented Rebecca Clever (who composed the original music for my “Zoom out/ Imaginal Cell Meditation” will be creating special music for this Yoga Nidra/Phoenix meditation as well!! I will post the new version later this year, when it’s done.  But for now, enjoy, and if you’re inclined, check out the other meditations on the Presence and Prose YouTube Channel.)

Namaste,
Shannon

 

To be where you are

Last month, I had the opportunity to join the faculty of the Evergreen Yoga Retreat at the beautiful Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, MD.

Bon Secours Footbridge photo by Shannon Mayhew

Footbridge at Bon Secours

Many of the women attending had participated in this retreat for over 20 years.  Some have traveled through India and studied with prominent gurus.  Many of these women have been practicing yoga for as long as or longer than I have.  I have to admit that when I was preparing my sessions that I was to lead, I asked myself, “Who am I to be leading them?”

But as we gathered in the Peace Garden for my first session, I saw nothing but supportive, welcoming faces.  I heard my inner voice say “It’s OK to be where you are.”

Bon Secours Mary Silhouette photo by Shannon Mayhew

After a sunrise meditation

And I taught from there.  Where I am, where my heart is… where the yoga comes through.

Peace Garden Treasure photo by Shannon Mayhew

I found this treasure someone made at the Peace Garden

At the end of the retreat, I was given wonderful feedback about my yoga nidra session, along with several requests to record and share it, and to write up and share my teachings on meditation and samskaras. (I’ll post the recording and write-up here next week in case you want to give the meditation a try.)

This experience, along with being a deeply nourishing retreat, was an affirmation for me that perfection, or even, feeling fully confident, is not where I need to be — but that acceptance, authenticity, and presence (being where I am), are surely gateways for my best self to emerge.

Bon Secours Sunlight photo by Shannon Mayhew

I sat here after a meditation in the Peace Garden to write the poem below

Peace Garden Meditation

Stones and pebbles, Peace Garden Altar photo by Shannon Mayhew
smooth, angled,
some stacked into stupas,

slightly askew

Surrounded by trees,
stately, gracefully
offering their cooling shade

And the birds!
They are calling to each other,
sing-song exclamations,
weaving through the silence, Peace Garden Stupa photo by Shannon Mayhew
structuring the spaces,

sounds and rhythms

that settle into my ears,
and I translate:
“Now!” “Joy!” “Awake!”

And I sit in the center,
still and open.
Transfixed
by this symphony
of sweet belonging.

Bon Secours Reflecting Pool photo by Shannon Mayhew

Namaste

Storytime

The “recess ladies,” as my girls call them, reign over the school playground, scowling and yelling, trying to stifle the release of pent up energy, due to several hours of sitting in class,  focusing and keeping quiet.

“No playing tag!” (No playing tag?!!)

“No mingling with the kids in the other grades!” (Some 5th graders were trying help a tearful Kindergartner find a friend to play with).

“You!  Stay away from the fence.”  (My daughter was on her way to enjoy the honeysuckle blossoms).

I want to fix this for my girls, and for the other kids at the school.  This doesn’t feel right.  I am upset because the kids need to run. They should not be made to feel badly about running and exploring and connecting in ways that are meaningful for children.

Top of her world photo by shannon mayhew

So I ask my daughter about it.  How does it feel when they yell?

“They are SO mean,” she answers.  (My internal chatter – I have to make this better for her somehow…)  She continues, “But they make life more interesting.”

I tilt my head and wait to see where this is going.

book on porch small“I think your life is like a story.  A good story has great things and bad things, and it’s interesting.  You want to see what happens next.  I think to be happy, you look back on your life with love.  It’s your story and you love the story.  You don’t want it to be boring.”

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  I just didn’t realize my teacher would be ten years old.

Just as I am uncomfortable bringing conflict into my stories, I also wish I could avoid conflict in life.  I want peace and happiness and ease, always.  But in stories with no conflict, those characters don’t really grow, do they?  Without their challenges, they wouldn’t come to know their strength, fullness of being, and their deeper capacities for love.

As I let Kaiya’s beautiful wisdom sink in, my fix-it mode quiets, and I am once again reminded that I don’t have to over-feather the nest for my girls.

I am also reminded of a Buddhist story that I heard from a lecture by Pema Chodron.  She tells us about a man who is walking barefoot over a field that is covered in thorns.  He thinks, “This is too painful!  I am going to cover the whole ground in leather so that it won’t hurt me anymore.”  But he can’t cover the whole field with leather.  It’s not practical or even possible.  What he can do is wrap leather around his feet (shoes).

With shoes, you could walk across thorns, hot sand, cut glass, anything in your path, and it wouldn’t hurt you.  And the teaching is that, instead of wanting to change and control your outside world, work with your own mind.  That is where the power of true protection, and the power to ease suffering, comes from.

For Kaiya, her love of books and stories has given her a potent analogy to work with.  (In another conversation, she has told me that, to stop worrying before bed, she thinks of the worries as words in a book, and “you can always put the book down.”)

What are some other ways we can “work with our mind?”  You already know I am going to say yoga, meditation and mindfulness (presence).  I will just gently remind…

Yoga helps us to feel better in our bodies.  We release tension, feel stronger, sense our own inner power, and, with regular practice, we end up making choices in our lives that come from a stable and healthy place.  Our mind can calm down.

Meditation helps us to deeply regenerate, and to stop identifying with our running thoughts and vacillating emotions.  We learn to control the mind, rather than letting our thoughts and emotions take us down an unwanted path.

