Conscious breathing

There is something renewing about being attentive to the breath. It settles the attention, centers it in the present moment. I’ve been noticing the character of different breaths, as if each moment of being aware of breathing has a flavor or a mood. Makes sense to me. Wherever you are matters.

The first breath of cold air in the morning when I walk out onto my porch is invigorating, sharp and bracing. The crispness is like biting into an apple; like the sound of ice tinkling in a glass; like the bright feeling of seeing my love for the first time each day. Sharpness does not need to cut. It can awaken me to possibility. Just this morning I noticed that the moss is growing greener on the stones in the garden. The first shoots of daffodils are starting to show above the ground.

During the day, I take a deep conscious breath every now and then, noticing how that feels. More often than not, it focuses my attention on being present in my body, sharpens the vision and gives a sense of stillness.

As I sit in my driveway, before I enter the house at the end of the day, that breath is more of a release. I consciously use a couple of deep cleansing breaths to let go of the day, and the things of the day before entering the house. That breath feels like it needs a little more focus. Some days it is easier to make this transition than others, depending on what the day held. However, being in the moment, and allowing myself to just notice how I am feeling, what I am thinking, helps put the thoughts and emotions into context.

For the next few days, I’m going to work on conscious breathing at different times of day, and in different places, just to see what happens.

Mischievous qi

In the morning, I like to do a meditation called swimming dragon. It is a stretch, a movement exercise, qiqong, and breath. Putting my palms together in front of my heart, there is a gentle tilt to the left, with the palms parallel to the floor. Gently, I move as far to the left as is comfortable, focusing on the middle finger of my top hand, breathing evenly and deeply. Just focusing on that middle finger, and the breath, in and out. Gradually, as I reach the stretch point, my hands tilt upwards, and then over to the right. My eyes follow the middle finger on top, the left hand this time, all the way to the right. My body follows my hands, creating a weaving, snake-like (or dragon-like) movement. It is a simple thing, to move the body, yet some days there is more stretch in me than others. Those are the days that I need the movement the most, to loosen up. The movements continue moving from left to right, upwards and downwards, gradually shifting weight from left to right, weaving the energy. It can take as little as a few moments, or as much as half an hour, depending on how I feel.

A teacher once told me that qi is everywhere, that it is life force, or at the heart of the life force. The thing that stuck with me, however, was their description of qi as playful, mischievous chaos, that breaks up the stagnant entropy, the sticky stuck energy that stops life from moving the right way. I liked that. Playful. Mischievous Chaos. It may not be a “traditional” way of thinking about it, yet it resonated with me.

On those mornings when I feel a little stiff, and less like moving, I think I need the mischief along with the movement. It gives me something for my mind and spirit to think about, and something for my body to be doing to be present with myself.

Moment by moment

One of the things 2013 taught me was to live moment by moment, day by day. Early in the year, my beloved of 23 years had heart failure. Each day, we would say “one more day”, but not in a grim way. We would look for something fun, comforting, playful, or funny to focus on. Sometimes, that was cuddling on the couch, or playing with the kitties. One of our lads is just out of kitten days, at 1.5 years old. He likes to play fetch, just like a puppy. He brings me a toy, waiting for me to throw it in the air for him to try to catch. When he catches it, he bats it around for a bit, and brings it right back, jumping up to place it in my hand, or next to me on the couch. This provides us with quite a lot of fun, and can go on for half an hour or so. It always brings a smile, and some lighthearted fun.

We had ups and downs throughout the year, along with moments of success, and those of frustration. However, love kept us going. Even when the doctors got challenging, and one even needed to be fired, we kept coming back to that set point of living for the moment, enjoying simple things like good meals, companionship, and the stars found in each others’ eyes.

3 easy steps to helping friends organize

How to get started on dealing with household mayhem

It’s after the holidays, and your chum’s house looks like a tribe of Ewoks collaborated with a dervish of devils to make a mess that rivals a teenager’s room. What to do if you are called on to help sort it out? I’m not suggesting your own house is in the same state, though if it is, you can follow the same steps below to get started on organizing it. Our place tends to wax and wane, depending on where we are with projects, travel, and visitors; during the week, jackets and bags get dropped in our offices, and need to be sorted on the weekend and hung up again. We could just put stuff away as we come into the house, but where’s the fun in that. Colorful piles of stuff make the place look lived in, and happy.

Step One – go to the dollar store and get a batch (12 or so) $1 laundry baskets
This is the sorting mechanism – they’re a good size, have handles, and nice open tops. You can also use boxes if you have empties on hand. The container wants to be about 2 x 3 feet and shallower than it is deep.

