Debris on the Trail

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When I pull into the Bouton Creek parking lot, I’m surprised to see only one other car. This is one of the more popular cross country ski areas in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, an hour and a half outside of Calgary, and it seems odd to me that it isn’t busier on this beautiful day. I pause only momentarily and get about organizing my skis and pack. I think I’ve done my due diligence by checking the  trail conditions online. But within mere metres of strapping on my skis I realize why the parking lot is empty as I see the bright yellow sign reading “Flood Damage”. I take a moment to consider my options. There are tracks through the woods of other skiers who’ve forged onwards ahead of me, and I decide to follow suit.

Very quickly I see the evidence of the damage from the devastating summer flood. The pine needles on the tracks are nothing compared to the uprooted trees and fallen logs which pepper the trail. I continue along cautiously and wonder if I’m crazy. This trail bears little resemblance to the one I recall from last year’s idyllic day. I was out for a solo ski, similar to today, but the terrain was peaceful. The smell of pine, the sun leaning up against the trees, the sound of the open creek bed all left me feeling enchanted. Today all I see is uprootedness, twists and jags in the trail. I bend down to duck under a fallen tree and find myself removing my skis altogether to step over and around washed out bridges. I feel disappointed and irritated - this is not what I had envisioned for my day.

Last year I was full of hope as I set out on this trail. The ski itself was a metaphor for my point of view;  I was stepping into new territory in many areas of my life. I was oriented toward possibility and the future. But the year had other plans for me.  There were accomplishments, but they were layered in and amongst disappointments. I was disengaged from work that I thought would be stimulating, and encountered relationships that challenged my personal edges when I thought they would be smooth sailing. And of course there were literal floods in cities where I have deep history; where I felt intwined with the collective consciousness. Many friends and family had a very hard year last year. Unexpected, unfathomable realities were brought into sharp focus.

As I continue my ski along Boulton Creek, something begins to shift in me. I start notice a sense of quiet and beauty in the debris. I find myself paying more attention to the trees, giving more consideration to the sounds of the forest around me and the choice of my route. I check in with myself to make sure I still feel safe. I know it’s a short distance before I meet up with the other trail and I’m starting to feel charged by the challenge this terrain presents. 

Eventually the trail converges with the the Elk Pass route and I find myself gliding along, falling into a relaxed rhythm on a clear track. But I can’t help but wonder about the meaning of the first part of my ski. I think about expectations and hope. Where do I need a dose of reality - a being present with what is rather than what I “hope” it may be? The balance of holding potential as possible but not missing the clues of the present. I think about letting go of ideas, assumptions, and false beliefs. This past year has provided me with many opportunities to practice this. It wasn’t all forgiving snow and easy gliding. But like today’s ski, I realized that I have the capacity to be with all of it - the pleasure and the pain as Pema Chodron says; to discover the beauty in the chaos.

Here are some thoughts and questions I’m taking with me into this year from my ski up Boulton Creek: Pay attention to signs. Check in with myself as I take each step. The territory I may think is familiar is anything but.  Stay open. How can I continue to let go of my agenda and comparisons of what I think the trail “should” look like? How can I keep my sense of humour and faith even while I’m bush whacking? How can I keep stretching my capacities? And ultimately, how do I want to feel in the process?  

How do you want to BE this season?

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The car behind me on College street flashed its lights as I slowed down for the light. I was perplexed and irritated. Did he want me to run the yellow turning red light just to appease his impatience? In the past two weeks I’ve noticed a distinct increase in the pace and energy on the streets of Toronto (which is I’m sure playing itself out in other cities and towns across the country). It’s as if we all lost track of time and suddenly the holidays are upon us and we’re racing the clock. I personally detest that rushy pants aggressive energy. Personally I feel it adds to a hardening of my heart and mind which is in distinct opposition to the qualities we are meant to be focusing on at this time of year. So I’ve decided to challenge myself by taking my attention off my “to do” list and focusing on my “to be” list. My intention is to focus on my state of BEING now and in the coming weeks.  This can be as simple as setting an intention before a holiday party - “ I want to have one meaningful conversation at this event.” It can also encompass greater challenges including patience with family and remembering grace and compassion in the midst of stressful dynamics. For me it is a practice. Some moments I’ll remember and some I won’t. But if I can take a breath, check in with myself and  keep coming back to the question of how I want to BE, this allows me to be more conscious of my choice in the moment. 

The other element that feels intricately connected to my state of being is the deeper awareness of trust. Am I trusting life? If trust comes into the equation, I find it easier to sink into a place within me that has faith that things have a way of working out, which has nothing to do with me trying to control people or outcomes. If I remember trust as a foundation then my priorities have a way of becoming more clear, and I’m less likely to get caught up in the flurry of doing.

Kinesthetic Dreaming

“What’s the dream?”  he asks in his baritone voice with a hint of California drawl.

My coach, whom I’ve been working with for months, is not talking about the standard night-time dream with convoluted images and messages, but rather what is the dream I’m working toward? 

I’ve always had resistance to this question. It’s felt elusive to me. Primarily because it is an underworked muscle. Lack of attention and my limiting beliefs or “gremlin” mindset have prevented me from fully experimenting with my dreams as an adult. Dreaming has become an atrophied muscle for me. It’s easy for my mind and body to remain focussed on the daily “to do” list or the weekly tasks at hand - but dreaming, imagining - that is the stuff of luxury. Or is it? 

I’ve noticed similar responses with my own coaching clients. Dreaming can feel “unrealistic” to some. Others have a hard time visualizing anything in particular. What’s the value of it? How does it serve my daily life? What’s the point of it?

 In my experience it is a tool for unlocking possibility; opening up to new perspectives.

As the dreaming conversation continues with my coach I begin to realize that ideas and inspirations come to me when I’m moving; I access freedom and possibility when I’m walking in nature or dancing in my kitchen. I realize the dreaming muscle is closer at hand than I’ve allowed myself to see.

“You’re a kinesthetic dreamer” my coach announces. I pause when I hear this, feeling curious and called to action. And so my practice of kinesthetic dreaming is birthed and named.

Many of us identify with kinesthetic learning - learning that takes place by the student carrying out a physical activity.  Kinesthetic learners are often known as “do-ers” according to Wikipedia. But what I’m curious to explore is more of a state of “being” rather than “doing.” I want to bring a sense of play to dreaming, not make it another heady exploration, but to access new avenues and experiment with my body’s intelligence.

My process begins with taking my awareness into my body.

I pause to notice what’s there. I feel a gripping sensation in my shoulders. I use that as the starting point - beginning to breathe and do small movements to start the exploration.   Other sensations become apparent - a dullness in my upper back, a heaviness in my legs. I begin to make more spontaneous movements and link my voice to that process. My body intelligence takes over. I let some non-sensical sound, a “plaaahhh” out of my mouth. I’m trusting that my body knows what it’s doing and I let it guide me. I’ve had experience with this type of exercise in my past acting training, but this feels different - it’s  freeing and energizing. I check in with myself - what is my body asking for? What is the physical expression of my heart’s longing? At this point it feels like a clearing process, sifting through grey matter to rediscover dreams I’ve forgotten - or more correctly, new dreams that want to surface. I pause and feel a flowing sensation down my arms as if cobwebs were dripping off my fingertips.

I am opening up the channels of receptivity - building the dreaming muscle.