catching ideas welcome presence
creative presence

The Idea Catcher


“I have so many ideas that I’m lucky if I don’t trip over them each morning.”


I love the image of Bach tiptoeing through his room, over ideas strewn on the floor like discarded underwear. Isn’t that just how creativity works, too? Ideas are abundant. Having ideas is much easier than grabbing hold of them and bringing them into the world.

An Embarrassment Of Brilliance

When looking for a good metaphor it often helps begin with nature. And the abundance of creative activity in nature amounts to an embarrassment of brilliance: millions of eggs laid by sea turtles on a beach on a single night; galaxies bursting at the seams; countless fruit rotting under countless trees; the outrageousness of Spring  where whole landscapes burst into bloom for a few weeks.

Maybe you’ve experienced one of those lazy days sitting in the garden, trees swaying, bees droning in the background as a s stream of creative ideas flow through your mind, only to be swept away as you fall into a nap. Or maybe your ideas arrive in the shower. Or you receive wild visions while stuck in traffic. You, too, are the conduit for an embarrassment of brilliance.

Like Bach, ideas are floating all around us like a rabble of butterflies. The next step involves action. We need to pick up an imaginary butterfly net and snatch the ideas we most resonate with, the ones we commit to working on.

Why It’s Hard To Move From Idea To Action

Once we commit to an idea it is removed from the safe bubble marked ‘daydream’ and we start to make a place for it in the real world. Undertaking this process means to risk mucking it up, or being ridiculed.

I have piles of notebooks that I keep in a red box, each one filled with sketches, doodles, ideas. I love that box. It’s like a bright red cocoon for my ideas. They sit there like fat little grubs, readying themselves for the day they’ll burst out into the world.

Flipping through my notebooks can be like walking through a butterfly pavilion.

I safely watch all my ideas and sketches from here, some more viable than others; there goes a lime green one floating up to the canvas ceiling, while another struggles to free its soggy orange wings from the edge of a water feature.

But this is an exercise in separation, too. I keep myself apart and safely view my ideas with both hands tucked into pockets to avoid squashing anything.

In Order To Create

We need to get involved, no more viewing from a distance, it’s time to pull out that net and commit.

Problem: you might find a sense of dread rising when it’s time to do that.

Sometimes, dread comes from the tension between the ideal version of the idea in your head and the flawed version which your limited abilities may actually produce.

And it’s true, the flaws will be there. Ideas are delicate things, their wings can be easily torn, they might not adapt well to a new environment. But the work of adding beauty and meaning to the world involves the realization that a lot of ideas just won’t make it. There’s no need to take that personally, it’s just the truth.

And the beauty and meaning we’re talking about there is the singular beauty and meaning that comes filtered through you, and your perfectly flawed life. That’s the flavor of your personal magic and only you can bring it into the world.

Leap Into Action

Here are some tips for moving from idea to creation. Let’s snatch these ideas as they float past, then do something with them.

Start Small

Small starts are a great way to build momentum. Once you begin the transition from ‘idea’ to ‘action’ it’s like adding oxygen to kindling. I’m an anxious starter and have learned over time to build in small, non-intimidating actions at the start of each project. For writing, a brief entry in your journal can work. For art,  sharpening pencils, organizing paintbrushes, selecting the right paper can be enough to get you settled and ready to make those first few marks. Once you’re on your way your project starts taking over and sweeps any nervous energy away.

Get Present

Being in the moment is a great way to both open yourself up to inspiration, and to grab what the muse offers you and run with it. Being mindful and aware allows your perception to open out a little and gives inspiration more chance to strike. Noticing is a simple writing meditation that can help you get settled into the present moment and open to creative possibilities.

Inhabit Your Body

A great way to get in touch with your creative abilities is to move your awareness down into your body. Your body is a vessel of inner wisdom and connecting with your body allows you to sidestep the bustle of mental chatter. Things are quite here and there is space for wisdom and beauty to emerge.

A great way to bring awareness into your body is to let your feet be flat on the floor and imagine that you are breathing in and out through the soles of your feet. As you breathe do a simple body scan , moving your attention down from your head–to your throat, the center of your chest, belly, pelvis, knees, feet. Even a few seconds of this has a settling effect and you can feel the difference.

Fail Often

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Samuel Beckett

Lowering the stakes is a great way to begin a project. Realizing that your self-worth is not tied to every blog post, painting, or workshop that you create is a blessed relief! Is it really a problem if this blog post tanks? or if an illustration looks a bit out of whack? No. It’s tempting to aim for perfection but th truth is that the more you’re prepared to fail the more you produce.  And BONUS: the quality of your work improves dramatically.

Give It Some Air

I used to be a drug and alcohol worker, and one thing we did was to sit with clients as they wrote down what they saw as the ‘good’ and ‘less good’ aspects of their substance use. This exercise had a profound effect on people, it was often the first time that all the desires, consequences and judgements, good and bad, that had been swirling around in their heads was released, and they had a different perspective on them.

You can get this same effect with your ideas–by telling someone else about it, or putting it into another format–I often sketch my blog post ideas, or write a mini description of an illustration I want to do. A simple shift in perspective can really freshen things up.


Ideas are tender beings, sometimes they just need to work in the dark for a while. It’s like being in a cocoon, if it’s opened up too soon everything is lost. No one can tell you when, either. Only you can know.

Leave Foot Prints

At 5 years of age I got a pair of ‘Bata Scout’ school shoes. They had lion paw prints stamped into the sole, and at the back of the shoe, just above the heel, was a tiny opening with a secret compass tucked inside. I remember walking in the dirt and checking out my foot prints with the air of a seasoned jungle explorer.

We can also leave footprints of our creative projects. I keep notes of each stage of creation whenever possible. When a project tanks, it’s footprints are left behind for you to retrace and get a sense of where and why things went wrong. Sometimes you can even pick up a failed idea and set it in a new direction.

How About You?

What’s your favorite way to get from ‘idea’ to ‘action’? Do you use some of the methods outlined here, or do you have your own strategies? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

tides of desire
in the world

Following The Tides Of Desire

“Underneath it all, we are wild and we know it.”

Reggie Ray

Sometimes you can be sitting there and not even notice it happen. The slow creep of water up the beach, the wavering line of wet sand making it’s way up to where you’ve left your things. Next thing you know, the water is lapping at your towel. It’s the tide, and it’s moving in silently.

Despite the quietness, the tide is a powerful event generated by mysterious forces. The moon moves in relationship to the earth and between these two shifting bodies the power of gravity is at work: the earth holds the moon in it’s orbit, and in return the moon exerts it’s own pull, lifting and releasing great bodies of water as it cycles the earth.

Our desires are like this

Once we are locked in to something we desire, the space between us and our desire becomes charged and energy flows. And that’s part of the thrill of desire, the energetic pull we experience in our minds and our bodies. It’s the thrill of aliveness, awake and running through us.

Desires are a powerful force in our life and if we are not conscious in our relationship with our desires they have the power to overwhelm us.

It’s no accident that one of the first questions a life coach is taught to ask of their clients is “What do you want?” Because our thoughts of desire and our bodily experience of desire can be so strong and have such a quality of urgency, we can be pushed to our capacity simply managing them. So it makes sense that we don’t always get to sit down and examine what’s going on.

How often do you consciously think about the desires that move you? How much thought do you give to following the pull of your desires, the field of energy that moves between you and the thing or person or state of being that you are desiring?

Have you ever chased a desire and got burned for it? Followed through on something you thought you wanted, and lost control along the way? I know I have. We might realize afterwards that our energy was spent chasing something we didn’t want so badly after all. We may have chased relationships with people when what we really desired was to be accepted, wanted, loved. May have chased alcohol or drugs when what we really desired was confidence, excitement, or to be comfortable in our own skin. The same with food, or activities, or choosing a place to live.

The desire under the desire

Sometimes the things we really desire are hidden underneath, like deep water moving underneath the surface. The movement of the water below creates visible waves of movement on the surface, and makes it’s mark on the shore. But the actual movement of water underneath can be hard to see. And sitting with all that energy might be a little unnerving sometimes, too.

Diving underneath our apparent desires to find out what’s going on can be helpful because:

Sometimes our desires are misdirected.

Sometimes our desires are overwhelming

Sometimes our desires are trying to tell us something.

Here is a simple exercise that can help get started looking at the nature of our desires and to taste some of that energy that is running through.

A conversation with desire

Doing this exercise can help you check in and, in a very light way, experience the energy of your desire.

The first step is to get something that you consider a treat–your first cup of coffee in the morning, or a beloved pastry, maybe cue up a piece of music that moves you deeply. You can also call up an image of something (or someone) you desire if what you want isn’t at hand.

Next, ground yourself. You need to be aware of your body to do this exercise, so sit comfortably in a chair, or on the floor, if you want to be standing that’s okay too, and direct your attention into the places in your body that are holding you up.

If you are standing that would be your feet, feel where they connect to the floor, experience the pull of gravity on your body. If you are sitting down you might place your attention into your feet on the floor, the buttocks where they rest on the chair. Just feel that for a moment before we move to the next step.

Next, put the treat in front of you. Observe it. Notice what responses come up for you. What thoughts are coming up for you? What do you experience in your body as you observe this treat?

If you are having trouble noticing anything go back and ground yourself again, put your attention back into your feet, your buttocks, sometimes putting a hand in the center of your chest can ground you in your body a little more and help you to access more information. If nothing comes up, then nothing comes up. That’s perfectly okay. That’s information too. There’s no way of doing this wrong.

The next step is to slowly reach towards the treat, but don’t touch it. Use your body for this step, reach out with an arm, even if you’re working with an image you’ve chosen. Again, as you reach out notice what is happening in your body? What thoughts are coming up? Pull your arm back slowly without picking up or touching the treat. What do you notice here?

Okay. We can’t end on a cruel note here.

The final step is to reach out slowly again, this time allow yourself to have the treat. Smell the coffee and have a sip, break into that pastry, imagine yourself with that special person. Notice the thoughts that come up, notice what your body is experiencing right now.

Riding the tides

The exercise we’ve just gone through is a simple one, but it’s a nice way to start leaning into our desires, to help us get a feel for what’s going on underneath the surface as the tides of desire run through us–through our body, through our consciousness.

As you do this exercise you might surprised at what comes up. Sometimes the strength of the desire takes is more than you anticipate, sometimes the final step proves underwhelming and you might wonder why you were so excited to have that thing.

More important than the actual results of doing this exercise, is the power of taking the time to come home to the body and really experience the push and pull as our desires play out. To get a feel for that and to see what’s really going on in there, to get into the habit of having conversations with your desires.

It can begin a fruitful practice of getting to know your desires and appreciate the thill and sense of aliveness they bring to you, while learning how to avoid getting pulled under by them.

memory of shoes
heart mind writing

The Memory Of Shoes

When he was in First Grade, my son Finn came up to me one day and said, “Look at my closet, my shoes are in a line and you can see the memories of all the fun I had when I was wearing them”

So we went through the shoes:

“These are the shoes you wore to the beach last summer”

“These were your running shoes”

“You stomped in so many puddles with these boots, and raked the yard and kicked autumn leaves”

“Started kindergarten in these”

“Ended kindergarten in these”

I was really touched that Finn assumed I could see what he saw in his mind, where he saw it, as if we shared minds.

And it’s true–I could, when he pointed out to me what he saw when he looked at the shoes.

He was showing me a beautiful way to relate to my possessions. After we’d gone through his shoes like this, honoring each memory they held, I had a new appreciation for my own things. Shoes, clothes, books. We’re always in relation to the objects around us, and we have a choice whether that relationship is one of presence and appreciation, or one of casual disregard.

I seem to swing between the two, but the discussion with Finn helped rekindle my awareness of how our selves, and our memories, soak into the items that we use, and how we, in turn, are shaped by the items we possess.

in the world

The Murmuration In You

The video at the bottom of this post has well over 25 million visits.

It shows a close up view of a murmuration, an immense flock of starlings rippling through the sky in a series of complex swoops and turns.

Murmurations usually occur just before dusk sets in, and the shadowy movements of the starlings look striking against the dark sky. While the sight of a murmuration is impressive, the word itself comes  from the sounds made by the birds.

The Old Latin root for murmuration means: ‘humming, muttering, roaring, rustling’–and in Old Greek: “to roar, to boil”. (How great is the word–‘boil’? It really captures that rolling sense of movement.)

Watching the video, where the sounds are mostly blocked out by overlaid music, you get a sense of what it must be like to be close to the bustling and swooping movements of the birds, how thick the air is with their sound.

An elegant response

The movement of the starlings is an elegant group response to either a danger, say a peregrine falcon, or an opportunity, like a food source.

The patterns of flight emerge from each bird’s reaction to its neighbors.

If one bird sees a predator and shifts away, or another sees a food source and shifts towards it, that movement influences the whole flock.

While a murmuration is hauntingly beautiful there’s a sense of brute physicality to it as well.

One lone bird confronted by a falcon would also shift away, but when that movement is mirrored by thousands of other starlings it must be daunting to the predator, as this great shadowy beast rears up and away in the sky.

What are we responding to?

We’ve all seen variations on this movement before in schools of baitfish, blood cells under a microscope, the swirl of galaxies.

Something about those repeated patterns of motion strike a chord with us, and we find them mesmerizing. Maybe we see our own communal movements echoed in the flocking of starlings.
People are social animals, our range of responses may have more complexity but the similarities are there.

This is echoed in the complex movements of traffic through a city at peak hour, guests at a wedding shifting this way and that, an audience at a concert responding to the performers and the people around them, maybe the best human example is the way we interact on the internet.

The Murmuration In You

As well as the interactions we have outside of ourselves, there is also a rich unfolding taking place within us as sensations, emotions, and thoughts weave together, mingling, influencing each other as they meet.

These inner swirlings can be hard to perceive, occurring at the edge of our own dusky subconscious. And we have to settle in and really pay attention to recognize them. I think one reason murmurations are so compelling is that they mirror the unfolding movements of our inner life. We see a deep and hidden aspect of ourselves mirrored against the sky.

The Murmuration Exercise

When I run medium sized workshops I have a favorite exercise I often include that brings the participants together and, with a few simple rules,  mimics a murmuration.

It’s great fun and people are always fascinated by the experience of being inside a living system as it twists and turns through the room in seemingly random movements.

And when we do the murmuration exercise in a workshop and allow our own bodies to be moved in these patterns, we get to experience a small taste of something essential to the universe as it’s projected in us. We are making contact with the seeds of murmuration stirring in our own bodies. It never fails to generate intense discussions afterwards.

6 or 7 starlings

Each starling in a murmuration moves in response to 6 or 7 neighboring birds. These partners remain the same even though other birds may, at times, come closer to the individual bird. This ‘system’ is partly what allows the murmuration to create such elaborate movements and patterns.

Each bird instinctively attunes to to the birds around it, and through this becomes part of a larger ‘being’, a trade-off that gives the birds more safety and opportunity.

While people aren’t starlings, a murmuration is an interesting metaphor for looking at how we interact with the people around us. We certainly shape each others lives in some way as we interact with the people around us.

Thinking about the 6 or 7 people around me in any life situation–family, jobs I’ve worked in, friendship circles–is something I’ve been thinking about while writing this post. I can see how being part of any group influences my behavior as I try to balance my own needs to the needs of the group.

There are times when I’ve partially, or fully, switched out some of these half dozen relationships–through taking a new job, or moving, or entering new relationships–and each time I can clearly see the shifts that have occurred as a result.

So, here is the video. I’d love to see your comments on it: How does watching this video affect you? What did you feel in your body as you watched? Can you feel the movements mirrored in your own body?

blue pools awareness
in the world

Blue Pools Of Awareness

I was leafing through a book by Thomas Leonard the other morning and a simple sentence leapt out at me:

“Own your awareness.”

There was something about those 3 words that grabbed my attention. The idea of ownership, when applied to awareness, is very powerful. Examine how most of your days play out, you might be surprised to see how much of each day is driven by unconscious, habitual responses.

To get a taste of what that looks like, think of a time where you have been driving and allowed your attention to wander, then realizing that you’d just driven a mile or two down the road and were unaware of that part of the trip.

Or being in conversation with someone and getting lost in a train of thought, then returning and realizing you’ve missed nearly everything they said. (Usually, right at the point where they look at you and say, “So, what do you think about that?”)

So, the call to ‘own’ your attention is striking. Sometimes when we try to be more present, or mindfully aware, it can seem like a struggle. But it’s useful to remember that we have that capacity to choose.

Awareness Is The Core Of Who We Are

I was employed as a youth worker for a number of years, and one year we took a group of young people on a caving trip. We were at a place called Jenolan Caves, an amazing series of underground caves carved out of limestone by the water flowing below ground.

Most of the underground trails leading through the caves were located beside the streams and pools of water that were still steadily carving out the limestone. I remember the beauty of those turquoise pools and how amazing it was to to explore these extensive waterways, so completely hidden underground

I think of awareness in the same way, as if it’s a beautiful body of water streaming underneath our life, constantly moving and shaping everything it touches.

These blue pools of awareness are often hidden from view by the busy-ness that we allow to invade us, by the ceaseless chatter in our minds, the deep habitual ruts we rely on to navigate our days. but they are always available for us to access.

Awareness Can’t Really Be Owned

While I like the urgency of Thomas’ direction: ‘Own your awareness’, the idea that awareness can be owned is not completely accurate.

Awareness is not an object we can take possession of, or control.

Awareness naturally springs out of us. (Or maybe we spring from it.)

Rather than owning our awareness, it might be useful to think in terms of aligning with it, of tuning into it.

This is a gentler approach, and one that sees awareness, not as an object we have to chase down and grab a hold of but, as a quality, a part of us that is always present, patiently waiting for our return.

How Do We Align With Awareness?

We become so used to being detached from our awareness that it becomes an almost novel experience to remain aware of ordinary experiences.

We live in a time where movies need multiple explosions and plot twists to hold our attention, where food has to be chemically altered so taste becomes extreme enough to register, where lives are crammed so full we don’t even notice the coffee or energy drink we’re chugging on our way to the next meeting.

It can feel like external events have the power to hijack our capacity for presence by continually placing us on high alert.

But we have a choice.

We sell our lives short when we buy into the idea that everything has to be extraordinary in order to earn our attention. The fact of being simply alive is miraculous enough that, when we choose to pay attention, we can never use up all the mystery and majesty of experiencing even the simplest things.

Like drinking a glass of water.

Or feeling your feet on the floor.

To explore that second example for a moment:

Stand up and give your attention to your own standing. What do you notice in your feet? What, if anything is happening in your knees? Do you feel any effects of your standing rippling out to even further parts of your body?

Even in the ordinary act of standing there is no limit to the depths we can explore.

So, while we can’t actually ‘own’ our awareness, we can claim the boldness of that statement, and make a choice to be more aware, and more consciously engaged with our awareness.

We can offer this awareness to ourselves, and to other people. We can lovingly guide it in ways that nourish and sustain us, and those around us. We can make regular contact with our awareness and watch as it moves through our lives, like a blue pool silently flowing, shaping us as it goes.

you deserve some space in your day
in the world

You Deserve Some Space In Your Day

Daily life can get so hectic, so quickly, that sometimes you don’t feel the mental, emotional, and bodily effects of that until you’re deeply affected.

That feeling of constriction arrives in response to being squeezed on all sides by a rush of distressed thinking and racing to meet impossible expectations.

But in the thick of all this, it’s still possible to reclaim a sense of spaciousness in your day. To release some of that tension, and allow your daily activities to nourish rather than drain you.

Being stressed and harried is unhelpful, and while unavoidable sometimes, it’s definitely not our natural state, and there are ways we can avoid feeling like this, or at least reduce those feelings of tension and anxiety. You deserve to have some space and ease in your day.

What Does It Mean To Have ‘Space’ In Your Day?

To answer that question, it might help to look at the opposite of spaciousness—feeling cramped and constricted. This is what anxiety and stress can feel like: our breathing gets squeezed, our limbs tense up, our movement is restricted, we make ourselves smaller in our bodies, less of a target. To hold ourselves in this way, while racing to get a ridiculous to-do list completed, takes up so much energy.

Spaciousness is the opposite of that. Our bodies are more free to open up, we breathe easier, we move around alert but with our bodies more at ease, maybe we decide to lower the number of things we want to get done and this leads to a series of quiet spots in our day, like the space between notes in a piece of music.

Let’s look at a few ways you can build a sense of spaciousness and ease into your day:

Set An Intention

A great starting point is in setting the intention to take care of yourself and create some space your day. Making this commitment means that you have something to guide you through the day, to keep you on track.

It also means that you get to spend some time at the start of your day imagining space opening up for you. Feel this in your body, hold it in your mind, move a little this way, and that with a sense of spaciousness. Allow the intention to set in your mind as a commitment. Also allow it to settle in your body a little. Give yourself a physical experience of spaciousness so you can recall it throughout the day.

Note any emotions that bubble up when you contemplate the idea of bringing in spaciousness, maybe write them down and see what they might have to tell you. You want the intention that you set to touch all aspects of you, to really sink in.

Give Yourself A Subtle Reminder

Once your day gets busy it can be easy to forget that you were working on creating space for yourself.

This is one of my favorite ways to remind myself when I’m doing a project like this. It’s subtle, it’s self sustaining (you get lots of reminders through the day) and there’s app alarms or post it notes up in public view—so no one else needs to know what’s going on.

You simply write the word ‘space’ (or even an “s” will do) in the little triangle of flesh between your thumb and index finger at the base your right hand.

What I love about this is your eyes will land on this little message at random times throughout your day and remind you. It never fails. And it’s amazing how the reminders seem to come at just the right moments, at the very spots in your day where you need them the most.

Create A Space For Yourself

Don’t just wait for space to appear. Create it.

Sometimes it can feel like our lives are being constricted by external forces. It’s possible to take some sense of control here. Even if it’s just giving yourself a fifteen minute block of time here and there through the day. You can schedule small breaks, or just rely on your body to let you know. It always will (if you listen.)

If your time is super squeezed you can also seek out a small, physical, taste of space. Whenever I feel squeezed I find a way to get outdoors, even if it’s for a moment or two. Just to get my body underneath the sky, to steal a moment away from a cramped room, to escape my desk, and to touch base with the unlimited space in front of me, behind me, all around me.

This is such a quick and easy thing you can do for yourself, and you will feel your body respond immediately. And the best thing? Even a minute will work wonders.

Noticing and Interacting With Space around you

Here’s a lovely mini exercise from Sally Kempton: Focus on the space around things.

As I’m writing this I look up and see the lamp on the stand beside my desk. I’m noticing the space between me and the lamp, the space behind and around the lamp. Taking this the next step I imagine  the space between all the atoms and molecules of the lamp.

Other things to try:

Notice any empty objects that cross your path today: an empty mason jar, cleared dish rack, open sky, empty shoes.

Become aware as you perform actions that create space–like exhaling, finishing a glass of water, cleaning out a room.

Pay attention to the breaks between songs on a CD or your i-pod, notice the silence between birdcalls in your garden.

Just noticing and acknowledging the space that exists in your external environment has an effect on how you perceive and interact with space in your internal environment. Drink it in.

Noticing and Interacting With Space within you

Yes. You can do the same thing internally.

Breathe in, feel the space inside you expand.

Where can you sense space inside your body? In your throat? How about your abdomen, between the organs there? Inside your organs?

You might not physically feel space in these places, but you know it exists there. Can you imagine that space?

What about the space between your knee joints, And the space held by in bowl of your pelvis? the space between your rib bones?

And don’t forget the empty spaces around your body, between your toes and fingers. The shell-like spaces in your ears. Relax your arms and feel the small pocket of space in each of your armpits. space exists within you and around you.

You are intimately connected with space. No one can take that away from you.

Close Your Day With Spaciousness

Reflect on your days experience of focusing on space. Do you feel a sense of space now? Did it change how you experienced your day?

If someone was watching you move through your day, without being told that you were building more awareness and space in your day, would they have noticed anything different about you?

Just a few minutes of reflection and journalling makes a huge difference here. Especially if you spend a few days working on creating space. This is a great way to remember any changes in your experience and to become aware of any habitual patterns that you may have in the way you relate to space.

Watch This Space

I’ve been hard at work behind the scenes designing ways to help you create more space in your life.

The first is my new presence coaching offering: The Refresh Sessions

These are mini sessions (1/2 hour each) that take you through the process of starting your day grounded, refreshed, and focused–so you can move ahead with more clarity and ease.

They’re a great help if you want to get your week off to a fresh start, or if you have a big event coming up and want to feel clear, energized, and ready to succeed.

Click Here to read more about the Refresh Sessions!


bell mindful
presence practices

Morning Bell

“We have long forgotten that activities can be simple and precise. Every act of our lives can contain simplicity and precision and can thus have tremendous beauty and dignity.”

― Chögyam Trungpa, ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’


Wandering a local spiritual bookstore a few days ago, looking at beautiful and expensive Tibetan bells and their accessories–cushions, strikers, mallets–I could feel the ‘want’ rising through my body. The desire to have just the right things to supplement my mindfulness practices—to make them more ‘special’ and ‘holy’.

While Buddhist principles are still a strong guiding influence on my life, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been connected to an actual Buddhist community. My meditation practices have largely fallen into the earth, into my body, into the daily interactions of my life.

These are the places where I choose to carve out space and time for my meditation / mindfulness practices. While I still participate in more formal practices, mostly yoga nidra which has come to the forefront these days, but also sitting meditation,  and a smattering of regular yoga, my focus is on finding ways to integrate presence into my daily routine.

But I’m feeling less need to fit myself into these forms and am finding myself excited to adapt practices I know and let them find their own form in my everyday life.

I’m doing another round of Yoga Nidra training next month, and afterwards, will be offering individualized yoga-nidra meditations as part of my presence coaching. While I’ve been doing my pre-course preparations and readings I’ve been giving thought to how I want to be bringing people out of our meditations so they feel grounded and ready to re-engage with their day. I’m thinking about incorporating the use of meditation bells as a way of moving people out of Yoga Nidra and into a more everyday state of consciousness that will leave them feeling alert and aware of their surroundings while remaining grounded in their bodies.

And this is where that feeling of ‘want’ comes in–taking this simple and useful idea and complicating it with thoughts about needing some kind of ‘special’ bell with all the right accessories. Even as these ideas come up I see them as unhelpful–it’s such a reflexive response. But having that response got me thinking about ways to be more appreciative of the tools that I do have, and how to practice using them more consciously.

So my new, mini presence-practice involves taking a few minutes each day to set up my not-expensive bell and a few garden variety accessories and simply ring the bell with awareness.

It feels important to bring a spirit of play and creativity to this, so I’m moving the bell around in different settings and encouraging myself to treat it as a way of appreciating all the little details of my daily life. That will include lots of bell ringing in the garden. And also in forgotten, and not forgotten, corners of our house, favorite places in my neighborhood—I want this bell and this practice to touch as many areas of my life as possible. The goal is to find my own way into using these bells, to develop rituals and ways of working with them that honor ordinary life, and the beauty embedded within it that we can so easily miss.

When I see the bell sitting on a tuft of mossy ground-cover it seems as at home there as it would on a bell cushion. The birch stick used to strike the bell fits nicely in my hand, and there are so many things to notice as I hold it; the feel of the papery bark, the smooth fleshy section where the bark has worn away, a small patch of lichen clinging to one end. There is a slight curve to the stick in the middle which means I have to be even more attentive as I strike the bell if I want it to ring cleanly.

When the bell rings I hear it in the world of birds and breezes, the world of neighbors pottering in their garages and gardens. I hear the tone of the bell, unbounded by the walls of my house, free to ring out slowly, steadily, making its way through the world.

in the world

The Wisdom Of The Duck Dive

When you take up surfing one of the first things you notice is how difficult it can be to paddle out.

The worst part about being a beginner is the amount of wave-beatings you have to take before you even get to the business of trying to catch a wave.

One thing I noticed when learning was a move experienced surfers make when faced with an oncoming wave–they push their board under the water and pop out the other side of the crashing wave, unscathed, and resume paddling out.

The move is called the ‘duck dive’ and learning it is a real transition point for a surfer. It marks a shift from flailing novice to a surfer who is at least beginning to get some sense of control in the water.

To do a duck dive you paddle quickly into the oncoming wave, grab the sides of your board at chest level and push down. You then push down on the tail of the board with one knee. Your body naturally follows the board down under the water as the wave passes over you. You then pull up the nose of the board and it will naturally pop up to the surface, pulling you along with it.

The first successful duck dive is a revelation. After being relentlessly bashed by the surf for way too long, you suddenly have access to a place just a few feet under the water where, no matter what turbulence is going on at the surface, a whole world of relative calm exists.

It’s been a decade since I last surfed and I know the next time I go surfing, when faced with an oncoming wave I will instinctively remember what to do.

The wisdom of the duck dive is locked deep in my body.

As a presence coach, a lot of my work with clients involves using simple exercises to become more present, so we are able to respond creatively to circumstances, rather than reacting to them from our deeply ingrained habits.

Being aware of our bodies–of the sensations coursing through us, our emotional state, our energy levels, our posture–is an important element of being present. In coaching sessions I am reminded again and again of the simplicity and beauty of the duck dive.

In the sessions we use simple shifts that allow us to slip beneath the chaotic energies of our habits and patterns, our critical voices, and the churning expectations that get heaped up on us.

And from this place, just below the surface, we get a taste of the calm ocean that exists in all of us. In this quiet space we can make small, helpful adjustments before we tilt ourselves back up into the busyness of the everyday world.

welcome history of trees
heart mind writing

A Brief History Of Trees

When we moved in, the back yard was empty except for newly laid lawn and an old gum tree in the back right hand corner. Stripped bark circled the base of the tree like discarded snake skins.

Holidays at Budgewoi. I always woke first and walked along the lake, in and out through the paperbark trees, their upper branches filled with morning sky and magpie songs.

First grade. On my way to the bus stop I’d walk under the jacaranda trees on a carpet of discarded purple flowers, they looked like a trail of delicate, miniature trumpets.

I got stuck stuck halfway up while climbing the fig tree, and sat there calling for my dad to help me down.

In the rainforest at Cedar Creek, the water was icy cold and I let eels slide through my fingers while dad took photos for painting. The trees rose up, blocking out the sky. We arrived home during a wild storm. The next day the whole city was underwater.

At school assembly the Principal informed us that a fellow student had been playing in the school on the weekend and had fallen from the tree at the edge of the playground, onto the asphalt. He was in a coma.

Funeral. Walking back to class from church. Looking at the tree, trying not to look at the tree.

Every year. First day of school. My mum takes a photo of me and my brothers in front of the maple tree in our front yard.

Most weekends there was a barbecue, swimming in the pool (a thousand bloody kids!), backyard cricket games under the myrtle tree.

The sky was blue and bright and burning. We climbed up into the plum tree. We ate plums in the breezy shade.

Canoe trip on the Murrimbidgee river. After a hard day of paddling the first night is freezing and we drag the base of a giant fallen tree over to the fire, we barely got it on there, thick roots flew out in all directions like tentacles. We named it ‘The octopus fire’.

Parked by the norfolk pines at Manly beach. Checking out the Winter surf from the car while listening to Midnight Oil.

The only thing I liked about this house was the bathroom window. Every time I took a shower I could look into the upper branches of the tree outside the window, and imagine I was somewhere else. Somewhere wild.

Old friends: Three turpentine trees beside the creek along the valley track at the back of my house. The angophoras guarding the top of the track just before our yard. The ‘reading tree’ in the garden with leaves that reached all the way down to the ground.

Aboriginal meeting place, Mt Wilson.  The trees curved up from the ground, spaced apart, they looked like dancers waiting for their cue. I rested by a small creek. A rotting log had jammed in there and been hollowed out by the force of the water, now the creek flowed through it. Blue dragonflies hovered.

Arriving at the Social Ecology retreat, we walked down the track through fine rain. The trunks of the yellow gums were wet and shining.

Flying into Seattle. Everything is green.

The whole crowd moved from point to point in the garden. There were poems. Friends sang from the balcony. For our wedding vows we stood in a circle of birch trees.

My son running for the first time, through the apple trees, chasing his cousins.

When we visit the zoo, I always fill my pockets with eucalyptus leaves from the ‘Australasia’ section.

Conducting my first labyrinth workshop surrounded by cedar trees and madronas. We do our final walk singing, our voices trail off, one by one, as we leave the labyrinth. You could hear the waves falling on the beach below.

presence practices

Your Body Of Belonging


“Our bodies know they belong; it is our minds that make our lives so homeless.”

John O’Donohue

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong?

I’d be surprised if your answer was no. Human beings are social animals, finely tuned to seek belonging. We notice when we feel that sense of belonging, and notice the lack of it even more acutely.

At times in my life I’ve ached from not feeling I belonged: to places, to people, even in my own body. I’m sure we all have our own versions of these stories.

One of the most distressing cases of this ‘not belonging’ came when I began a meditation practice and found, almost every time I sat on my cushion, the experience of feeling sensations in my body was so intense I would jump straight up and walk away.

Years of diligently not paying attention to my body had created a sense of discomfort when I finally tried to be present to it. It was the worst feeling of not belonging–far worse than a sense of not belonging socially.

If you can’t belong in your body, where can you belong?

Luckily, the act that triggered these feelings–noticing that sense of alienation–was also the act that eventually allowed me to get in touch with the reality that I do belong in my body.

I belong.

Learning to sit and be comfortable in my own skin took some time, but now it is one of the greatest joys I have in life.

I love being in my body, I enjoy paying attention to the nuances of energy and sensation that continually flow through me and remind me of my aliveness.

Looking back on times where I have difficulty being present in my body, I can see that trying to avoid unpleasant or unfamiliar or strong sensations is often the heart of the problem.

Coming back to the body after being habitually immersed in thought for so long, makes us unprepared for the occasional intensity of feeling the energy in my body. This is the point where we habit kicks in and we find way to distract ourselves. In other words, we leave our bodies.

Eventually I realized these sensations were simply energy moving around, information flowing through my body, and it was going on whether I paid attention to it or not.

Welcome, welcome.

Welcoming the sensations helps you to let go of the resistance and judgement that can often attach to ordinary feelings.

When you do this the signals become clearer. You can listen to your body and better understand what it needs.

You learn to discriminate between a sensation that is just there doing its thing, and a sensation that is asking for something to change, telling you to shift your legs a bit, or breathe a little more deeply.

Whenever you have visitors in your home, it’s second nature to greet people as they arrive and welcome them. So they feel at home, so they feel they belong.

The same principle can help you to feel at home in your body.

Simple Cues To Invite Presence

A key principle I try to follow in my presence coaching is the use of gentle persistence to help change habits.

Small shifts, introduced slowly and mindfully, help to make change easier and also allow you to integrate these changes at the same time.

The mind is a very persuasive part of us. It makes a very loud and aggressive case as to why we should hang out with it. Exclusively.

And while there is a lot going on in the mind that is useful for us to pay attention to, bringing attention back down to the body is also very helpful.

Presence cues can really help as we learn to be more present in our bodies.

A presence cue is simply a reminder that you set to encourage yourself to be present in your body.

In the spirit of gentle persistence I like to pick everyday activities as my presence cues. The best activities are those you repeat often, and that are simple and non-threatening.

Sample presence cues might include–washing the dishes, walking to the bus, brushing your teeth.

Each of these activities can serve as a reminder to be present to your body and notice what is going on. Setting a presence cue also serves as a small commitment to yourself that you will follow through on a regular basis.

The regularity is important as it allows these small acts of presence to accumulate over time and become habits.

Each presence cue can be assigned a simple act of awareness.

For washing the dishes you might notice the temperature of the water on your hands, or how you hold your body as you stand at the sink.

For walking to the bus stop you might give attention to the smells from the gardens, or the traffic, as you walk by. Or feel the ground beneath your feet as you walk.

Below are three simple activities you can use to remind yourself to be aware of your body. at the top of each one I have included a simple presence cue.

Three simple ways to welcome yourself into your body

1. Follow the flow

Presence cue: Every time you drink a glass of water

Whenever you drink a glass of water make a point to slow down and follow the sensation of the water going down your throat.

Notice the changing sensations as the water goes down, I like to try to determine the point where I don’t feel it anymore.

This is a wonderful exercise in directing your attention, which is a necessary skill in learning to be more present in your body.

It’s also very time limited, and if you do this every time you drink water you are effortlessly building up the habit of returning to the body at least a few times a day.

2. Feel your feet

Presence cue: Every time you sit at the computer

This is a great and simple exercise to try whenever you remember.

Sit down at the computer is a time you’re likely to abandon your body for the world of thought.

Feeling your feet on the ground is very grounding, and it’s helpful to remember to make that connection when you’re doing this–”I feel my feet on the ground, I feel the support of the ground/floor beneath me.”

One thing I like about this activity is that our feet are the furthest physical point from the mind.

This creates a natural tension between awareness of your lower body and awareness of your mind at the top of your body.

It gives a nice sense of back and forth, of simultaneously being grounded in the body and reaching up through the mind in the quest for new ideas and thinking.

Holding both of these aspects in awareness engages your body and mind together in an inclusive and welcoming way.

3. Follow the flow II

Presence cue: Every time you enter the shower or bath

Having a shower, or bath, is a great opportunity to practice being present to your body. The flowing water is comforting and provides pleasant sensations to follow, this can make it easier to remain present and really notice what’s going on.

Bathing is naturally a very body centered activity, and so bringing our awareness in creates a great starting point for the practice of coming home to the body.

It’s also a regular activity (I hope!) and will help you build a little repetition to the practice.

These are some simple practices that help to create a sense of belonging in your own body, I hope one or two of them resonate with you.

If you try any of these practices, please leave a comment and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear about your experience.

Maybe you have your own ways of welcoming yourself into presence with your body, if you have any tips that have worked for you I’d love to hear from you as well.