Step Two – put 4 baskets/boxes in each messy room, in the middle, and label them. Add one big black garbage bag. Here are your categories for a general rough sort for the room.

  • Keep – you definitely want the stuff you throw in this basket
    (good electronics, clothing, gifts, unopened candy, bills to pay)
  • Recycle – someone wants it, just not you
    (include regular recycling like bottles, plastic, wrapping paper as well as old monitors, cords, CDs, old dish sets)
  • Shred it or file it – important paperwork, paper stuff
    (magazines, catalogs, letters, cards, memorabilia, medical records, taxes, paid bills, contact info, business cards, research materials, photos etc)
  • Undecided – we’ll make a call on this later
    (it might be something you want, or it may be stuff you’re not ready to let go of, shoes and clothes you don’t wear, misc stationery, left overs from projects, half a ball of yarn, old nail-polish, messenger bags you are not currently using, plastic cups, cutlery, colored napkins from a theme party)
  • Black bag – toss it out – it’s garbage!
    (open bag of chips, cookies, clothing labels, trash of any kind)

This rough sort has the benefit of reducing the piles of stuff to manageable chunks, and the trash gets taken out to the bin right away. I take the regular recycling to the recycle bin, and the other stuff goes into bags for donation to good will, PC recycle and so on. The paper takes a longer time to sort, so putting it all together means I save time and avoid being distracted by it while clearing the larger room.

Step Three – move the baskets out of that room

  • Clean the surfaces of the room with surface cleaner and paper towels
  • Sweep, mop or vacuum the floor
  • Only return the stuff to that room that will live there from now on

As an added benefit, helping a friend organize their stuff gives you a fun backdrop for conversation, with lots of opportunity to find odd treasures and learn more about each other’s lives.

Copyright 2013 R Loader all rights reserved

Mindful driving – Getting into Car Fu

view from rearview mirrorCar Fu is being mindful about driving, just like doing things with Kung Fu is more about excellence than it is about martial arts. A baker can bake with excellence, with kung fu, just as a brick layer can lay bricks with kung fu. My sweetie taught me to treat driving in a similar way; though he calls it Car Fu. As he’s successfully avoided accidents by being one-with-the-car for many years, I thought this sounded like a good practice.

He sits in the car for a few minutes and settles himself in the moment.Adjusts the mirrors, touches the wheel, the stick, looks around, and then turns on the car. He listens to it, breathing into the moment, making a connection with the car. You could argue that he’s listening for any engine trouble, and that would also be true. Almost everything about driving is in muscle memory and learned responses, yet the best drivers are those who pay attention to everything around them. He is one of those drivers.

Just about every day, I drive in city traffic in Seattle. Around me, people are talking on cellphones, merging with no signals, changing lanes without looking first. Getting into Car Fu, and being present in the moment, mindful of where I am and what I am doing is good when driving a car. It makes me much more able to respond to changing circumstances. I still swear a lot when insane stuff happens on the road. I fancy though, that Car Fu has saved me more than once. Try it some time.

Copyright 2013 R Loader all rights reserved

Organizing the car and enjoying the ride

Car-Boot-Tidy-Bag-Organiser-Organize-Bag-Auto-Storage-Box-Multi-use-Tools-organizer-sampleI should start this post by saying that organizing is one of the things that makes me happy. It clears my head, gives my hands something to do, and I can see concrete results from the effort. I noticed recently that there seems to be a lot of stuff that accumulates in the car. I took inventory of things that needed sorted and put away. Wow, was I surprised! There was an pile of towels, umbrellas, survival gear, clothing, cans for recycling, cds and miscellaneous paperback novels. I’m not even sure what to say about the lace parasol and the bag of steampunk gears and watch parts. In addition, there were collections of things.

Jackets and wraps
I’m sure there’s a good reason for having 3 winter jackets, a summer sarong, and 3 pashminis in the hatchback section of my car. However, I feel it takes preparedness too far to add shorts, a halter top and 3 winter hats.

Shoes
Ugh boots, two pairs of sandals, one that I’d forgotten I had, and a pair of flip flops that I only wore to a gym that I haven’t had a membership in for two years.

Hardware
There were two hammers, a set of screwdrivers, a rubber mallet, and two fix-a-flat cans, a big ball of twine, 2 rolls of duct tape, bungie cords (2 sizes), and a set of tent stakes, along with a lantern and 3 flashlights.

Cups, mugs and picnic gear
I found no less than 6 travel mugs, all thankfully empty and pre-washed. That was a relief, I can tell you. A set of plastic tumblers, picnic blanket, fold up sit-on-the-ground seat with a back, folding chair and a couple of gallons of water.

