life

A Birth Story

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(photography by Calla Evans)

(the best doula services by Nicole Angela)

June 15, 2015.

It’s noon. My Osteopath gives hopeful news. “Your body is soft and ready. I’d be surprised if you don’t birth in the next 48 hours.”

FINALLY. ‘Cause I don’t know how I’d wait any longer. I don’t feel confident about caring for a newborn yet so I’d be lying if I said my only motivation was to meet her. That was there, yes, but really, I wanted to be done with being pregnant.

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It’s 1:30ish. We stop at a park to eat lunch. I don’t feel like eating but I try. I should be hungry. I feel hazy and super relaxed. In fact, I feel a little horny.

(I remember this park time as the moment I began to discover labour. I was so happy to sit under a tree and watch the tall grass sway while I discovered contractions.)

I text my girls; “Guys these are actually time-able. A clear start and clear end!”

Contractions are 5-6 minutes apart for the hour at the park. Really?! But I’m totally dealing…

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It’s 2:30 and we’re at our scheduled midwife appointment. I’m 80-90% effaced and only a fingertip dilated. 

“We’ll likely see you in the morning!”

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It’s 4:30ish - I’m in the bedroom trying to nap. Caio is making our planned birth meal of lentil soup while he sets up the birth pool. It feels like 5 minutes go by before I start having contractions that wake me the eff up. 

I don’t tell Caio what’s happening because I need that lentil soup and I need the birth pool. I don’t think to call my doula because I’m sure I have a long way to go.

So I labour alone.

It feels like strong pressure in my sacrum and tailbone. When a contraction hits I swing my fist back and try to get my knuckle in the spot that’s hurting. But I can’t find the spot because it’s all over. I end up rubbing with my knuckles as hard as I can while I hold myself up and breathe. I’m totally dealing but I’m on all fours, pounding the bed and moaning thru. 

Caio can’t hear me because he’s got the stove fan on and the air pump going. He’s singing away. 

I text my girls:

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At some point I poke my head out of the bedroom to let Caio know it’s time; “This is so intense.”

I text my girls one last time:

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I shake all over. However, I’m still not convinced I’m far along. I’m having back labour and I know back labour can be the most intense. I’m sure what I’m feeling can’t be a reflection of where I’m at. I do however, feel as though things are moving quickly. 

My friend offers to come and help. Yes yes yes. I figure I’m not far enough to call the doula and well, this is intense. She arrives and feeds me a bowl of soup. We figure we should start timing.

3 minutes apart, for one minute each and for one whole hour. 3-1-1! This is when to call the midwife! I can’t remember who called but it wasn’t me.

My midwife says “But I just saw you! Take a bath and see if labour stays.” 

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7:00pm -ish: I’m in the bath laying on my side. Another hour has gone by. Contractions are still 3 minutes apart. We call again and while doing so, I feel pressure in my bottom. What a feeling! It feels very grounding but at the same time like my structure is being rocked. It also feels much nicer than just the back pain I’m having. 

The midwife is in slight disbelief. She says she’ll make her way over in an hour to check on me. My doula says she’ll be here in 30 minutes.

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7:17pm - Contractions are about 2.5 minutes apart. My doula has just arrived. I hear her coming into the bathroom because she’s wearing jingly bracelets. Ugh. And then I stop hearing them - another contraction.

I’m laying in cold water. She tries to heat it up and I state rather annoyed that I’m already hot. 

“Let’s walk” she says. 

My first contraction standing I feel a little panicked. Where do I go? What do I do? I knew what to do in the bath but not in the kitchen. It was overwhelming to think about how to deal. She feels this; “Just find a wall, a table or a chair, widen your legs and breathe.” I think I remember during that first contraction, her foot swinging between the inside of my ankles to encourage me to widen my legs. 

No words, just energy.

We pace the house like this. But not for long. I wanted to sit down. I try the birth ball for one contraction and that brought pain I didn’t want to deal with. I stand up and kick it; “I hate this thing!”

And I need to pee. My water breaks on the toilet. She calls the midwife.

I have another contraction and use the wall for help. She asks me after if it felt more intense and I have no idea. I really don’t. I’m just in it.

I’m not in this world.