And, using presence, we can stop the running chatter in our head, in the moment, by tuning into our senses — feeling the sensations in our hands and whole body, while we look around us and listen.  The “story” falls away for that time, as we tune into clarity and aliveness.

It’s like shoes, for the mind… no that metaphor doesn’t really work, does it?  Let’s try this:  It’s like realizing that you are the one holding the book.  And you get to choose how to read your story.

Nose in a book photo by shannon mayhew

Grief’s Hidden Gifts

Portrait of CaseyI have some sad news to share.  Last month Casey, my muse, my mascot, my writing partner and four-legged best friend for 13 years, left the physical plane.  She had a massive seizure, most likely a complication from a tumor that was close to her brain.

The doctors were able to stabilize her so that we could sit with her and say good-bye.  David, the girls and I encircled her and spent some time stroking her, talking to her, telling stories about all the joy and sweetness she added to our lives.  At one point, my wise girl must have caught a look on my face and she said, through her tears, “It’s OK to cry, Mommy.”  So I did.

If you’ve been reading this blog over the past few years, you know that my practice is to work with the full spectrum of emotions, and to realize the healing and empowering benefits of feeling and expressing them.  It’s my practice because it doesn’t come naturally to me.  I would rather avoid pain and conflict and I just want everything to be OK.  So I need to mindfully practice feeling my emotions fully, and expressing them in healthy ways.

blurred people2In her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown says “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”  And I know this to be true.

We numb ourselves with food and alcohol and busy-ness… but when we constantly distract ourselves from our feelings, we pinch ourselves off from being fully alive.  So here’s what happened when I let myself experience the fullness of my sadness the night I said good-bye to Casey.

We got home from the animal hospital late.  Not wanting anyone to be alone, David and I each slept with one of the girls.  Lying on my daughter’s trundle mattress, I was so very tired.  I would get close to falling asleep, but as I started to let go, a tidal wave of grief would surge through me.  This happened several times, wave after wave each time I almost drifted off to sleep.

Each time, remembering my practice, I allowed the waves to wash over me, and I felt that sadness fully.  It was a real, physical grief in my whole body that made my skin and my insides hurt.  But I stayed with it.  I felt it all, as if absorbing the wave-water into my body.

After some time, fully feeling the sadness felt more like there was a thick force field around my body, and I was pushing through it. Staying with it and pushing through it, feeling it completely, and then, to my amazement and pure relief, I would get “through” that thick field, to the other side, where all the joy and all the love of Casey still was.  And you’d better believe I let myself feel that fully. It was, and is, still there.  If I hadn’t allowed myself to push through that path though the depth of my sadness, I would not have known that joy was there on the other side.  The pure emotions of happiness at seeing her cute spotty face, the bliss of feeling her soft chin resting across my leg, the love that she always expressed through her eyes and her enthusiastic “aroo’s”… were all there… are all still here when I feel for them.

Arooo!

So over the past few weeks, my practice has been to let the sadness knock me to my knees, like when I looked under the bed for my slippers and saw the water bowl that I had slid out of sight that first night.  Like when I came home from my errands and for the first time was greeted with empty silence.  And when I would recall the events of that night, and the sight the tears on the cheeks of my husband and the girls.  I let myself have my sadness, and I let myself sob.

And when I was ready, I also let myself open the hidden gift inside the pain, to feel the sweetness of it.  I felt the relief of letting the sadness move through me.  Then I could also feel how our loss was deepening the connection among the four of us, causing us to grow together in love.  I could recall and feel again the tenderness and compassion from the doctors, and the outpouring of kindness and support from our friends and larger family.  Letting myself fully feel these blessings, I found my heart was more full than empty.

Fully feeling sadness and pain did not make it magically go away, but it did open me to my own inner strength, and to the beautiful feelings that are enfolded within the hard ones.

Casey and Me

The morning after Casey died, the girls and I went for a walk by the stream where Casey loved to walk.  We asked Casey’s spirit, which we felt so strongly, to give us some signs to help us know that she was there.  In the mud we saw paw prints.  Walking in the creek photo by shannon mayhewFloating in the air we saw white fuzzy dog-fur-looking dandelion seeds.  And the next day, a doe moved into our back yard and helped herself to a buffet of weeds!

Earth Angel Doe

For us this was a sign that Casey sent an “earth angel” to watch over us.  After a few days of visiting and weeding, the doe lay down on the hill behind our house and sat there all day.  Then, she disappeared for a while.  Just a few days ago, a doe came right up to our house in our front yard, with a buck, and their two fawns following closely behind.  Was this mama our doe?  Our messenger from Casey, showing us with her spotted babies that Nature is constantly being renewed?  That life offers us magic when we look for it, comfort when we are open to it, and joy when we are committed to being fully alive?  We like to think so.

dappled fawn

The intensity of grief has softened, and we are at peace.  I am missing Casey for sure, but not suffering.  Feeling sad when the sadness hits. Receiving the joy that comes with reminiscing, funny stories and pictures.  Welcoming the love that flows naturally when I embrace it all.  Practicing presence.

With love from my open, healing heart,
Shannon

caseycute

Your Life is Your Art

Create Art

In every breath, there’s a brushstroke. In every moment, a miracle. Notice and amplify the beauty around you, and so decorate your life. Embellish with wonder. Saturate with kindness. Paint with the colors of the full spectrum of aliveness. Express with joy. Your life is your art.

Love,  Shannon