At this point I feel compelled to say that I do not have kids, and was not carrying about any of this stuff for anyone else. It was simply the detritus of a year of being prepared for various eventualities that, well, didn’t. Eventuate that is. It took six bags to carry it all into the house and fully a month before it got sorted into laundry, kitchen, and other sundry piles for putting away.

Organizing the car
I got myself a couple of those cloth square baskets with flat bottoms, so at least the car and emergency stuff has it’s own place. And there’s even one with a garbage bag in it for collecting empty drink cans. When I get a chance, I’ll add a couple of totes for my shopping bags.

Am feeling so much better about the organizing I got done. There are no longer any strange sounds as unknown, and heavy, objects roll about in the back area of the car when I take a curve too fast.  I no longer have the task of cleaning out the car distracting me from time to time. Now I can just enjoy the ride.

Copyright 2013 R Loader all rights reserved

Recovering from heart failure

heartOlove

A few months ago, the love of my life experienced heart failure. He was in the ER and the intensive care for a week. Three months later, he’s doing better every day, and making progress, as a friend put it, like a herd of galloping snails. Lovely image that. A bunch of people wished him, as people do, to get well soon, or be well fast. However, the snail metaphor was really the best for the circumstances. It takes a long time to recover from a heart event, and it’s important to set expectations accordingly.

Along the way we’ve found out a bunch of things about diet, especially about the dangers of hidden salt. We have learned to take each small step on the road to recovery as a victory. He is alive. He is feeling better than he has for some time. The quality of life is not measured by how much we can do, but by how much we enjoy the moment.  We are measuring salt and liquid intake, and we are being mindful about food in a new way. Raven is not having any caffeine or tobacco any more. He is measuring many things of the day, including blood pressure, medication, pulse, energy of the moment. I am so proud of him for embracing the changes that have turned our world upside down.

I took a break from blogging for a while to figure out life stuff. We are feeling grateful for the things that are good, regardless of the challenges that are inevitable with health issues. There is love in our lives; we have great friends and extended intentional family; my sister came to visit and help for a month, and we’re coming to terms with the shape of the possible. Will be blogging more with what we find out along the journey.

Burning down the house

21 years ago, in January, our house caught fire in the early hours of the morning. We listened to the dream that woke us, and everyone in the house got out alive, and safe, including the cats. We had time to get downstairs, call 911 before the phone line burned through, and 10 minutes later, where we had been sleeping was ashes. Journals and keepsakes, clothing and possessions gone in an instant.

Sometimes it takes something as radical as this, what we like to call a clue-by-four, to waken us to gratitude for living. I remember my sister on the phone, concerned that everyone was okay. When she heard they were, she brightened and got excited for me. “Now you get to SHOP!” she said. And so I did. There was such an outpouring of support from friends who organized to sift through the rubble with archeological and forensic skills. Treasures were found to carry forward, some of which I keep today as tokens of hope.

My overall realization, thinking back on it is “Shit happens. It’s what you do afterwards that defines you.”

Catching up with friends

postcardLife offers so very many opportunities to be busy with projects, there seems less time for socializing in person.  In order to keep up with news of chums around the world, and even those here in town, I am increasingly dependent on social media.  I am often caught up in simultaneous chat conversations in Sydney, Tasmania, New York, Seattle and San Francisco. This almost takes the place of letters, though some family are not available on line, and letters are the best way to thoughtfully communicate what has happened in the last few months. I have taken to writing a letter for family members, and send it to multiple people, much like my friends can catch up on news here, or on other social media.

For many friends, we only catch up in person when I am in their city, however, as we travel more, we are meeting up in cities we all want to explore together. It makes it a bit of an expedition, and coordinating it is part of the fun. Planned enough ahead, a visit to London can include brunches and lunches, dinners and late night drinks with friends who are there from other countries. We can visit the British Museum together, wander around Covent Garden, catch the markets in St James Church, or wander through Hyde Park for a morning stroll. A visit to Forbidden Planet, the terrific Science Fiction store in London, is a treat. And Baker Street is a must for the Sherlock Holmes fan.

However, nothing is as good as a long weekend where we stay up late talking, have a lazy brunch, and meander through the day. Sitting together over a meal or three sets the tone for there being time to listen, and to be in the moment.