I’m fed chia pudding and drinks throughout. At one point I drink too fast and gag but nothing comes. This pulls me back into the room for a moment and I open my eyes to see my dear doula’s hands ready to catch what might’ve come up; “Can I get a bowl please?” Bless her.

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8:30pm-ish: The midwife arrives. 

“9cm!”

“Fuck yea!” (I can’t even tell you how satisfying swearing during labour was.)

Shortly after, my body pushes. Yes my body. My mind didn’t have anything to do with those first pushes - they just happened.

“Caio, fill the pool!”

“Let’s move into the pool Mama.”

“Can someone help me get my supplies out of my car? I need to call the other midwives!”

“Call the photographer - she’s 40 minutes away!”

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9pm-ish: I labour on my knees in the birth pool. The water feels good, I think. I’m so far along I don’t quite notice. Caio is behind me; his help is so loving and seamless - he’s right with my groove.

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Our midwives trickle in while I feel and learn how to push. It’s really hard work. 

I’m told to push into my bottom, as if taking a poo. So I do. And I do poo. I have no idea until the air doesn’t seem so fresh. And since fresh air is all I have to work with, I get pretty loud.

It swiftly gets removed.

My photographer arrives! She made it! I open my eyes, I think I say hi, and I remember my friend is still there because I see her in the corner. She’s staying out of the way - she wasn’t part of the original birth plan, but there she is, watching, loving and humming my birth song. I didn’t know I was using her hums until I saw her again and what she may not know is that I’m so glad she’s there.

Again, I’m labouring in cool water. They try to warm it up and I’m too hot to have any of it.

“Donna, you can’t bring a baby into cool water. Let’s labour on the bed for awhile and we’ll change the water and then come back.”

“Ugh.”

I see the daunting task of getting out of the pool and walking to the bedroom. That pool is up to my thighs and I’ve got a baby head pushing my structure apart.

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10pm -ish: I’m on the bed pushing harder than before. I’m tired of the whole process and at this point give it all I’ve got. 

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11:11pm - ish: I don’t even think about crowning…until it happens.

This. Is. Birth.

For the first time I’m not dealing well. I shake my head and weep “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” I look at Caio - his eyes are holding all kinds of emotion.

I hear my midwife sternly say: “Donna! Gather yourself! You need to push into the pain!”

I hear her. I know this. But the last thing I want to do is make it worse. It burns, it stretches, I’m totally maxed out. So I push. 

Once. Twice.

Maybe thrice?

11:14pm. And it’s out. It’s OUT! SHE’S OUT!

I feel relief, shock, surprise, and a weight no longer in my belly but on top of it. She’s slimy, covered in olive oil, water, and all things nature intended. 

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“You’re real!” is what comes out of my mouth. I’m still, somehow, in slight disbelief.

I hear her taking deep breaths. Then a whimper and a small cry. It’s so pure, so fresh, so amazing!

Euphoria.

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No time. 

“Donna, can you respond? Are you with us?”

I grunt. I can’t move. I’m bleeding. My mind is scared. Really scared.

I feel my body and it’s so heavy, so relaxed. The most relaxed I’ve ever felt in fact - I feel like I’m inside the mattress. 

I hear voices and they’re not of this world. I can’t decipher what they’re saying but I hear them and in my mind, I let them know I’m listening. One is whispering in my right ear and another by my left foot. They are circling the bed. I kind of want to stay here.

I can still hear the midwives too. 

I’m between worlds. 

I remember my baby.

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Sometime between midnight and 5am:

I’m stable. I’m weak. I’ve got an IV. I’m still at home. I’m being fed soup.

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It’s after 5am. Everyone has left but I ask Caio if they’re still here because I’m still hearing voices. I’m in and out of sleep. My baby is on my belly.

I can only lift my head.

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It’s noon the next day and the midwives are back - we’re all doing well. I’m weak and haven’t gotten out of bed since before the birth. The midwives encourage it. It takes me a long time to sit up. My heart is racing from the work. I stand and feel my feet in a whole new way. I’m using furniture to help balance. I feel like I’m learning to walk all over again, because I am.

These are my first steps as a Mother.

We’re going to be okay. 

In fact, we’re going to be amazing.

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The Peak of Life

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This past week there was a death in my family. My Grandfather, at the age of 98, passed in his sleep. I’m grateful for so many reasons: 98 was a beautiful, long life. 98 made it easier to understand that death was near. And 98 years gave us ample time together - which made his passing hard. No matter the age, it’s hard to loose someone you love.

While Gramps passing was much easier than my own Father’s, it did kick up memories of sadness from that time…and fear. Deep seated fear for my own inevitable passing.

The great sages refer to every aspect of life as practice; practice for the peak of life. Cue the reason I get on my yoga mat.

My mat is a mirror to my life. It’s a reflection of how I react to everything, including challenges. Through practice, I’ve learned my first reaction to stress is fear and through practice, I’ve given myself tools to deal with this fear - all in preparation for the greatest moment of life, the pinnacle of it, the greatest ecstacy:

“One who has become capable of witnessing life has become capable of witnessing death because death is not the end of life; it is the very culmination of it. It is the very pinnacle of it. Life comes to its peak in death. Because you are afraid, you miss. Otherwise, death is the greatest ecstasy, the greatest orgasm there is.” Osho

Fall In Love With Life All Over Again

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Did you know your heart can effect a bowl of yogurt?

Your heart is magical, absolutely magical. Not just the fact that it keeps you alive, although that’s pretty amazing. Your heart emits an electromagnetic field that carries information about your emotions - specifically, what emotions you’re experiencing. Studies show that this field of information effects something as simple as yogurt. Imagine then, what the field of your heart can do to the people and pets around you! Talk about connection baby! 

States of joy, love and peace all emit a positive effect not just for you, but to those around you too.

Life really is magical.

Pick Up Your Shit

While walking my dog last week I had an epiphany.

The walk was no different from any another. We went to the park so Brooklyn could do his business and business was exactly what he did. I grabbed a doggie bag and proceeded to pick it up and throw it out, avoiding the smell as I did so.

It’s then that my big “aha!” moment struck: walking the dog is just like walking through life. I’ll be walking along, enjoying such things as the view, the air and the breeze…and then it happens - shit that is.

The shit will always sit there and stink - it’s guaranteed. If I don’t pick it up, I’ll see it day and day again. It’ll literally be in my way tainting the previous view, air and breeze that I was enjoying. It’ll just sit there… and stink. And sometimes, I even step in it.  I don’t know about you, but I’m so not into life stinking. 

And so, I have to deal with shit. I need to interact with it, pick it up and throw it out to move it out. At times it requires taking a deep breath and jaw clenching strength. 

Straight up, shit stinks and it happens all the time. If I let it sit untouched, it affects me and well, everyone else walking in ‘my park.’ So instead I choose to deal with it and move it out of my way. It’s not my favourite thing when I have to dig for it, but I still do because once it’s dealt with, life’s 'park’ is so much nicer.

What’s stinking up your life?

Life Drawing

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This illustration by Kathryn Macnaughton is one of my favourite things right now. It’s the ultimate expression of life…

It’s intense.

It’s raw.

It bends me over backwards.

It takes everything I’ve got.

But there’s this bit of light that I hold so closely to that makes everything worth while.

It’s heart opening.

It’s simple.

Or maybe you see this illustration more like my husband does: Life is like a colourful, delicious hotdog - you’ll bend over backwards to get it. 

Happy Life, Happy Death

I grew a new freckle last year. 

I decided to watch it for awhile and a few weeks ago, I thought I should show my naturopath. After taking a good look she said, “you should get that checked out. There’s a few colours in it and the borders are slightly irregular.”

“Ok.”

I arranged to see my doctor the next day and within a week, I had an appointment set up with a specialist 2 weeks later.

Within those 2 weeks, I went on the Internet. I Googled “new freckle” and found a matching image to mine; the size, shape and colour were all the same. This freckle on the Internet was melanoma and I was convinced mine was too.

I was crushed. I wanted to have a family and a long life. I wanted to spend years more evolving my teaching and energy healing.

Who knew 2 weeks could go by so slowly?! I was a day ahead and the damn calendar was a day behind. It just couldn’t keep up with me so instead, I had to slow down. I had to feel each crushing moment and continually catch glimpses of my new enemy.

Depression kicked in. I had low energy and didn’t quite know how to go on with my new freckle’s presence. I felt so alone. My husband was supportive saying no matter what, we’d get through this together. But he didn’t have melanoma! He wasn’t going to die! This was my journey.

What were my options? Did I want to go through with chemo (what I assumed would be my treatment), or live my life out doing everything I’ve always wanted? I wasn’t sure. Typical of me, I wanted to do both.

2 weeks crawled by and the time came for me to see the specialist. As if my wait wasn’t long enough, he was running behind and I had to wait another 40 minutes. When my name was finally called, I went in and introduced him to my new freckle. He took his magnifying glass; “let me take a look at this.”

He took a deep breath.

I think I stopped breathing.

“This looks like absolutely nothing,” he said.

I almost kissed him!I was emotional and felt my throat swell. I walked out of his office in a bit of a daze, but with a new perspective: I was going to live. And I did.

…Until the next morning.

My eyes slowly began to open. I saw the light-too bright, and I felt the softness beneath me. I woke up intensely sensitive to everything around me, seeing it, smelling it and hearing it. I pondered the whole event and realized that I’m still dying… and so is everyone else.

The path to death is an equal playing field, cancer or not. Death’s mysterious surprise can come at anytime - and it’s guaranteed to show up. I suddenly felt so alive.

“What the hell am I doing when I’m not making the best of a situation?!” I thought to myself.

I hopped out of bed and took a deep breath that took in my surroundings- and my life. Like any other week, this one brought challenges. As they came up and even sometimes stopped me in my tracks, I compared each challenge to death. The ‘challenge’ quickly switched to a blessing.

I went to my yoga mat and challenged myself. I compared the burning in my thighs, the tightening of my abs and the shake in my upper arms to not being here at all. My challenges became a celebration.

It didn't matter if I wasn’t in the final pose, I was just so happy to be able to try. As Leonardo da Vinci said:

A life well spent brings happy death,

so too, does a yoga practice well played bring about a happy savasana (final pose).

It’s a perfect mirror to my experience of life. If I practice making the best of a challenge on the mat, when I step off the mat, I’m more able to make the best of other challenges. That’s why it’s called a yoga practice.

So now I like to think about death sometimes because it makes me feel really alive.

Why else have we been given the gift of life, other than to live it?

Local Inspiration: Jeremy Taylor

I arrived to the yoga studio nice and early that day.

I placed my mat and since I had time, proceeded to warm up. I went thru a few gentle stretches to prepare for the class to come and while doing so, someone placed their mat near me. I glanced up a few moments later and there he was. His aged hands were placed strongly on his mat for an even stronger downward dog. He proceeded to take hold of two blocks that he placed next to his mat and made his way into Hanumansana, also known as the splits. I remember thinking that’s quite the warm up pose. He looked determined…and much older.

This man’s name is Jeremy Taylor and that was my first sighting. I’d see him once in awhile at one of the yoga studios I attend, always in a room full of people much younger than him. Yet, he kept up with us.

In my most recent teacher training program, he was part of our group of trainees. I wanted to know more. I wanted to ask him questions and share his inspiration and determination in hopes that he may also inspire you.

I’m hugely encouraged by older people and the life lessons they carry with them. I love it when I see they have a physical practice of some kind, often found hand in hand with a determination for health and healing. My inspiration started with my Grandfather, who was still playing badminton at the age of 90. I’ve found further inspiration thru Jeremy and his practice. I hope you do as well.

Jeremy and I met on his 74th birthday: 

Donna: I find inspiration in you, being 74 years old and attending a yoga class often filled with people much younger.

Most students in these classes are a generation or two younger than I am.

Donna: Does that ever faze you?

It makes me aware of the ageing process and how I can never go back to where I was. It stimulates regrets that I wasn’t more dedicated, or that I actually dropped my practice for years at a time. When I took up my practice again, I wanted to say to students “I used to be able to do that.” I also see people who I figure should be able to do the postures and I wonder why they can’t because they’re so young and flexible. But we all have our limitations and our own path. I used to want to correct people in classes and show them a better way, but I’ve grown out of that. I realized that’s life going on in the student right next to me - I have no reason to interfere with what they’re doing. I’ve learned a lot from figuring out things out on my own.

 

Donna: Do you ever look at your situation as an inspiration, being in a room filled with young people and all?

Oh yes! I constantly draw on that. I tell people I go to yoga classes where students are two generations younger and usually I keep up. That’s my favourite bravado statement. (laughs). Students regularly say they are inspired by what I can do.

Sometimes I can’t complete a class.  Honouring what my body can and can’t do is beneficial. I don’t get so upset anymore, I’m just happy that I can participate and learn. Some of my own students, who are close to my age, are in such a decrepit state. I feel sad for their condition. It makes me grateful that I practiced enough to give me the abilities I have today. 

Donna: Do you have any advice for someone in a class who can’t keep up or who needs to take a long child’s pose?

I would say, ‘do what you can’. I have a student who may be older than I am - very frail. Her body is so stiff that I refrain from assisting her and rely on my ability to explain and demonstrate the pose. When she does a warrior pose her feet are only one step apart, but she loves my classes. That’s an insight for me. When students can hardly do anything, they’re still getting some benefit from the class. They keep coming back! This inspires me to go against the grain and always mention the deeper aspects of yoga.

 

Donna: Do you think just being in the room is beneficial?

When I’m in a class and sometimes feel overwhelmed, I find my attitude can switch to judging what’s going on, while feeling sorry for myself: my body may be at rest, but sometimes the ego takes over. This is where a compassionate/meditative awareness needs to come in. An early teacher of mine said: “Watch the mind.” Falling behind in a class is a great place for me to observe my self.

 

Donna: How many times per week do you take a yoga class?

My attendance varies from a class every day, to no classes for days at a time. When I feel a period of development coming on, I go to as many classes as possible. If I’m feeling under the weather, I don’t go at all until that phase passes.

 

Donna: What brought you to yoga when you first started?

I discovered yoga in Montreal, in 1964 when I overheard someone talking about the Sivananda Yoga Centre, I took to it immediately and it changed my life. A pivotal influence was The Way of Zen by Allan Watts, that I read in 1960. I still remember things like: develop your peripheral vision; it’s the gateway to meditation in action.

 

Donna: Do you remember the feelings you had when you started and what kept you coming back?

I think I was caught up in the mysticism of it, the stories the swami told - with incense burning and the Indian food cooking. I loved the atmosphere in that place. There was camaraderie and community. I always felt that I was on the front line, doing something enormously beneficial.

My life is something of a mystery to me. Manic depression, now called bi-polar syndrome, entered my life as a teenager. It greatly affected me to the point where I had to have shock treatment and spent some time at a mental hospital. I think the shock treatment wiped out memories, so I only have vague recollections of my earlier life. I remember some dates and places, but have difficulty recalling my feelings, or the context for my decisions. It’s like half of my slide show is missing. Maybe not having all those memories keeps me young!

 

Donna: Did yoga help the manic depression / bi-polar syndrome?

The bi-polar syndrome while greatly diminished, is still there – it’s part of who I am, but it’s not the debilitating thing it once was. I’m pretty sure yoga is playing a significant part in my present stability.

 

Donna: You’ve been doing yoga since the 60’s on and off and most recently you started up again. When?

I read an article in Now magazine in 2002 about Bikram yoga. I thought if I ever go back to yoga, that’s where I would go. So the following winter I did. I liked it so much, and I recovered some of what I had been able to do.

 

Donna: That’s great! What inspires you about yoga?

Having a direct experience, from years of practice, is keeping me on the path. I’m not there for my health or to lose weight. I’m always happy to lose a pound, (laughs) like everybody else, but now it’s the meditation that’s really working for me. The meditative experience is changing my life, and I’m continually applying what I’m realizing to my life and my teaching. The yoga I treasure comes from the awareness of breath.

 

Donna: How do you stay inspired?

I’m open to any source of inspiration. I have faith that the right thing will come along at the right time. A teacher can drop a hint in passing, not realizing how powerful it can be for the person for whom it is intended. Maturation is a fundamental part of it, too. As I grow, I hear things that perhaps were always said, but perhaps I wasn’t listening because of the level I was at.

I also like to write a page or two for the classes I teach - everything from yoga, meditation, to English as a second language. Writing clarifies my mind. My intuition is supported with clearer thinking - coming out of the new ways I find to restate the obvious.

I’ve always been able to be by myself when I need to - I treasure that.

 

Donna: When you’re alone, what do you treasure?

When I’m alone, I learn to listen to my inner self. I feel that I’ve benefited from the depression that sometimes comes over me. It’s not pleasant at the time, and there’s always some guilt about appearing to be doing nothing. I’ve come to realize that some unfathomable inner work is going on, that might not happen in a busier life. I trust that when the dark phase passes a window will open with light shining on the next step, and that some new development is about to happen. I consider depression an incubation period of being with my self - not constantly reacting to what I think I should do.

 

Donna: I get the impression you’ve always done something that you enjoyed for work. What are your thoughts on people working in an area or job they don’t like?

That’s destructive. To me, it’s so debilitating to force yourself to do something you don’t love just for the money. I believe we’re all evolving toward living on a higher level. Everything I’ve done has always been about that. Yoga was always in the background, even if I thought I wasn’t practicing it. Yoga continues to teach me how to be.

 

Donna: So you find it’s more rewarding to live happier vs. living with the comfort of some extra dollars in your pocket?

Definitely. I’m able to adapt. I can give up things and move into a more austere mode when income is falling off. I’m doing pretty much what I want to do. It’s not always about the money. With a sustainable income, my attention shifts to what my heart desires, rather than what external influences would say I must do.

 

Donna: Any advice for someone who might be struggling?

Everything is a test. Discover meditation - which leads to self-examination and personal responsibility. It takes only a few minutes a day to create a profound difference. Mindfulness becomes a habit. For example, I employ mindfulness to ride my bike in this city - awareness is very valuable to me.

 

Donna: Thank you Jeremy! And happy 74th birthday once again.

 

 For more information on Jeremy, you can find him on Facebook under Jeremy Taylor.

The Purpose of Life

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”  - Dr. Suess

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of life. In the shower one morning, I asked my husband randomly “what do you live for?”. At first he wasn’t sure whether to answer “you baby… of course” or whether to really give it some thought. 

I gave the question some time and a lot of thought. I came up with many answers, but none felt like the answer to the reason I go on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning my reason to live. I’m questioning life in general.

What if it’s all very simple? We’re really good at making things difficult and adding layers that are hard to remove. Myself included. We like to think, rethink and “what if” over and over again, missing out on any simple answers.

Then I came up with this:

What if the purpose of life…is to enjoy? 

That simple. No layers, no over thinking - just enjoyment. 

I like it when things are that simple.

So I tried it out. I ran the idea through some different belief systems to see if I could rationalize it further.

If God created us, and we were enjoying life, he’d be enjoying it too. You see, it’s hard to watch someone in pure enjoyment without feeling a sense of enjoyment yourself. And if God is within us, he’d be feeling our enjoyment. He’d know exactly what an embodied smile felt like, and how it sweetly hurts if the smile stays for awhile.

The Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism say the purpose of life is to seek happiness. To eliminate things from your life that do not bring lasting joy. So it’s not about being a selfish ass who goes around enjoying life by messing up others - that’s not lasting joy. Many studies have proven that the basis of human emotion is compassion and if we’re not being compassionate we’re eventually met with some pretty awful feelings.

I also think there’s a lot of misconception about how to truly enjoy. I’m totally guilty of often thinking I need more to enjoy more, but it’s not true. I mean sure, if I were cold, stuck outside and it was raining, I wouldn’t be enjoying. The idea of warmth, dryness and shelter automatically bring me into a better state of enjoyment. But I think that acquiring a lot of stuff only brings temporary pleasure - not lasting enjoyment. I mean… I won’t be saying “Damn I’m so glad I bought that pair of hot shoes” on my death bed.

Is avoiding things we don’t want to encouncter something that brings lasting enjoyment? Not for me. It’s important to evolve by engaging with things just as they are and offering ourselves the fullness of the moment. In this way I can say I gave it my all, my 100%. Without that I’m always feeling like I coulda/shoulda/woulda done better.

I like to ask myself, what truly serves me in finding lasting enjoyment? Whatever my answer, I follow that path towards accomplishing. It’s a path that serves my life purpose. It’s life affirming.

What brings you lasting enjoyment?