Feeling Certain of the Depth, Breadth and Intensity of my Love for my Family

Ramadan began on May 25, marking the beginning of a whirlwind five week adventure for me and Mister. We caught the red eye out of Riyadh to our connecting flight at London Heathrow, then on to Victoria via Vancouver. It took over thirty hours, crossing ten time zones. Despite exhaustion, the pristine beauty of Vancouver Island invigorated my soul and the lure of connecting and sharing stories with family had me tapping into a third or fourth wind.

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My mother, two daughters, son-in-law and grandson all live on Vancouver Island. I knew it was going to be a challenge to be with each of them in authentic communication within four and a half days, but I was committed. Inspired by Elizabeth Lesser’s Ted Talk, Say Your Truths, which I referenced in a previous blog, I vowed to create space for deep time or sacred awe to manifest. And it did.

We engaged in the usual traditions of preparing and sharing food together while engaging in deep discussions.

Re-connecting with my grandson was a gift to be cherished, from that first moment I peeked into his room and he shyly regarded me for all of a minute before crying out in delight, “Grandma!” and that final heart-wrenching kiss goodbye.

We established our motto, “party every day,” belting it out in an off-key version of The Black Eyed Peas, repeating the chorus frequently throughout our visit.

Our first day Mister and I took Em with us into Victoria where we picked up my mom (nana) and drove to Willows Beach. All the adults were enamoured with Em and we traipsed after him as he navigated the playground equipment with confidence. We ate ice cream and drew pictures in the sand with old driftwood sticks. We ate crispy-gooey-greasy pizza and engaged our imaginations in play. Mister pushed my Mom on the swing and me and Em on the merry-go-round. We dizzy-walked and fake crashed into the soft green grass. I felt present to expansive possibilities and the innocence of his loving young heart.

Driving back home we sang songs and told stories, Mister sharing a smash-up impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn, a character from the Looney Tunes of our youth and me giving my Southern accent version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Em revealed with the frank honesty of young children that my story was horrible because it was too scary. He loved Mister’s Foghorn vignette and kept asking him to tell it again.

The next day Mister and I took Em on a walk down by Fisherman’s Wharf in scenic Cowichan Bay. We spotted fish and looked for sea lions, holding hands and seeing the beauty and wonder of the world through Em’s eyes. We had a pirate pool party in their backyard and I relished the freedom to be childish.

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Whether he was busy being a boy, playing and chattering non-stop or snuggled up to me while I read him his bedtime stories, Em’s soft spirit spoke to me. My time with Em brought me back to my purpose, which as Mister identified, is simply to love.

I didn’t create as many opportunities to connect deeply with my Mom as I would have liked. However, it was a gift to witness her youthful, spirited energy as she interacted with Em. During one of our family dinners Mom shared a little of her Ancestry Circle. I felt honoured that she expressed her vulnerability. The day before we left she invited us to lunch at her place and while  I was in a bit of a muddle that day I gave her a big hug goodbye, managing to stay fully present, if only for a few moments.

Scarlet was at a workshop when I first arrived. When she got back early Sunday afternoon I was thrilled and ran to the door to wrap my arms around her. Tamara supported us in our desire to create one-on-one connection, looking after Em. Scarlet drove us to Mill Bay, to a part of the ocean we used to walk together when I lived nearby. We walked along the waters edge sipping our coffees and releasing all of our heaviness, baggage and updates.

When we reached a craggy boulder overlooking the ocean we spread out her yoga mat and settled into the space, holding hands and sitting in spiritual silence. Scarlet led us into deep and sacred communion. We were in deep time and the hours melted into moments where watches don’t exist and our heartbeats marked the passage of time. I felt like I was glowing, acknowledging the grace and gift from God that is my angel daughter.

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My time with Tamara was not as plentiful as I would have liked. I felt grateful for the time we shared together in Goa. We did manage to engage in a few open and honest conversations. I was able to hold and behold her.

On our last evening, after Em was all tucked into bed and the dinner dishes were tidied away, me, Scarlet and Tamara participated in a spiritual bonding ceremony, sharing our vulnerable hearts in deep connection with one another. I experienced some stickiness, but both my girls responded in their own individual ways to support me. My heart was filled with fiery hot pride of the strong women that my girls have become. At the same time, I was present to the approaching end of my visit and my heart was drenched in the tears of goodbyes.

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So yeah, I left Vancouver Island feeling a lot of things, but certain of the depth, breadth and intensity of my love for my family.

Feeling Inspired to Follow My Dreams

I admit that I enjoy scrolling through posts on Facebook. It’s something I take a few minutes to engage in each day, mostly over morning coffee and before tucking into bed. I appreciate the opportunity to stay informed and connected, and for the most part I feel disciplined to keep my time spent on social media within reasonable limits.

I came upon a video featured on Goalcast last week. It was brief but impacting. Taraji P. Hanson, a successful actress most recently known for her performance in Hidden Figures, shared a little bit of her story.

When Taraji became pregnant in college, the naysayers said she would never finish. But she did. She walked across the stage and collected her diploma with her son on her hip. When she announced that the was moving to California at the age of 26 to pursue her dream of acting, the naysayers said she was crazy, that she was too old to start up in that business. But she went, and now she is an accomplished actress. In her own words, at age 46, she is “just getting started.”

 

Taraji’s message is that your happiness is up to you. She encouraged me on my own happiness journey to follow my dreams. And she reminded me of my own inner courage. I decided that perhaps sharing my story could inspire others too.

Like Taraji, I became pregnant when I was young. Only I wasn’t in college. I was in my final year of high school. The naysayers told me I would never succeed if I kept my baby, that I would become a welfare dropout. They were wrong. Birthing my angel inspired me even more to be my best and reach for my dreams. How she changed my life is its own story, but I will share here the poem I wrote during my pregnancy.

 

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The sadness is the hardest part to bear. It sucks to hear we don’t want her at our school and she is a bad example. As I ride the bus to my new school, the one for girls like me, the old ladies across the aisle offer up their condemning stares. I hide my naked fingers beneath me. I cast my gaze downward and dream.

No joyful announcements slipped ceremoniously into mailbox slots. I’m told to hush, when all I want to do is blast away on my golden trumpet. As a pregnant teenager I’m required to take apart my trumpet and tuck it away in its velvet-lined case. I am not supposed to be happy about this. My feelings are supposed to be about shame. My happiness is not allowed to have its name.

I ask myself “why?” I don’t understand why my age and marital status are the only defining labels of my worth. Is the miracle of this conception less than any other? Is it not possible for me to be an excellent mother?

Before (and my life will now and forever be defined by before and after) I was drifting aimlessly, like a leaf being blown about by a playful wind. Now I have this baby growing inside me and a destiny that seems to embody the meaning and purpose of my existence.

I save my joy for the quiet moments alone in my room. I whisper to my little one, you are so wanted and I can’t wait to meet you.” I close my eyes and dream of counting ten tiny toes. I accept the sadness, but I don’t let it define my experience. For now, I keep the secret of my boundless joy between me and my precious unborn baby girl or boy.

 

I finished high school, walking across the stage to collect my diploma six months pregnant. I birthed my daughter in October of that year and brought her home from the hospital to my parents home. When I turned eighteen the following spring we moved into our first apartment together. I completed a year of college, then went onto University. I applied for and received student loans and grants. With the support of many, especially my parents, I earned my Bachelor of Education degree while raising my little girl as a single mom.

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After graduating in 1988 I went on to enjoy a successful and varied career as a teacher. I taught in public and private sectors. I taught kindergarten through grade nine. I taught in typical and special needs settings. I worked full time and part time. I loved teaching and the opportunities it gave me to engage with my students as well as devote myself to my family, which always came first. I married and had two more beautiful children. I was, and am, blessed with so much.

Still, there have been hard times. It would be dishonest and a disservice to brush over those. I struggled when diagnosed with Type I Diabetes and Hypothyroidism. I had challenges in my first marriage. I battled with depression. In 2011 my marriage fell apart. My children were adults and I was ready for a new chapter. That is also its own story, currently in the process of being written, titled Darkness to Dawn.

Now, in 2017, I’m still feeling full of optimism. I’m 51 and no longer teaching. I’ve always loved writing and now I’m dreaming of becoming a published writer. I’ll never give up dreaming. I know that fulfilling dreams takes hard work. So, I write every day. I send out agent queries every week, prepared for rejection, hopeful for affirmation. I remind myself, without comparing my aptitude with hers, that J, K. Rowling received 100 rejections before Harry Potter became a reality.

So yeah, I’m feeling inspired to follow my dreams.

 

Feeling Expansive; Hoping to Bring Down the Walls of the Ghetto Mentality

I wasn’t feeling inspired to write a fresh blog this week, life being pretty much same old, same old of late. Then before one of my friend Carol’s yoga classes three of us got to talking about how sometimes in our small community, instead of coming together and supporting one another, people, especially women, will ridicule and condemn one another. We speculated as to the reasons why. We identified the common suspects of jealousy, spite and a negative outlook. Lynn described it as a ghetto mentality, and my muse was inspired.

Ghetto mentality is used here as a slang term associated with people who, unhappy with their own situation in life, blame others. It refers to the behaviour of people in a community who feel they are disadvantaged and the way to overcome their feelings of injustice is to bring down those they perceive as advantaged. They usually compare what they have to what their neighbours have.  It is related to a perceived scarcity of goods, money, attention, status or other measures of self-worth or success.

I’ve written in other contexts about this kind of mentality in broader settings; Brexit and Trump are examples. Trump campaigned to make America great again, blaming current problems in the USA on other countries, other races, other political ideologies and other religions. Deflecting onto “the other.” Brexit blamed the EU for their economic challenges and immigration issues. This lack of taking responsibility is not only unhealthy, it isn’t helpful. In my opinion, the only way to make change is by empowering yourself, whether as an individual or society.

I’ve made a commitment to focusing on positive emotions and energy in my blog posts so I will move on to tackling how to bring down the walls of this ghetto mentality.

One possibility is to foster cooperation and collaboration rather than competition and separation. Barbara Gray defines collaboration as “a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible.” Furthermore, Scott London attests that “collaborative efforts tend to be loosely structured, highly adaptive, and inherently creative.” Sounds like a positive framework.

His Holiness Pope Francis makes a compelling argument for collaboration in his Ted Talk: Why the Only Future Building Includes Everyone. Michael Green also gives a brilliant presentation on How We Can Make the World a Better Place by 2030. And it’s worth mentioning the Venus Project again, as it is an organization working towards an alternative vision of the future based on shared resources and equality.

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Perhaps just tuning into Ted Talks once in awhile instead of watching the news or a sitcom on television could be a powerful tool in expanding your own mind-set. And while media can be inspiring, attempting to step away from all media and technology and getting involved in events in your community is a great way to feel engaged. It doesn’t always have to be serious. It could be taking in a spoken word or acoustic evening at a local pub/coffee house. It could be going to a festival for music, health, or spirituality. It could be inviting your neighbour over for coffee or a glass of wine and making a connection over conversation.

Story-telling can be a powerful way to invoke change because stories move us. That is part of my mission in writing musings of an emotional creature. In her Ted Talk If a Story Moves You, Act on It, Sisonke Msimang claims that stories can heal rifts and bridge divides because they make us care. They show us the bigger picture. Yet without action, stories don’t create change. You need to act on the emotions that ignite and inspire you. That’s where a lot of us get stuck.

 

Joining a group of like-minded people has the potential to offer support and volume to your voice. You can get involved in local branches of international organizations such as Amnesty International, World Health Organization, or various NGO’s.

If you are a feminist, you might want to check out http://www.globalsisterhood.com.

In Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST is focusing on creating and nurturing talent and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is prepared to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world. “Around the world the image of the authoritarian hero-leader is being challenged, and the Middle East is no exception,” says David Altman, CCL EMEA’s Executive VP & Managing Director – See more at: http://www.iedp.com/articles/creating-collaborative-leadership-in-saudi-arabia/#sthash.aykg1x32.dpuf

In Canada, there are a plethora of organizations, depending on your passion. If you are an environmentalist you can get involved in Friends of the Earth. If science and health are where your skill set lies, LEADS promotes collaborating in research and development. These are only two examples to inspire you to google organizations based on your own interests.

In direct contrast, sometimes it can be powerful to befriend a person from a group that you are in opposition to. I watched a short clip on Now This where four people were asked to participate in a collaboration to build a bar together. Each of them was affiliated with a label; there was a sexist, a feminist, a transgender and a climate-change denier. They didn’t inform each other of their labels. As they worked on their project they talked. They were given several questions to discuss and during the conversation they built a rapport. Then their labels were revealed. They were given a choice, to discuss their differences over a Heineken at the bar they just built together, or leave. They chose to talk.

 

Making a friend with a person in a group whose ideology isn’t in alignment with yours breaks down barriers. As you get to know the representative from the group as an individual, you often discover you have more in common with them than the things you disagree on. You can then agree to disagree while working together, in harmony, to make the world a better place. Ted is at the forefront once again, with a great talk by Elizabeth Lesser titled:  Take “the other” to Lunch.

 

If you are interested in breaking down the walls of the ghetto mentality and are feeling stuck about how to act on it, here’s a summary of the suggestions put forth in this blog. Collaborate. Listen to and tell stories. Join a group of like-minded individuals. Befriend “the other.”

So yeah, I’m feeling expansive; hoping to bring down the walls of the ghetto mentality.

Feeling Hopeful; Digging for Light in the Darkness with my Daughter in Goa, India

A few weeks ago I received a message from my daughter, asking me if I would consider coming to spend time with her in Goa, to hold and behold her. She had been living at an ashram and had decided to leave earlier than intended due to difficult experiences with her teacher. That is her story to tell. My story is about how my heart called me to be with her. I said yes.

 

 

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My daughter, Tamara Dawn

 

Stepping for the first time onto an Air India vessel was like stepping backwards in time several decades. Thin, faded retro carpet. Stained, damaged, upholstery. I took comfort in the silver lining that I was seated at the front of economy (extra leg-room) and the plane wasn’t booked to capacity (extra two empty seats beside me). My smoky-screened personal entertainment system was dysfunctional; with no power what-so-ever, but the cheery attendant happily moved me to the vacant seat directly adjacent on the opposite window.

I watched the movie Arrival, an interesting feature based in the future. It addressed the current movement of fear-based policy and politics that have humankind cocooning into their separateness, building walls around their countries, making choices from fear, misunderstanding, mistrust, and ineffective communication. The message of the movie was that for the planet to survive it is imperative that people focus their energy on building a global community.

I peered out my window as I approached the massive, sprawling city of Mumbai; a combination of the usual city spires and domestic architecture, as well as a heart-wrenching number of horrific slums, the aluminum structures propped precariously against one another in row upon row of human degradation. Tears flowed down my cheeks at the inhumanity of it all.

I’d worn my abaya throughout the flight, taking some solace of comfort in it’s protection. I felt vulnerable, a woman travelling alone in a patriarchal social milieu. But the heat and humidity were radiating in the arrivals terminal and so I removed my abaya and slid it into my carry-on. I quickly realized that in Indian culture women generally dress more conservatively than Canadian women. Clad in colourful, gauzy saris, they would never show their shoulders in public as I was, although curiously, they weren’t averse to having their tummies or mid-backs revealed. Interesting to observe, the nuances of culture.

I had six hours to wait in the Mumbai airport before boarding an even sketchier plane to Goa. As I boarded I couldn’t help but think of Airplane Disaster episodes I’d watched with Mister, where the investigations led to discoveries of faulty old parts in old planes. I pushed the negative thoughts from my mind, settled into my shabby seat, cranky with lack of sleep and intense air conditioning blasting down on me, to doze in and out until landing just over an hour later.

I collected my bag from the luggage carousel in the tiny airport and found my way outside the terminal where I spotted my beautiful daughter waiting for me, looking like a contrasting vision of vulnerability and fire. The hot wind blew a welcoming kiss across my skin and I felt alive with the hum of India as I embraced my daughter tenderly, ready to shower her with all the force of my motherly love.

It was dark, so all I could discern of Goa was the coloured twinkly lights and the smell of curry and waste and the sound of horns beeping, dogs barking, and chickens squawking as our taxi driver navigated the narrow dusty roads to Tamara’s apartment. We each carried one of my cases up the narrow winding steps, through the creaky iron gates. It was past midnight and as we’d connected on the hour and half drive, we flopped into bed, the fan purring above us.

Suddenly, it stopped. The fan died. The heat fell on us like a heavy wool blanket, suffocating and thick. Sleepily, Tamara informed me, yes, the power goes out sometimes. What to do? I thought perhaps I couldn’t breathe. I managed somehow to stay calm and keep breathing and when the fan started up briefly I lit up with joyful enthusiasm, pulling the sifted air deeply into my lungs, only to have it stop again as suddenly as it began. I fell asleep, despite myself, and awoke much later to discover the fan back on and felt the kind of gratitude only absence can induce.

Waking to a new day, I was present to my mission of loving, supporting, and being there for my daughter. We went about the task of preparing food and talked easily together, as well as with her roommate. Then we gathered our bags and left with the intention of viewing retreat options in the vicinity. Tamara had rented a scooter, and while she drove quite skillfully, I was tense with the lack of helmets and the crowded narrow roads and the hazards of wild dogs and cows appearing out of nowhere to dart dangerously across our path.

Our first stop was a quaint little set-up of white canvas casitas situated right on the beach. In hindsight, I wish I would have just trusted Tamara and said yes, but I was still unfamiliar with India, still transitioning, and I wasn’t ready to make a commitment without checking out a few more options. We decided to walk along the quiet little stretch of beach that sparkled in the sun just steps from the resort. We plunked ourselves down in the hot sand to let the sun soak it’s healing magic into our skin. Worried about my possessions, I declined joining Tamara for a dip in the salty blue-gray waters of the Indian ocean, preferring instead to sit in peaceful solitude.

 

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Tamara enjoying the Indian ocean in Goa

 

 

We talked and walked to a café and ordered mint lemonade and talked some more. We processed together some of the darkness that she experienced at the Ashram, remembering even in that space to also dig for, and acknowledge the light.  I urged her to allow herself to heal from her experience before taking on the responsibility of holding the Guru accountable. It felt like flow and it felt like love and it felt like it was good enough.

Later, we found a restaurant on a different patch of beach where the ocean lapped lazily in ebb and flow along the silky shoreline. We ordered traditional vegetarian Indian cuisine; eggplant and spinach and paneer in flavourful curries with rice and naan. We held hands, then drove back to her apartment, having somehow forgotten in our ebb and flow of connection to look for a retreat. I also forgot my commitment to be supportive and leave behind my own agenda. I allowed myself to be distracted by discomfort and put that into her space. I’m sorry.

The next morning, we hopped back onto her scooter to go investigate retreat options, as originally planned. We viewed the hotel Lalita, Goa’s apparent 5-star facility, but it was booked to capacity. We checked out a whimsical property called Dreamcatcher, but it didn’t have air conditioning. We ended up realizing the first place we’d looked at the day before, Blue Moon, was the perfect compromise and we recognized it was the sanctuary for healing we had been searching for all along.

Our healing journey expanded. Tamara knew of an establishment nearby that offered authentic Ayurvedic massage. I found myself drifting in and out of time and felt gratitude for the gift of deep pressure on my aching muscles. I hoped that Tamara’s body would receive the strength of our Indian masseuse’s talents too. Namascar.

We ate lunch together in an open-air café, drinking chai tea, which I would become slightly addicted to over the next few days. I savoured the crispy rice flour crepe stuffed with spicy mashed potatoes and a grated beet and carrot salad with peanut dressing. Then we gathered our belongings from her apartment and loaded them into a Tuk-tuk taxi to make the short journey to Blue Moon.

Situated at the edge of the forest, where the river and the ocean converge, sits a semi-circle of white canvas tent-style casitas each with a name of a planet, Neelchamp, or Blue Moon as I prefer to call it. With a bit of persistence in our negotiations with Sunil, a very friendly and accommodating member of the staff with excellent English, we booked the Venus, an air conditioned unit with a back-up fan powered by solar energy. The seven huts encircle the modest but attractive restaurant overlooking the ocean, where we consumed most of our meals over the next few days.

 

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Blue Moon, Goa

 

 

We deposited our bags inside our tent. Tamara left to spend some time meditating and practicing asanas by the beach while I indulged in a large glass of Italian red wine and a bottle of icy cold water on our porch, writing in my journal as the cool breeze from the ocean caressed me. Suddenly I felt a tiny pinprick of concern and I decided to go and look for her. I found Tamara sitting cross-legged on the beach, lightly dusted in sand; she was glowing and looked grounded in her centre. I looked in her eyes, smiled broadly, and said simply, Hello … welcome back.

 

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Me writing on our porch

 

 

 

We went for dinner at the restaurant, Earth. Sunil brought us the remainder of the bottle he had opened for me earlier; Tamara commenting leave it to you to find a good wine in India. I ordered Mariana Trench followed by bananas soaked in rum with ice-cream. The tastes and textures tantalized my tongue and I was finally at home in the vibrant, organic experience of India. In that moment, everything in my world felt exactly as it should be, or, rather, even more perfect than I could have hoped for or imagined.

We spent the next few days drenched in rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. We moved in and out of easy flow and challenging stickiness as we processed emotions in the present that triggered memories from the ashes of the past. At one point, watching three crows and a crab, the mysteries of the Universe seemed so simple and my muse was inspired to write a poem; something I hadn’t done in awhile.

At my favourite time of day, the time in-between day and night when the sun and moon converge in the sky and the air embodies a surreal quality, we took our yoga mats to the place where the ocean sand is greeted by a wall of forest. We practiced yoga asanas together, Tamara leading us in a tantric series with a gentle invitation to honour our bodies and relax into each posture with intention. At times, I found myself distracted by the barking of approaching dogs or the scuttling of crabs in the sand or Indian women walking by with their children, their bangles dangling merrily. I felt playful and patient, grounded and light.

 

Tamara on the beach in Goa

Tamara Dawn; namaste

 

 

The sun set on the drama and emotion, offering new beginnings, our relationship as complicated and as simple as the Universe. I prayed, as my brief time with my daughter came to an end, that she would find a way to integrate the lessons while being gentle and loving and supportive to herself inside of her vulnerability. I prayed for the insights she gained to be manifested and multiplied by the multitudes of people faced with similar situations, where vast spiritual teaching is corrupted and misused by Gurus and other people in positions of power. I prayed for my own courage, to let my daughter find her own way, remembering my purpose is to love.

So yeah, I’m feeling hopeful; digging for light in the darkness with my daughter in Goa, India.

 

 

Feeling like I’m Going Around in Circles, Trying to Discover my Dharma

I began this soul-searching quest long before I’d ever heard of the term Dharma, but desperate to discover its existence none-the-less.

My initial query into the realms of living a purposeful life began in my early thirties. I was in a challenging marriage. I had three children. Money was tight. I felt overwhelmed. Watching Oprah one afternoon, the baby asleep, the toddler busy crafting and the eldest at school, folding what seemed like a never-ending flow of laundry, the tiniest of sparks was ignited. Oprah was interviewing Sarah Ban Breathnach and they were discussing the topic her book, Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self. Inspired, I bought the book, along with an artist’s sketchbook, a towering pile of glossy magazines, and a fresh package of pencil crayons. I went about digging into my past, trying to resurrect my identity through photos and memories and compilations of artistic endeavours.

I suffered a severe depressive episode in 2007. Despite having made some discoveries and even making some changes in how I lived, I was still trying (and unsuccessfully I may add) to please others. The daily denial of my very identity, as well as unprocessed traumas from the past, left me experiencing thoughts of suicide and hopelessness. During my recovery, the spark I’d identified years earlier expanded. I awakened, again, to the knowledge that I had to make some profound changes. I knew I had to unearth my authentic self once again.

In 2015 my interest piqued again. This time, thankfully, the journey of self-discovery was not triggered by depression. It was activated by a series of life events that had me curious about what path my life would take next. I was in transition, no longer teaching, and yearning to change directions. I was looking for insight into how my talents might manifest into a new career. I picked up a copy of Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element and began to devour the readings and complete the activities with earnest.

While I appreciated the insights I gained around my aptitudes, attitudes, passions and opportunities, the answer didn’t announce itself to me with dazzling clarity. Frankly, I was still just as muddled up and confused as when I began. It seems that I have been gifted with a plethora of lovely gifts, but none of them stands out as “the one.” I have many talents and interests, dreams and desires, but none seems more pressing or important than another.

So, I carried on as people do, still confused, yet happy enough engaging in a multitude of different tasks. I filled my days with a variety of writing projects I have on the go, household chores, trying out new recipes, exercising, and engaging with family and friends. Then a close friend of mine invited me to join a book study of Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life. I was back on the hamster wheel, running, or perhaps sauntering, in search of my apparent greatness.

From the start, I was irritated by this book, which seemed to hold forth as its premise a promise of being able to discern your dharma if only you look to it. Inspired by the dialogue between Krishna (God) and Arjuna (a human warrior) in the ancient and sacred texts of the Bhagavad Gita, I felt certain that my dharma would finally be revealed to me. But alas, I felt even further confused as the examples held forth of great lives seemed too magnificent and grandiose.

The women in my group felt similarly challenged, finding the examination of the lives of famous artists like Beethoven and Emerson daunting. The flavour was patriarchal, despite the inclusion of women like Susan B. Anthony and Jane Goodall. These women devoted their entire lives to their causes. The important work of raising families and being wives and mothers didn’t seem to be acknowledged. As women, each of us present felt drawn and divided. Laughing, we quoted the song by Meredith Brooks, I’m a Bitch.

 

After reading the first three pillars of dharma, we were gathered together for discussion and Kim shared with us a video by Adam Leipzig titled How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes that was illuminating for her. She found his road-map to finding your purpose useful, while I got derailed with the statement, “What do you feel supremely qualified to teach other people?” I was educated and worked for over twenty years a teacher in a variety of educational settings, but none of my life experiences left me feeling supremely qualified.

 

As it turns out, it isn’t uncommon to find it difficult to discern your own area of supreme qualification. It is often a skill that comes so naturally and easily, the fact that you didn’t need to work your ass off to obtain it obscures it. Sometimes your dharma isn’t so easily identified because it doesn’t manifest as a career or calling, but as a way you live your life. My friends encouraged me to let my feelings, not my thinking, guide me.

I finished reading the book. I meditated. I prayed. I tried to let it go, claiming, who cares anyway? I’m living my life! I’m happy! But it is next to impossible for me to lie to anyone, let alone myself, and I couldn’t shake this grasping need to know the answer to the question, what is the purpose of my birth?

One evening my Mister and I were scrolling through possible Ted Talks when my eye was drawn to a presentation by Elizabeth Lesser titled, Say Your Truths and Seek Them in Others. She shared, among many poignant stories, a truth that was revealed to her when she was a mid-wife delivering babies; that we’re all born completely unique. At birth, we are certain of our magnificence and shine in our authenticity. Then we are socialized into covering up our differences and attempting to conform. She challenged viewers to uncover their souls, challenge themselves to stay open during painful life situations, and look for the sacred awe.

 

Exploring my feelings, I recognized that what has always held the most meaning for me in my life are connections with people. Not the fluffy exchange of niceties we practice in polite passing, but the powerfully, fully engaged and meaningful sharing of souls. When I looked back on my life, I noticed that the benchmarks I valued weren’t when I graduated from University or started teaching in a new placement or bought a new home. They were all about relationships. When my children were born. When my father died. When I married. When the adoption was granted. And how I felt in all the little moments, when I saw souls bared naked before me, and felt, in return, seen.

And so, I finally arrived, if there is such a thing, at an answer that feels good enough. Kim, you will be happy to know I completed my homework assignment. It’s a little bit late, and I’ll probably even change my mind, but this is my elevator pitch: I create meaningful relationships by encouraging and supporting others to express their authentic thoughts and emotions.

So yeah, I’m feeling like I’ve been going around in circles, trying to discover my dharma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Compassion About the Struggles Facing Humanity, Part II

After writing Part I, Mister and I decided it would be interesting to check out the latest documentary on the Venus Project website, The Choice is Ours. It was exhilarating to see ideas and concepts I have dreamed about being demonstrated, based on the principles advocated for by Jacques Fresco, of unification on a global scale. Fresco claims that we have the capability, technology and knowledge for global abundance for everyone if we shared all resources and knowledge as a global community.

https://www.thevenusproject.com/

As is often the case, one stream of visionary ideas seemed to open the door for more to come flooding into my awareness. I was jazzed to start writing Part II and chose as the topics for this blog: Education and Learning, Poverty, Population Growth, the Status of Women and Disease. I started googling and viewing Tedtalks and I was blown away by the plethora of information available. Clearly the choice is ours! We have the technology and the knowledge and skills. We only must put them into action on a global scale.

One of the most impacting videos I have watched on the topic of education was back in 2008 when I was teaching in a special needs setting. As part of our Professional Development we were shown a video by Ken Robinson, Changing Educational Paradigms. I was struck then by the vast difference between what we know about how children learn and how education is delivered through school systems, particularly public school systems. It became a sticking point for me. My value system had me attached to the concept of free, public education as an equalizer, but experience had shown me what many others knew, that public schools continue to manifest the status quo by providing inferior teachers, opportunities and resources to their private counterparts.

https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigm

Fast forward to 2017, and progress is still unfathomably slow. In her passionate Ted Talk, How America’s Public Schools Keep Kids in Poverty, Kandace Sumner outlines the same challenges of resource availability, particularly in relationship to the black and brown population, as she describes it. Of course, it isn’t about skin colour, it’s about poverty. But because of the history of black and white segregation, inequality and racial tension in the United States, there are far more poor black people than white

At present, there are more than 1 billion people in the world living in poverty. Our current value system perpetuates those in power. Greedy people prosper while the poor are enslaved. According to Jacques Fresco, our money system is a mechanism of corruption, deprivation and control where only the few at the top benefit. Higher ideals and aspirations can not be realized when there is poverty and lack of opportunities.

Andrew Youn presented an inspiring Ted Talk, Three Reasons Why We Can Win the Fight Against Poverty. Youn explains that most of the world’s poor are farmers, and most of them are women. They lack access to the tools and knowledge in existence and being used in the first world. So, delivery of tools and knowledge is key. Youn suggests that to accomplish this goal, every field of human development needs to expand to deliver resources. People like teachers and health care workers and farmers need to devote time and money. One Acre Fund currently serves 400,000 poor farmers; providing loans, equipment, and education. It’s a positive step in the right direction, we just need to expand and multiply these kinds of projects.

 

Population growth, or population explosion as I have often heard it termed, may not be as significant a factor as once thought. I read statistics on various cites. They don’t always agree about projections, but while the increase in world population was three times greater from 1900 to 2000 than the entire previous history of humanity, it peaked in 1962. In 1962 the world population increased by 2.1 %, compared to present-day where the rate is half that, at 1.1%. When you look at it closer, the rates vary, predictably, by regions. In the first world, where education rates are higher, the birth rate is lower. In developing countries, the birth rates are usually higher, but so is disease, starvation and poverty related mortalities.

In terms of population growth, what is important is education and empowerment. An educated and contributing population is valuable. Women need to be able to make choices around pregnancy. They need to know their options. Education for communities around safe sexual practices and birth control methods is vital. Wouldn’t it be a better world if every pregnancy was, if not planned, wanted and all parents felt supported to access appropriate resources to raise their children?

Which brings me to the topic of the status of women. The UN Commission on the status of women was held March 13 – 24 2017 in New York. The focus was on women’s empowerment, particularly economically. Women worldwide earn 23% less for work of equal value to their male counterparts. While women comprise 61.5% of the Services work force, only 4% of CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies are women. The world of work is changing fast, spurred by innovation, globalization and mobility. Yet women continue to face barriers of unequal pay, discrimination, and access. “They shoulder the enormous – economically essential – burden of unpaid care and domestic work.”

http://www.unwomen.org/en

The sad fact about deaths by disease is that most are preventable. Ken Silverstein, author of Millions for Viagra, Pennies for Diseases of the Poor, asserts that most of the deaths due to disease occur “in the third world (from) preventable, curable diseases (such as) malaria, tuberculosis, and acute lower-respiratory infections.” However, the number one condition causing death globally is Cardiovascular disease, which accounts for 30% of all global deaths. Of those, 80% occur in low and middle income families. Studies have shown that pollution and other environmental impacts increase the occurrence of cardio-vascular disease.

Clearly, once again, it is about the rich and poor divide. It is about increasing gaps instead of narrowing divides, between have and have-nots, rich and poor, healthy and sick, educated and illiterate, women and men.

The future can unfold in a myriad of different possibilities. Perhaps a total global systems approach will manifest, where global cooperation, a resource based economy and the use of sophisticated technologies create a model of existence based on abundance instead of scarcity, as Jacques Fresco envisions. Perhaps the future will have humans abandoning the Earth altogether in search of life on other planets, as depicted in movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Passengers.  Our imaginations are limitless, we need only the resolve.

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Change is possible – let’s make it happen!

And yeah, still feeling compassionate (and hopeful) about the struggles facing humanity.

 

Feeling Compassion About the Struggles Facing Humanity; Part I

Being an optimist, I tend to avoid the news. I try to focus on the positives, on the good things people are doing. But inevitably, my attention gets drawn towards the numerous struggles facing humanity. And since putting your head in the sand never makes your problems disappear, it seems prudent to address these challenges. We must identify the issues before we can work towards change. We all must do our part, in our own unique way.

 

Which all sounds reasonable, until I started to delve into it. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to cover all, or even the top struggles, in one blog. I’ve decided to break it down into a two-part series. This post I will look at the issues of Food & Water, Sustainable Development & Climate Change, Peace & Conflict, Global Finance and the Sex Trafficking Industry.

 

Yesterday I was mindlessly scrolling through the television channels while eating my lunch when a broadcast on CNN caught my eye, and then my heart. The U.N. made a statement that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. 20 million people are at risk of starvation in Kenya, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia. The devastation of a massive drought, combined with the Terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, blocking roads and stealing aid have combined to create this horrific situation.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/11/africa/un-famine-starvation-aid/

The distribution of food and water globally is a challenge that many have already identified and are working towards changing. The problem is one that permeates many of the big issues facing humankind. There is a huge gap between the have’s and the have not’s. In the third world, approximately 36 million people starve to death every year, while in the first world, 66% of Americans are either obese or overweight.

Factory farming, particularly the inhuman treatment of factory farmed animals, is a blight on a supposedly civilized world. The facts are that 37% of CH4 (methane) emissions are caused by factory farming. 41 million metric tons of CO2 emissions are created from burning fossil fuels to produce fertilizers. And 2.4 billion tons of CO2 emissions are caused by deforestation for animal crop feed. I viewed a Ted Talk where the speaker identified that if every person in the world were to commit to a vegetarian diet, even only for two days of the week, the positive impact would be significant. You can read more in-depth commentaries on this issue in Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer or The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The efforts of a few folks on the fringe aren’t enough; there needs to be a global commitment.

 

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Access to clean water should be a basic human right. It’s outrageous to me that some people consume bottled water by the caseload while others are forced to drink from contaminated water supplies. I am inspired by the human ability to create solutions, like the invention of portable and inexpensive water purifying systems. But again, the challenge comes to distribution and economics.

Sustainable development projects are emerging. I watched an excellent Ted Talk by Josette Sheeran. She left her successful banking career to travel to Africa and work with the community to educate and facilitate change. Passionately, she explains how every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger. She goes on to cite statistics proving we have the technologies and systems to end hunger now. It’s about transforming through knowledge. It’s about farming techniques like permaculture. It’s about availability and distribution of nutrition, such as the World Food Programme’s Wawa Mum, a complete meal produced for only 17 cents a packet. Despite these initiatives, there needs to be more support, time, money and education into creating community driven solutions to sustainable food production.

 

In the oil and gas industry there is a reluctance to embrace the need to develop sustainable energy resources. The current system is highly beneficial for the CEO’s of oil and gas companies and the sheer magnitude of effort that replacing it would require is likely daunting. However, scientists and researchers are hard at work exploring alternatives and there is a growing body of possibilities including biofuels, hydropower, electricity, solar, geothermal and nuclear.

Climate change and global warming are remarkably still debated as to the reality of their existence. Some claim that the climate changes we are witnessing are simply part of the natural range of conditions on the planet Earth over time. This black and white thinking is no more helpful in this situation than any other. The fact that the earth undergoes climate shifts that aren’t related to human interference is acknowledged by both sides. Al Gore explored the impact back in 2006 in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. More recently, in 2012, environmental photographer James Balog illustrated the magnitude of the problem in Chasing Ice. Even if you don’t believe that global warming is an issue, it’s hard to deny that the way human beings are consuming resources, polluting the environment, and treating the Earth is destructive.

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Peace and Conflict have forever been a part of human existence, but that doesn’t mean the goal towards peace isn’t attainable or at least worth aiming for. Ken Robinson reasons that for peace to occur on a global scale, it must first begin with the individual. And yet it is a chicken and egg scenario, for how does a person born into war-torn regions such as Syria find peace within themselves?

In 2008 the United States spent over 1$Trillion on their military, which, by the way, is twice the amount spent by all the other countries on Earth combined. Yet Trump wants to spend more to protect Americans against all others, who are seen as the Enemy. It’s time to shift from the War on Drugs and the War on Terror to a Revolution against Greed and Corruption, Self-Advancement, Entitlement and Exclusionism.  To learn more about a real-life example of how to live “beyond politics, poverty and war,” check out The Venus Project.

https://www.thevenusproject.com/

Global Economy is yet another example of inequality. At present, 1% of the world elite controls half of the total world finances, while the richest 10% controls 90% of the global economy. The fair distribution of wealth is a difficult challenge to overcome. Those ten percent of people are very powerful and connected politically. While there are a few philanthropists like Oprah and Bill Gates, many of the world elite are driven by greed and corruption. They benefit from the status quo, and work to ensure that the current system continues.

While filming one of his documentaries Michael Moore interviewed the chairman of Nike, Phil Knight. He was trying to hold him accountable for using Indonesian teenage girls working in factories for 40 cents a day. Moore suggested that if he were to hire unemployed Americans, particularly those in Flint, Michigan, instead, Nike would still make a profit and he himself would perhaps be, instead of a billionaire, a half billionaire. The Nike chairman refused. After watching I wanted to burn my Nikes. Instead, I committed to never buying another Nike product again, and I haven’t.

The sex trafficking industry is another issue plaguing humanity. It is intolerable and quite frankly, appalling to me that it continues to exist. Clearly there is a market and demand.  Apparently abusive and demeaning practices are not limited to animals and the environment, but are considered appropriate towards human beings as well.  Particularly women and girls. Please open the links to Ashton’s Kutcher’s video from Facebook and Sunitha Krishnan’s Ted Talk, The Fight Against Sex Slavery to inform yourself of the reality of this horrific situation. You can also check out the movie Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz, for an emotionally impacting dramatization.

 

 

It can feel overwhelming, when you start to look at these challenges. But it is important not to let the fear or the immensity of the situation keep you from acting, from not taking responsibility. If we all do our part, with the gifts we have, in our little part of the world, we can be the change we want to see in the world. One small step at a time.

So yeah, I’m feeling compassion about the struggles facing humanity.

Feeling Passionate About the Rising Global Sisterhood on International Women’s Day

 

When I was on Vancouver Island in January I was gifted with the opportunity to attend a Celebrating Your Sacred Divinity Workshop. Led by my talented daughter, Scarlet and her friend, Jayde, it was an intimate gathering held at the Matrea Centre in Duncan. After introductions and making a commitment of confidentiality we were led through a series of experiences and postures. It was empowering and had me feeling grateful and honoured to be a woman.

Then, a few weeks ago, my attention was drawn to a series of posts Scarlet shared on Facebook highlighting the Global Sisterhood synchronized meditation that is taking place today, March 8, 2017. I contacted her to ask more about it and checked out the post in more detail. The objective of the meditation is, “transforming ourselves and transforming the world –  together.” Last year there were over 650 circles in 65 countries world wide. The Global Sisterhood is working to bring women together to transform jealousy, competition, gossip, shame and exclusivity and heal through unity. In the Circle, everyone is equal and sacred.

https://www.facebook.com/Global-Sisterhood-315309372198226/?fref=ts

I decided I wanted to be a part of the collective experience so I asked the women in my book study if they were interested. They agreed, and when I set about determining what the Circle might look like my thoughts were taken back to the first International Women’s Day I participated in. I was teaching in a special education setting for girls with emotional and behavioural challenges. The girls I taught were marginalized; victims of the cycle of mental illness, poverty, and a lack of education. They were often difficult to engage, but not that day.

We began the lesson with a circle. We borrowed one of the Aboriginal Nations customs of smudging to cleanse ourselves and the classroom. We lit candles and held hands and sat in silent communion and support of one another, honouring everyone there. After our brief meditation, I shared a TED Talk on the Smart Board, featuring the powerful Eve Ensler. The title was Embrace Your Inner Girl, and they did just that.

https://www.ted.com/talks?sort=newest&q=Embrace+Your+Inner+Girl

The girls listened and viewed the presentation with rapt attention, as Eve Ensler described girl’s ability to survive and overcome adversity. Before it finished, they were erupting into a volcano of chatter, joining Eve enthusiastically with their exclamations, “I am an emotional creature,” “You don’t tell the Atlantic Ocean to behave,” and “I love being a girl.” It was a joy to witness these young women come alive with excitement, celebrating their girl cell. They left behind, if only for a moment, their hyped-up sexual grasping for control for something so much more pure and powerful.

My wish is to share a list of inspiring women, hoping to light up readers with the same kind of passion and excitement that was palpable in my classroom that day. Women still have a long way to go to achieve their full glory and equality with men, but there are remarkable strides being made with courageous women blazing the trail.

My list of women who have been the most influential on me must begin with Oprah. Born into poverty, she has since been ranked the richest African-American and the greatest black philanthropist in American history. When I was a young mother of three, struggling to balance work with raising a family, watching Oprah often lifted my spirits. When I saw her interview Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, I was inspired to continue pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. And then there were all her give-aways, charities and foundations. Mister bought us tickets to hear her speak at a live show in Vancouver in 2013, which has become one of my fondest, bucket list kind of memories.

 

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Meryl Streep is another woman I look up to. In the world of Hollywood, with all the gossip and competitiveness, she is not only outrageously talented, but conducts herself with integrity. I’ve also listened to many speeches made by Michelle Obama. She is another example of a woman who rose above her circumstances through hard work and determination. Women like Princess Diana, Toni Morrison, Mother Theresa, Brene Brown, Emma Watson, Adele and Beyoncé. They have all touched my heart with their passion and commitment to make a difference in the world.

https://www.ted.com/talks?sort=newest&q=Michelle+Obama

On a personal level, there are many non-famous women who inspire me to be my best and reach my highest purpose. My mom set an example for me, raising me with open and accepting attitudes that were years ahead of her time. She always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, was adamant that I could do anything, and loved me unconditionally. My mother-in-law is a woman I respect deeply as well. She is a woman who acts with integrity and discipline and who raised her four boys to be strong, sensitive, and confident men.

My daughters are all amazing women, each with their own special talent and contribution to their community. Scarlet is a social worker who works with passion and determination to empower youth who struggle with addiction. She is a loving, dedicated mom who is always challenging herself to be her best in that most precious and important role. Tamara is an artist who refuses to be identified by a label and is constantly reinventing and rediscovering how to show up authentically in the world. She’s passionate about her role in the collective consciousness of the world and uses her talents as a writer, artist, yogi and spiritualist to make a difference. Kara is a young woman of incredible resilience and intelligence. She is a self-described highly sensitive person who demonstrates deep compassion and empathy for other people.

Then there are my friends. Carol is a Yogi who emulates deep wisdom and a gentle heart. She is an incredibly vibrant, healthy, and beautiful woman who inspires me to embrace being over fifty with grace. Kim is a woman who I look up to for her fierce expression of the Goddess. She is a self-confessed woman of many faces, and it’s hard to decide which expression of herself I am most fond of.  Anne Marie is another woman who dares to be outstanding and doesn’t let anything, including her age, stop her. Newly retired from a brilliant career as a lawyer, she still finds energy to work as a consultant in conflict resolution, practice yoga, and be an integral part of her social community.

Currently, there is a plethora of Women’s Movements working for change in the world. Be Girl is a social enterprise focused on empowering women. NFCC International, based in Nepal, is empowering women and girls and ensuring human rights through support in education and work opportunities. Miss Heard Magazine is a submission-based digital start up magazine created by teen girls for teen girls. There’s U.N. Women, Women for Women International, WOCAN, and Plan Canada’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign, just to name a few.

For more inspiration, you can check out TED Talks, which features an array of internationally acclaimed speakers. Some of my favourites include Brene Brown’s: The Power of Vulnerability, an interesting perspective on human connection and our ability to empathize, belong and love. I also found Amy Cuddy’s: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are to be a thought-provoking study on the effects of what she terms power posing. Jill Bolte Taylor’s: My Stroke of Insight is an astonishing story of the many complex functions of the brain.

As Eve Ensler stated so eloquently, women are the key to the world’s healing. Ultimately, the very survival of humanity and the Earth is at stake. Our emotions call us into action and our passions ignite change. The time for the Rising Global Sisterhood is now. The time for women to be regarded with respect, dignity, and equality, is now. The time for women to thrive in roles of leadership is now.

So yeah, I’m feeling passionate about the rising Global Sisterhood on International Women’s Day.

Feeling Fortunate for Healthcare in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

When I moved from Canada to Saudi Arabia I never imagined that the quality of health services would be at a similar standard, let alone superior. Unfortunately, the lack of health care professionals combined with increasing government cuts to health care budgets in Canada has impacted access and delivery dramatically. In Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, it appears that both financing and trained health professionals are in abundance.

 

I have two chronic autoimmune diseases, diagnosed in my twenties. The first disease, Type I Diabetes Mellitus, is usually juvenile onset, but may occur at any age. It occurs when the body’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. The second, Hypothyroid disease, is a condition in which the thyroid gland is considered underactive. I had no known relatives with Diabetes, and although Hypothyroidism runs in my family, I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

 

Diabetes treatment

 

Having a chronic illness like Type I Diabetes is manageable. There is no cure, nor is it easy to try and mimic what the pancreas does automatically, but insulin therapy is available. To manage it well requires diligence and hard work. The support of health care professionals, particularly a skilled and knowledgeable endocrinologist, can be very helpful.

 

I’d like to say I’ve had amazing support from the health care system as a Canadian, but that would be a lie. I happen to be one of the fortunate people who, when initially diagnosed, had health care coverage from both my husband’s employer and my own that rendered my insulin, test strips, and other diabetes supplies free. Other people aren’t so lucky.

 

When, for other health reasons, I had to stop working, I had to pay for all my prescriptions until I reached a deductible of $2500. I managed, using money I’d saved over the years.  I’ve met other people less fortunate who don’t fare so well. They end up choosing not to test regularly because they don’t have coverage and with each test strip valuing at a dollar, testing frequently can soon become a financial burden.

 

The biggest challenge for me has been in receiving supportive care. When I moved to Victoria from Calgary, it was almost impossible to find a general practitioner, whom you need to see first to procure a referral to any specialist. There was only one doctor accepting new patients, and once I met her and had to endure her patronizing, unprofessional attitude, it became clear why she had vacancies. I had no other choice. She made the referral to an endocrinologist and it took over four months just to book an initial consultation.

 

At the time, I was having considerable difficulty achieving what has been determined to be a healthy range of blood sugar, or A1C. Upon reviewing my health journal, the endocrinologist in question made a few suggestions to alter my regimen and dosage of insulin shots. There was no discussion involving diet or exercise what-so-ever. None. Lucky for me I have the self motivation and initiative to research nutritional recommendations on my own, but the information available is highly diverse and often conflicting. I felt alone, confused and unsupported.

 

I have felt chastised for my lack of achieving blood sugars within goal instead of helped to improve them. Some doctors referred to me as noncompliant, which confused me more. After all, who is to benefit from good control and who is to suffer the complications if not me? I have battled on with my own unwavering determination, pretty much on my own.

 

In December of 2012 I started to suffer from a range of debilitating symptoms. I was teaching in a new position that was very stressful, which I’m certain contributed to the problem. I fainted during yoga and proceeded to have various vasovagal episodes. I had an infection in my knee that required intravenous antibiotics followed by an oral dosage, for a total of three weeks. I started to experience chronic fatigue and generalized weakness. Holding my arm above my head to write on the chalkboard became impossible and writing up report cards on my computer caused deep pain in my hands.

 

I made an appointment with my general practitioner, the one I described earlier. She intimated that it was all in my head, that I was a hypochondriac. When the blood tests revealed high levels of cortisol, she suggested I might be developing another autoimmune disease, perhaps lupus. And when she informed me the referral to a rheumatologist would take four months, she told me it was just as well because I would only be put on a regimen of extreme pain killers for the rest of my life anyway. She completely missed the result indicating I had a urinary tract infection and it was left untreated for over two weeks.

 

Within a few weeks, I had to go from teaching full time to part time and a few weeks after that I had to, somewhat stubbornly, resign. At this point, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands. Since there wasn’t an alternative western doctor in Victoria to choose from, I took it upon a recommendation to seek help from a doctor in Nanaimo who practices integrated, functional and alternative medicine at his clinic. It was tedious driving the two hours each way, once a week, for IV infusion treatments for high levels of mercury and lead in my bloodstream, but at least I was finally hopeful.

 

My challenges persisted. Eventually I was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease. Even that diagnosis was fraught with difficult to determine blood testing and medical doctrine in BC suggesting that chronic Lyme’s disease did not exist at best, and if it did, there was certainly no cure. It took determination and a miracle, but I ended up in the care of a doctor who practices Homeopathic and Naturopathic medicine. After two and a half years of intense and expensive treatment, not covered by health care, I am cured of Lyme’s disease. I’ve started taking my life back, living each day with greater vitality and overwhelming gratitude.

 

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/under-our-skin/

 

Which brings me back to my current feelings of being fortunate.  Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, I was required to undergo a thorough, in-depth medical, including a battery of tests and forms. Upon arrival, I had to have another medical, in Riyadh, before being issued residency. My Mister introduced me to the Medical Clinic on our compound right away, and the level of service ever since I arrived has been nothing short of exemplary.

 

A few months back Mister and I were packing up to leave on holiday when I started having spasms in my leg. The clinic was closed and we were leaving in a few hours. I couldn’t imagine having to endure the long flights with the pain I was in. Mister called the emergency line and the nurse on call agreed to come by and have a look. He came to our home and examined me, then gave me a shot of magnesium to relax the muscle, along with several pain medications and a detailed prescription of how to follow a successful pain management regimen. It made our trip doable and I was beyond grateful.

 

Earlier that year I developed a severe pain in my tooth. It was a Friday, the religious day when the dentist and medical centre are both closed. But again, the nurse on call met us at the clinic and gave me some temporary pain medication. I called my dentist at Smile Dental and could get in immediately. Upon examining me it was clear I needed a root canal. I had to follow a week of antibiotic therapy for the infection, and right away I was scheduled for the procedure. My dentist, a pleasant and professional Saudi woman, did an amazing job and I was thrilled with the result.

 

 

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Smile Design professionals

 

 

When I need to make an appointment to see one of the two doctors practicing at our clinic it usually takes a day or two to get in to see them. If I have an issue that requires a specialist, they make a referral, and the appointment is scheduled within a week or two. All my supplies are free, either given to me at our clinic, or purchased at a pharmacy in Riyadh and then reimbursed directly to Mister’s pay. I have seen a gynecologist from Greece, an ophthalmologist from Jordan, and I’m going to see an endocrinologist from the UK in a few weeks.

 

What really blew me away was the access to diagnostics. I’ve been having difficulty with pain in my neck and shoulder, including numbness in my right arm, for several months now. When I asked my doctor if I could be referred to a Chiropractor, she agreed, but suggested I get an MRI first to properly diagnose the situation. I was stunned. I called Kingdom hospital and was given an appointment for the next week. And so I had my first MRI and the results were emailed to me the next day. Meanwhile, back in Canada, people like my mom and mother-in-law are waiting four to six months to receive an MRI for chronic and painful conditions.

 

 

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MRI @ Kingdom Hospital Radiology Department, Riyadh

 

 

I don’t know enough about the politics and regulations of each country to quote cold, hard, facts. I can only speak of my experiences, then and now. I guess what has impacted me most, besides the superior service, is the feeling of being treated with respect. The medical community here assumes I am doing my best and that I want to be as healthy as I can. They support me in achieving my health goals without being authoritarian. We work together, as a team, to review my observations and discuss possible treatment. The care I have received has been thorough and my concerns have never once been dismissed.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling fortunate for the health care I am receiving in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Feeling Reflective about the Year 2016

 

The end of the year that many are calling disastrous has arrived. True, there were natural, political and religious disasters of one kind or another. There were a lot of celebrity deaths. Life is an ebb and flow of contrasts, and Nature, left to her own devices, gravitates to balance. So, rather than focus on negativity, I feel optimistic.  What happens isn’t what matters, but how we, as a human collective, respond.

 

 

 

Looking back on my own little microcosm, there is a similar theme. I experienced many challenges this year. I blogged about my difficulties with my letting go journey. I hinted at some of my health problems. But I am proud of myself for behaving with integrity and character, for the most part. After all, it’s relatively easy to be a good person when life is proceeding smoothly and people are good to us. Suffering, on the other hand, forces us to find our inner strength.

 

 

 

I have been blessed this past week with one of those rare epiphanies when apparent random and separate events collide to create deep understanding. I achieved success on my letting go journey when I wasn’t searching for answers. In fact, I had few expectations of my brief holiday in Bahrain, other than an opportunity for adventure, relaxation and rejuvenation.

 

 

 

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you with me to the beginning, when Mister and I embarked on our road trip to Bahrain.

 

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As road trips go, I can’t honestly classify the drive from Riyadh to Bahrain as epic. I was excitedly anticipating what was to be my first drive through the desert and enthusiastically tucked my journal and pen in a handy spot to chronicle my observations. Heading east on a paved three lane highway, barreling along at the posted speed of 120 km/h, I asked if we had left the city of Riyadh to which Mr. Vocabulary replied, “the city limit is rather nebulous.”  We continued past miles and miles of sandy landscape, broken only by the frequent spotting of camels and sheep and oil refineries. I felt like a rebel in the rubble.

 

 

 

Mid-way, the beige sand morphed to a warm burnt orange hue with tufts of green here and there, but soon enough it was back to the endless sea of beige. The monotony of the landscape reminded me of drives across the Canadian prairies. We passed the odd car carcass, a solitary Caterpillar tractor and, strangely, an abandoned Ferris wheel. It was all rather uninspiring.

 

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Three and half hours later, we arrived at the Persian Gulf. I could smell the salty air before it came into view, and I found my heart skipping around in my ribcage with delight as my body absorbed the timeless peacefulness of the open air on the sea. I had an intuition that Bahrain was going to be an impacting experience and I wasn’t disappointed.

 

 

After forty five minutes of waiting in lines and going through tolls and customs booths, driving over the causeway, we arrived in beautiful Bahrain. One of the officials asked David if I was his only wife. He replied yes, to which the official answered, looking over at me, “She has a pretty face, one will do. Me, I have three wives. I sleep well on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” I must admit it gave me pause to chuckle and I marveled at his cheekiness.

 

 

 

We got a little lost, but soon enough we were at our hotel, Le Meridian, with smiling, friendly porters offering to unload our luggage onto trolleys and park our car. I quickly stepped out of my abaya, tossing it with gleeful abandon onto the trolley and entered the hotel lobby with my Mister. The hotel was decked out in lavish Christmas decorations and the hotel receptionist, Martha, joyfully welcomed us. A feeling of freedom enveloped me and I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude wash over me.

 

 

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Me & Mister by one of the Christmas Trees at Le Meridian

 

 

 

 

 

We made reservations for the hotel’s famous Friday brunch the next day. The experience impacted me on many levels. From the moment we entered the restaurant I felt like Cinderella, it was pure magic. The entryway served as the monument to all things sweet, baked and delicious. Chefs had prepared a sensational assortment of culinary decadence. There was Santa on his sleigh being pulled by cookie reindeer, cakes and puddings, gingerbread houses, an iced snowman and a Christmas tree with bon-bon ornaments. It was a chocolate lovers heaven with at least twenty different varieties of truffles, not to mention a chocolate fountain. My mouth was salivating already and our dining experience had not yet begun.

 

 

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Yes, the reindeer are cookies!

 

 

 

 

 

The smiling waiter with his elf hat perched merrily on his head led us past the live entertainment and seated us at our table with aplomb, plucking my napkin up and placing it politely across my lap. We were brought still water and ordered a glass of champagne.  As I clinked flutes with my Mister I felt more gratitude and tears filled me eyes. Composing myself, I ventured amongst the vast array of food stations, hand in hand with Mr. Charming.

 

 

 

For our first course, several delicious cheeses made their way to our shared plate, including a strong and savoury blue that packed a punch, made even more delectable with the addition of a tart cranberry jam. We also waxed eloquently over the piquant and buttery French cheese, of which variety I have now forgotten. My senses of sight, smell and taste were tantalized, but something much deeper occurred for me as I felt the gift of being in connection with my husband amid the Christmas spirit all around us, surrounded by people of all cultures and religions, gathered together. In that moment, my heart-felt light and a world where peace is king and people respect one another felt possible. I wasn’t the only one with such a vision, as the following video testifies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a short rest and engaging conversation we moved on from champagne to red wine and decided to serve up our second course. We started at the carving station where the chef sliced us thick slices of roast turkey and Wagyu beef. In the line we made eye contact and smiled in greeting to a lady ahead of us who ended up visiting our table later on, a delightful woman named Sophie originally from Germany. We dished up small portions of savoury zucchini, parsnips and potatoes that were spicy and crisp on the outside while an observant server kept discreetly filling up our wine glasses.

 

 

 

Before heading for dessert, Santa Claus arrived. It was quite a hoot, as his black hair peeked out from his thin white wig and obviously fake beard all askew. No one was bothered, least of all the children, who all clamoured about him excitedly and posed with their parents for photos to mark the occasion. Everyone was festive and it touched my heart when a Muslim woman I passed by on my way to the dessert station smiled broadly at me.

 

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Our third and final course was dessert. I did over-indulge (yes, Carol, your Oink was appropriate!) tasting at least six varieties of creamy, velvety, smooth and luscious truffles. Three hours later, stuffed, (not quite like a pig) our experience was complete and we left to explore the shops in the attached City Centre mall.

 

 

 

Skipping ahead, my next impactful experience was our tour of the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. My good friend Carol, and her husband Raimo, had invited us to join them. Neither Mister nor I had ever stepped foot in a mosque before, and we weren’t certain what to expect. I pulled my scarf discreetly over my blonde hair and lifted my long abaya as we ascended the steps to the entrance. We were ushered into a reception area and asked our nationalities and then asked to wait for our guide outside the shoe cubicle area.

 

 

 

Within minutes our guide, an Imam born in Kenya before settling in Bahrain, joined us. He was a gentle man, the kind of spiritual person for whom all of Life’s questions and answers are simple, for they are placed at the foot of God. For him, his faith was easy and pure and the path to salvation was available to everyone, including us. We merely had to make an oath that there is only one God and that Mohammed was the true and final prophet. Carol and I peppered him with questions about the role of women, about the five daily prayers, and about fasting over Ramadan. He urged us to set our minds and accept the way to a prosperous and happy life. He tried his best to convert us to Islam, but there was no judgement or condemnation expressed, only a sincere desire to provide us with an opportunity for salvation.

 

 

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Me & Carol in the mosque

 

 

 

 

 

The mosque itself was a beautiful structure, designed in an intricate geometric configuration of shapes that exuded a peaceful quality. The walls were covered in a special local stone tile that kept them cool in the hot weather. The ceilings were so high they seemed to stretch to the very heavens themselves. The door to the main prayer area for men, which we were not permitted to enter, was a tall, ornate structure, the handle at the height of my head and almost the same circumference.

 

 

 

Our guide led us up the winding staircase to the gallery viewing area and place where women can pray. We engaged in further discussion about the origins of Islam and Christianity and he shared how both religions had as their common ancestor Abraham, from Israel. Somehow the story had me feeling the unity of humanity, not the division, and I was moved.

 

 

 

We walked around the balcony ledge, carved of ornate dark wood, and peered above at the stained glass windows and elaborate chandelier of imported lamps. The call to prayer began and we took it as our time to depart. We thanked the Imam for his time, David taking his hand in his as a sign of appreciation, and I motioned to do the same before realizing with embarrassment the inappropriateness of my action. I felt flustered and perhaps even a little angry for the first time since arriving in Bahrain with the restrictions of being a woman in patriarchal Muslim society. 

 

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My journey continued when we chose to go and see the movie Passengers. I was excited by the opportunity as there are no movie theatres in Riyadh. Even the message of the movie, which was about letting go of how we expect our lives to unfold to accept what manifests, seemed so appropriate. I could almost feel God whispering me to make the most of each and every moment.

 

 

 

Last, but not least, was our romantic Christmas Eve Dinner at the Cut restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Mister and I walked into an elegantly decorated hostess station and were shown to the elevator before being led to our intimate booth. Our seats boasted spectacular views of the bay through floor to ceiling windows and the red and white lights of Bahrain’s National Day twinkled in the moonlight. A duo of talented musicians provided us with the atmosphere, the young woman’s sultry voice reminding me of Dido, the man strumming proficiently on his guitar.

 

 

 

The waiter brought us two menus, one a la carte, the other the chef’s prix fixe with wine pairings. The four-course set menu was tantalizing, but I wasn’t sure if my food allergies could be accommodated. To my delight, our smiling server returned and assured me the chef was more than happy to make whatever revisions necessary for me to enjoy his creations.

 

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Mister & Me @ Cut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The presentation did not disappoint. The first course was prosecco with smoked salmon. Crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky inside, it was melt in your mouth delicious. Pasta was served next, and the chef wowed me with a serving of gluten-free spinach fettucine in butter with fresh parmesan, paired with a luscious glass of Chateau de Neuf. The main was the feature and the filet mignon was a perfect cut, perfectly cooked and infused with complex but complementary flavours of earthy mushrooms, savoury mustard sauce and crispy onions. The pairing was a peppery shiraz blend that was our favourite wine selection of the evening. The finale was as impressive, with the chef preparing me from scratch a gluten free yule log of cake and cream that looked equally divine to David’s traditional fare. In addition, was an apple poached tart with two quenelles, one vanilla bean ice cream and one mascarpone cheese. Dessert was paired with a silky port that was not too sweet, pleasing even our picky palates. Yes, it was over the top and we both felt full of food and gratitude when we climbed into our taxi three hours later.

 

That night we were treated to a FaceTime conversation with our daughter and grandson. We were thrilled especially because our FaceTime has not been working since arriving back in Riyadh after Haj. It was so touching to see his cute little face, full of excitement with the magic that Santa Claus was coming to town. In the morning, we enjoyed more connection with my Mom and brother and then with our youngest daughter. I realized how far I’d come on my letting go journey, from last year when my heart was grieving our separation from family so heavily. I still missed them, but I was grateful that I had a family I loved so much to miss. I was grateful for all the Christmas celebrations I shared with them in the past. And I was present to the gift of this Christmas with my Mister in Bahrain.

 

 

 

The myriad of experiences I had in Bahrain combined to create feelings of such deep love, peace and joy. I left feeling full of hope for the future, enthusiastic to discover what new adventures were in store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling reflective about 2016 and wishing everyone a Happy New Year