The scent of relaxation

Scent and memory

Do you remember the smell of baking in the kitchen, the rich aroma of fresh bread and the tantalizing spices from holiday meals? These are scents you will often find in candles and oil diffusers. It is no secret that scent and memory are connected, and the scents that remind us of home or safety vary from person to person. For me, the sharp citrus tang of oranges reminds me of summers from my childhood. Somehow summer equals oranges. Together with the lemon of my grandmother’s furniture polish, combined with the heavier fragrance of sandalwood and cedar, the spicy sweet frangipani and gardenia wafting in from the garden, these are the smells of home. Weekends added the dusty, sharp, resinous aromas of the Australian bush and the salt and seaweed wrack from the beach.

Nowadays, I burn sandalwood incense near the front door, use gardenia bath products, and keep apple and citrus guest soaps handy. In the winter, I like to keep mulled wine on the stove, and all year around I cook curries that keep the whole house fragrant with aromatic spices. The scents help me remember the good things.

About aromatherapy

Aromatherapy makes use of a variety of scents to change moods, to alter surroundings, or to craft a specific kind of atmosphere in a space. Beginning to work with aromatherapy can be as simple as using scented candles, or as complex as blending custom scents for every area of your life and home. I like to take an approach where I research the herbs and plants, and then make my own blends. Then I can change them as the mood takes me.

Spreading the aroma through the house

An incense burner can be a terrific way to spread the scent through a room. However, if smoke bothers you, it is easy to use the essential oil directly with an oil diffuser. There are handy ones that plug into a wall socket and do not require open flame. There are also really pretty glass, brass or ceramic ones that float the oil on water and heat the oil via a votice candle underneath a small dish that sits on top of the diffuser. This works much the same way as heating brandy to release the full flavor.

Some thoughts for playing with oils

  • For calming end-of-day relaxation, try jasmine and cedarwood, lavender and sage.
  • For subtle changes in atmosphere, try light pear, vanilla or sandalwood candles.
  • To become more energized, add some citrus scents like grapefruit, orange or lemon.
  • If you want to sharpen your thoughts, try some lemongrass, peppermint or carnation.

Blending your own scents

The main thing to keep in mind if you are going to blend your own scents is that you want essential oils rather than fragrance oils, as these are extracted from natural sources like plants, roots, fruits and flowers. They do not have additives that weaken the scent. Scents that traditionally come from animal sources such as musk and civit are now available as synthetics at a reasonable price; a plus is that this eliminates the element of animal cruelty that was associated with the animal based products. Win.

When blending the scent, you need a base, middle and top note

  • Base note – the scent that lingers for the longest, and is the foundation of the scent
  • Middle note – the body of the blend, or the main scent that gives the character
  • Top note – the lightest scent that you notice first

There are scents that fall into categories such as herbs, spices, alpine flowers, tropical flowers, resins, gums, roots, fruits and seeds. Some complex blends include elements from multiple categories, while most simple compounds may use two or three elements to combine into a single fragrance.

Testing a sample fragrance blend

To begin, select a couple of oils that you like, and using a separate fresh toothpick for each bottle, put a drop of each of your chosen oils onto a piece of blotting paper, next to each other. Wave the blotting paper a couple of inches away from your face and when you breathe in, you will be able to perceive how the scents work together. Do you like it? does it need more of one or the other? If so, add one more drop of the fragrance you want to increase. Does it need anything else? Try adding another fragrance to the mix, one drop at a time. Write down how many drops of which essential oils you use as you go. This becomes the basis of your recipe.

Making the final blend

Take a look at your notes and see what the proportions are from your test. If you have three drops of sandalwood, two drops of jasmine and two drops of vanilla, then your proportions are 3:2:2. I usually add a mixture in increments of 1 part = 5 drops, so the three drops of sandalwood would become 15 drops with an eyedropper, two drops of jasmine becomes 10 drops, and two drops of vanilla becomes 10 drops. I put this into a glass bottle with an eye dropper, shake it to mix together and then decide if I like it once I have this quantity. I repeat the process (always using a separate dropper for each essential oil to avoid contaminating the main bottles, until I have a full bottle of my blend.

Diffusing fragrance in a room

If I have made a scent and now want to diffuse it through the room, I can add a couple of drops of my mixture to a diffuser and light a candle under it. I can add the mixture to a special sponge/blotter and insert that into a plug-in diffuser. I can also dilute the mixture and use an atomizer to spray it around the room. If I choose the latter, I add it to purified water. To use it as a perfume, I may add it to ethyl alcohol, and to use as a massage oil or perfume oil, I may add the mixture to pure almond or jojoba oil.

Sources for essential oils

Go to Bing.com and search for essential oils, or go to amazon.com and do the same thing. Both will turn up lots of places where you can order small kits (6 oils), medium (12-24 oils) or large full sets of 64 oils. Personally, I love kits, so this is the route I recommend. You can also find essential oils at vitamin places, bookshops or massage supply locations.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved