Feeling Curious, Wondering How Shifting from Me to We Might Impact Humanity

My last blog was about learning to trust in the truth of my authentic self. Now I’m switching gears, making a total one eighty. Because my awareness of my own truth has drawn me into exploring how my purpose contributes to the big picture of human destiny.

I refuse to buy into the doom and gloom predictions of the naysayers who claim that humankind is not evolving. Frustrated with current challenges, it is all too easy to become nostalgic for the good old days. In my opinion, going backwards is never the way forward. We need to learn from history while at the same time forging ahead into a bright new future.

According to Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, the key to facing the future is to move from focusing on self to considering others. In his Ted talk, “How We Can Face the Future Without Fear, Sacks addresses three components of this shift: relationship, identity and responsibility.

 

When we get to know people who are not like us we grow in our understanding of what it means to be human. Sacks believes in the power of sharing our stories, extolling the view that a strong identity of ourselves as part of a community is what allows us to not feel threatened by the ideas and values of others. He urges us to take responsibility, quoting powerfully, “We, the people.”

The far-right dreams of a golden age that never existed and the far-left dreams of a utopia that will never be; a divided society misses out on the powerful opportunity to work together towards creating a reality that most likely lies somewhere in-between.

While sitting in the modest and excessively air-conditioned lounge in the Panama City airport, Mister and I had the pleasure of making just such an acquaintance; with an “other.” The fellow in question struck up a conversation with us that was incredibly interesting. An American hailing originally from conservative Vermont, currently living in liberal San Diego, and sharing our passion for Panama, his ideas defied stereotypes of Americans, particularly in this age of Trump leadership and divided politics.

The American was also a scientist and globalist. He shared informed opinions on a wide range of topics, from new experiments involving correcting diseased DNA to the lack of integrity, among other qualities, demonstrated by President Trump. Listening to his enthusiastic vision of a future where resources are shared globally, I couldn’t help but wonder if the current state of political corruption might be the catalyst that has people from all nations join forces to create a better future.

What constitutes a better future is a matter of opinion, but viewing Robert Waldinger’s Ted Talk, “What Makes a Good Life?” leads us in the same direction, from me to us. In a 75- year study of adult development conducted by Harvard University the conclusion they reached was that good quality, close relationships keep us happier and healthier.  It wasn’t money, fame, hard-work, or education. It wasn’t success of self, but success in sustaining strong connections with others.

 

The Truth Inside of You is an inspiring news feed I follow and recently I viewed two great posts. The first featured a Denmark advertisement for diversity that demonstrated the power of dismantling our labels to discover what we all have in common and then work together to achieve.

 

 

The second post documented how a boy’s perception of his father changed when he learned how much his father sacrificed of himself to make a difference in the lives of sick children. Putting the happiness of others before his own brought a richness to his father’s life that his son never appreciated until after his father passed away, which unfortunately is so often the case. We take for granted the relationships we have until we lose them.

 

Chatting with my daughter the other night, our conversation typically dynamic and philosophical, she casually mentioned that Craig Kielburger, a Canadian social activist, humanitarian and inspirational speaker, was on the same plane as her. I couldn’t help but be present to the synchronicity and excitedly told her that I was currently writing a blog about exactly what Craig and his brother, Marc, stand for.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are cofounders of a social enterprise that includes the We Movement, We Charity, Me to We, and We Day. Beginning at the age of twelve, these men were drawn to change the world by empowering kids to help kids. They set about investing in young people internationally and through their leadership have grown their not for profit organization into a vast global enterprise. Their message is that every person’s contribution is an impact that leaves a legacy.

https://www.metowe.com/speakers-bureau/craig-kielburger/

One of the inspirational visionaries that Craig and Marc give credit to is Oprah. Regardless of your opinion of her, there can be no doubt as to the impact she has made on the world through her works, charities, and enlightened journalism. In a powerful speech on Goalcast, Oprah furthers this idea of legacy, stating powerfully that “your legacy is every life you’ve touched.”

 

When I wrote about trying to discover my dharma, I postulated how my mandate to create meaningful relationships by encouraging and supporting others might be my purpose. It would seem that my legacy just might be exactly that – every life I’ve touched.

Some of us, like Oprah and the Kielburger brothers, touch millions of people with their vision, inspiring people all over the globe. Others, like myself, touch only a few. The number doesn’t really matter. We all have a different path to follow. We must trust in our journey and move our focus from ourselves to others. We, the people, can work together to achieve a common goal of a happier, healthier, future for all of us.

So yeah, I’m feeling curious, wondering how shifting from me to we might impact humanity

 

Feeling Aware, Learning to Trust in the Truth of My Authentic Self

In the age of the internet, google, and social media, we are increasingly bombarded with self-help advice on how to do everything and even how to be. We are told what to eat and not eat, how to raise our children, how to dress, what our personality is, how to succeed, how to exercise, how to be happy. The list is endless and it can be confusing.

Scrolling through Facebook for a few minutes, I was inundated. Pop-up ads and articles abounded. Dryer sheets that cause hormone imbalance.  Pro-vaccination versus anti-vaccination rhetoric. Current diet trends. The 36 habits that will make you a millionaire. How to exercise for your body type. How to attract and keep a man.

In my observation, there is no one path that suits everyone. The best advice, in my opinion, is no advice. Instead of trying to propagate right action, our efforts as parents, teachers and mentors need to encourage people to learn how to trust their own intuition.

As Jennifer Lopez stated in her speech on Goalcast, “Nobody knows what’s inside you. Only you know what you can accomplish and what you’re capable of… your gut, your dreams and your desires.”

Are we born with this innate knowledge, or is it something we need to be taught? According to Toltec wisdom, we are born knowing. Toltec wisdom arises from the essential unity of truth, embracing a spiritual way of life. In their book, The Fifth Agreement, Don Miguel and Don Jose Ruiz share the magic of the agreements and how practicing them can help you to recover your authentic self. The result of practising the fifth agreement is the complete acceptance of yourself and everybody else, just as they are.

As little children, we are free, without self-consciousness or self-judgment. We speak the truth because we live in the truth. Then we are taught all the symbols and stories of society and we start to judge ourselves as not good enough. We learn to deny what we perceive; the truth of our own greatness.

Education is imperative and information needs to be transmitted, but without judgement. We have a responsibility to teach our children language and skills, stories and history. But we must also teach them that they are the creators of their own belief system and corresponding reality. We must assure them of their uniqueness. We must express to them the power of the word, in thought and intent, because you become who you believe you are.

Anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers and scientists alike have postulated that we live in a common reality. I watched a Ted Talk by anthropologist Wade Davis who stated that “all people share a common experience.” In, “How to see past your own perspective and find truth,” Michael Patrick Lynch referred to a common reality and gave three tools to determine truth: 1. Believe that there is a truth; 2. Dare to know through understanding; 3. Adopt humility.

 

Isaac Lidsky, in his talk on “What Reality are you Creating for Yourself?” also speaks of a virtual reality. He posits that what we see as reality is unique and personal and is masterfully constructed by your own brain. You can choose to see through the fiction of the collective story through awareness. You can be taught and learn with practice how to create a reality that is empowering, that brings about change, and most of all, that brings you deep happiness as you fulfil your highest purpose.

 

Brene Brown is a psychologist who speaks of the power of stories, and particularly the power of owning our own stories. To abandon the social story of who you are and embrace your individual story, you must believe that you are special. You must learn to listen to your intuition and trust it.

Several years ago, my story of who I was, my reality, was shattered. I had a breakdown that forced me to re-examine the evidence. I meditated and prayed and engaged in intense psychotherapy. I thought deeply about my truth and created an authenticity outline. I learned to let go of the stories that were holding me back and I learned to embrace my true self.

Recently I have been struggling to process events from the past, and then in a moment of synchronicity I experienced enlightened thought where the past and present collided. The readings, prayers, wisdom, and faith that were coming into my awareness in my present were the key to my healing from the past. I understood that the past is over and that the light of my spirit is as alive and vibrant as it always was.

While struggling to process past trauma, I have also been challenged with my weight. I have been feeling unhappy about it. When a good friend of mine whom I respect and trust suggested the ketogenic diet, I was drawn to consider going on it. Then I recognized that it is only another belief system. It isn’t right or wrong. It is not the truth, it is an idea. If I approach the knowledge with skepticism, I can see it for what it is – an option.

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I am confident the ketogenic diet works for some people. So does the End Diabetes diet, which is a completely opposite approach. It’s all about our beliefs. When I felt the happiest, most vital, alive and free in my life, when I was at a weight that felt perfect for me, it was on Vancouver Island. It was after I left a controlling, unhappy marriage and lived in freedom for the first time in many years.

When I had the freedom to choose whatever I wanted, to create my own reality, I chose to make good decisions that felt right for me. I exercised a lot, especially jazzed to have found a passion in the practice of yoga. I spent tons of time outdoors in the abundant nature of the island. I ate delicious food and drank gorgeous wine, as I liked. And the weight literally fell off. And it stayed off for a long time. I thought I’d arrived, that I’d figured out the happiness diet.

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Then I got Lyme’s disease. I suffered for two and half years with chronic pain, fatigue, and weakness. At one point, I had to crawl up the stairs, not strong enough to stand. Stairs were the most challenging, the Lyme spirochetes having burrowed into the connective tissue in my knees. I put on almost fifteen pounds.

Despite my illness and my pain, I was ridiculously happy. I was head over heels in love with Mister. I was confused. My happiness diet theory was clearly flawed. I have been so tempted, so many times, to diet again, feeling judged by others as less than. But I resisted, choosing to focus on my health and my intense healing regimen.

When I could start exercising again, and especially after I was healed from Lyme’s, I thought the weight would magically fall off again. But it didn’t. I went on Fuhrman’s End Diabetes diet, ostensibly not to lose weight, but to improve my blood sugar. In the twelve weeks of being diligent I didn’t lose a single pound. Mister did. But my body could not let the weight go.

As I was sharing this story with Mister, he looked at me with his loving eyes, and I knew that none of it mattered. Whether I lost the weight, stayed the same, or gained more, I’d still be me. And me is good enough, exactly as I am in this moment. I don’t need to be constantly driven to be better, look better, live longer, be healthier. I can relax and choose in each precious, blessed moment of my life to be who and what I want to be.

Our power and happiness is in our choices. It is in the acceptance and love of ourselves and all others. That’s where everything begins.

Light-heartedly I laughed at myself and Mister joined in, saying, “Ain’t nobody gonna tell my Baby what to do!” He held my hand and kissed me tenderly, affirming I am perfect, just as I am. In that moment, I knew, in the depths of my heart, that I am going to be okay.

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I’m still a warrior, aware of the stories and searching for my truth. I respect myself and I respect what others have to say. I listen to the stories, the ads and the advice, but I listen through the filter of my awareness. I will not disrespect other people’s points of view and I won’t allow anyone to disrespect mine. I love myself. I will be a part of the change in the world by changing my own.

So yeah, I’m feeling aware, learning to trust in the truth of my authentic self.

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 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 Warm-hearted for my Loyal, Furry Companion, Lola

Anyone who is a dog lover will likely relate to the sentiments expressed in this blog. I apologize in advance to those readers who don’t understand how some of us dog owners can become so attached. But for everyone who has met her, there can be no doubt that there is something special about Lola.

 

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Lola

 

Lola came into my life ten years ago. She was born into a litter of six pups at Pooch Palace, a dog breeding facility just outside of Calgary, Alberta. A friend who had purchased her sweet-natured dog from the Palace had recommended them. From a humanitarian perspective, I know the better choice would have been to check out the local animal shelter but I can’t in all honesty express even a drop of regret when it comes to the circumstances that led me to adopting this lovable creature.

 

We went to the Palace with open hearts and met so many adorable puppies, we thought at first it would be a difficult decision. Then we saw Lola. She was only five weeks old, not old enough to leave her mother, and no larger than a compact box of tissue. I picked her up, attracted by her caramel brown fur and white tuft at the forehead, and she snuggled into my chest like she belonged there. I fell in love with her in that moment, her tiny puppy heart beating next to mine.

 

It was quite the procedure to bring Lola home. We had to be approved, and to do so required filling in an extensive application that outlined our commitment to owning a dog and making the time required in our schedules to train her properly. She wasn’t ready to be weaned until she was ten weeks old, so every weekend for five weeks I made the hour drive, often with one or two of the kids in tow, to go and visit with her. While we were waiting there were purchases to be made of dog food, grooming supplies, and stuffed toys. Choosing a name was another ordeal that involved a computer spreadsheet of possibilities generated by each family member and a democratic vote.

 

Finally, the day arrived and the whole family drove with excited anticipation to pick her up. It was a chilly November day in Calgary and we bundled her up in cozy blankets.

 

When we got her home we immediately took her outside in our backyard to begin the process of training her. I never anticipated how fast those short little legs could go, nor did I judge how large the opening between our fence and the culvert was. In mere minutes Lola, had escaped into the neighbour’s yard. I heroically jumped the fence, a stunt I’m sure I would have difficulty replicating, scooped her up and brought her home amid a flurry of kisses and admonishments. Immediately I found an old piece of lumber to wedge into place, blocking the escape route. It wasn’t long before Lola picked up on the procedure. It has been a perk to have a dog who not only knows to do her business outside, but prefers to make her deposits in locations outside of her own yard’s boundaries.

 

Lola developed a variety of skills over the years. At puppy school, she was extremely motivated to perform any trick that involved receiving a treat. She learned how to sit, lay down, leave it, and her most impressive, give a kiss. She has an uncanny knack of discerning the sound of a cheese package being opened. When I attempted to teach her how to use her nose to ring a bell on the wall to indicate she wanted to go outside, it was a colossal fail as she only saw it as an opportunity to gobble down the chicken strip that was the treat given for ringing it and proceeded to ring the bell all day, regardless of her need to go outside. Even after we took the bell down she would go over to the place on the wall where it had been hanging and bump the wall with her muzzle in hopes of chicken treats. Silly dog!

 

Lola accompanied our family on numerous camping trips across Canada over the years. She didn’t like to join the other dogs frolicking in the lakes or ocean tides for sticks, having an aversion to being cold and wet. But she did and does love to roll around in anything stinky, including dried up old fish corpses on the beach or bird poo littering the grass. Not one of her more endearing qualities, I admit. Despite not liking her bath, her frequent rolling tendencies require that she have one often and her good nature has her accepting her fate with a somewhat sad look of resignation.

 

Lola was my loyal companion when I suffered a deep episode of depression. She never questioned my mood swings or abandoned me when I was irrational. She loved me unconditionally, her tail wagging enthusiastically in greeting when I returned from the hospital. She would lay in bed with me when I had no energy to face the world and alternatively accompany me on my long brooding walks through the ravine.

 

When I left my ex-husband and my comfortable suburban life in Calgary, moving with what I could fit in my sporty red Mazda 3 to start over on Vancouver Island, Lola was with me. Driving through the mountains with the explosion of fall foliage all around us, the sun-roof open and Michael Buble crooning “It’s a new life,” Lola sat on my lap and took all the changes in stride. When I arrived in the Cowichan Valley, alone and on my own for the first time in thirty years, Lola was again my faithful friend, accompanying me on walks through the orchards and down to the pebbled beaches and curling up on the end of my bed at the end of each day.

 

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Me and my faithful companion

 

Not long after we moved to Longwood we met Tom and Virginia and their dog Bobbi Jo, who became dear friends of ours. They invited us over for Halloween festivities. The adults visited one another, comfortably seated on lawn furniture around a roaring fire, drinking wine or hot rum while children came and trick or treated. A local was giving me a hard time for having Lola on a leash and said maybe in the city such things were necessary, but in the valley, she ought to be let free. I should have known better, but let myself be influenced and wouldn’t you know it, shortly after being set free Lola ditched the party. I was a mess of tears and heart-racing anxiety, scouring the dark streets with a flashlight and praying she wouldn’t be found hit by a car. Luckily a member of the search team found her. She had followed a couple of trick or treaters home, upgrading to a warm and cozy house and in fact was found cuddled up on their couch with the kids, likely thinking herself a clever dog.

 

When I met my Mr., he was of the non-dog loving crowd. Being of an open and honest nature, he never tried to conceal his dislike, but I knew right away by the way he quickly went to wash his hands after she licked them enthusiastically in greeting. As mentioned above, Lola was used to sleeping with me at the end of my bed, so on the occasion of our first sleepover it was all a bit awkward. I attempted to have Lola sleep on her bed in the office, but confused, she kept coming in and whining to get up. I snuck her in on my side, feigning surprise in the morning, but soon confessed and her spot on the bed was accepted. I wondered if it was going to be a deal breaker, but the more we fell in love, the more Lola’s magic transformed him. Mr. has not only developed a fondness for her, I tease him that he is the dog whisperer as he has become so attuned. He often predicts accurately when a sniff means a roll or business and when a bark means someone is at the door or let’s play and he takes very good care of her. Air heart!

 

Therapy dogs are a new phenomenon that is having great success in a variety of settings, and Lola most surely would be a fantastic candidate. As mentioned previously, her unconditional love was a special part of my recovery. She also formed an immediate and inseparable bond with my daughter Kara, allowing her to tote her around and scoop her up for cuddles whenever it was required.

 

When I made the decision to move to Riyadh, there was no question that Lola would be accompanying me. The stack of legal documents that I needed to procure for her entry into Saudi Arabia was almost as thick as my own, and included documents from our local veterinarian certifying her health, documents from the provincial veterinarian society supporting the validity of our veterinarian and documents from a notary certifying all the documents enclosed in the application.

 

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Lola & Me

 

The day of our departure arrived. We were taking off from Toronto Pearson airport, where, for a small fee, I could store Lola in her carry-on bag under the seat in front of me. It was a nine-hour flight to Frankfurt and I was anxious that she might have an accident, so I lined her carrier with absorbent pads. Surprisingly she made it, but then at the airport in Frankfurt she refused to use the pad to relieve herself in the washroom, despite my efforts to demonstrate the procedure for her. After a five hour lay-over it was time to board our plane to Riyadh for another seven-hour flight. Miraculously, that dog held her bladder for the entire duration, including the long line-up through customs. In total, she went over 21 hours and earned her new nickname, Ms. Iron Bladder.

 

I’ll admit, neither one of us was impressed with the desert relocation at first. In May in Riyadh the temperature often reaches forty-five degrees Celsius, and neither one of us appreciated the feeling that we were being roasted in a convection oven each time we ventured outside. The first time I tried to walk her mid-day and she started lifting her paws I tossed aside my flip-flop and discovered the fry-an-egg-on-it heat of the sidewalk, then had to carry her the rest of the way home. It took some adjustment for her to transition from a dog walk that skirted along the ocean and through the rainforest of Vancouver Island to the sand and rubble of the desert. Fortunately, our compound is a virtual sanctuary and the gardeners have created beautiful patches of grass for her to roll around in, not to mention outings to the Diplomatic Quarters and into the desert camping out with her Holiday Mum.

 

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Mr., Lola and me at the Diplomatic Quarters in Riyadh

 

Most days Lola is a low maintenance, low key and mellow addition to the family. She isn’t fussed if we miss a dog walk here and there, especially during the hot months. She likes to gobble down treats as frequently as they are offered, completely oblivious to her expanding waistline. Often it is a simply a matter of moving from laying on one piece of furniture to another. Lately she’s taken to laying around on my meditation pillow while I’m writing in the office, even when her own puppy bed is sitting vacant right beside it. Oh, Guru dog, if only you could talk and share with me the secrets of the universe!

 

It would seem that dogs, like people, can adjust to their surroundings and new situations and, in fact, Lola did so with far less drama than me.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling warm-hearted and grateful for my loyal, furry companion, Lola.  

“Feeling Challenged on my Letting Go Journey”

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I’ve been on a journey of learning how to let go for a long time now. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that letting go is my life lesson. It has shown up in so many different places, it’s hard to account for them all and difficult to identify when it began.

One thing I know for sure is that this lesson surfaces for me whenever I face a new health challenge. When I was diagnosed with Diabetes I had to let go of my ideas on eating and being a free spirit, unrestrained by routines. Eating regular meals and planning became an important part of my management. I had to let go of my discomfort with needles and embrace having to inject myself daily. It hasn’t been a linear learning curve. I’ve had to make many adjustments along the way, continuously letting go of regimens that are no longer effective and developing new strategies to manage my blood sugars. I’m still working at it, doing my best.

When I experienced depression for the first time I had to let go of a definition of myself that didn’t allow me to accept what I was feeling. I had a concept of myself as a positive, optimistic and happy person and that just didn’t seem to fit with what I was feeling. On that journey of letting go I came to understand that there are different experiences of depression. What I suffered from was situational in nature, not chronic. When I identified the triggers and dealt with them I no longer suffered from depression. The in-depth story of that journey is the theme of the novel I am currently writing, Darkness to Dawn.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease, but it was the almost two years before my diagnosis when I had no idea what was wrong with me that was the most challenging. I was told I might have Lupus, among other auto-immune diseases. I struggled with the pain and the worry of not knowing. I had to let go of an image of myself as strong and vital. At one point I could barely walk up the stairs I was so weak, let alone practice yoga or work-out at the gym. I had to quit my teaching position because I couldn’t manage the demanding work load. I couldn’t even keep my arm raised long enough to write on the whiteboard. I let go of the mainstream approaches to curing Lyme’s and embraced a naturopathic/homeopathic/western medicine integrated approach that was completely off the grid and totally individualized and now, two years later, I am cured.

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During one of my periods of feeling challenged my oldest daughter bought me a copy of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. Reading that book helped me to recognize the value in letting go of all of my limiting ideas about how and who I should be. Pema wrote that when you feel fear you should feel lucky, for it is an opportunity to grow. Furthermore, she postulated that you need to let go of your old identities in order to become someone new. It comforts me to meditate on this wisdom and recognize how illness brings up our ultimate fear of death. I believe that working through fear with grace, resilience and faith is key to achieving happiness.

All of these health challenges had something else in common. They pushed me to let go of all limiting ideologies. In order to achieve wellness, I had to be open to all points of view, including sometimes conflicting western and eastern approaches to well-being. Self-help books provided some insights, but it in the end, I had to create my own individual path. I had to trust my intuition and recognize that I know myself best. I had to take the time to be silent, so that I could hear the whisperings of my heart.

Becoming a parent has been another facet of my letting go journey. I discovered I was pregnant with my first child when I was still a child myself. I was sixteen in fact, and unmarried. I had to let go of my idea of what it meant to be a single teenage mom, because quite frankly most of the role models and societal views were limiting and negative. I had to let go of the discouraging associations and learn how to create an image of myself in that role that was strong, resourceful and capable.

That journey began with yet another letting go. I had wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Trying to support a child on your own with the unpredictable pay and hours of a beginning journalist seemed unrealistic to me. So, I chose to go to university to become a teacher, knowing that I loved education, loved working with children, and that the work hours would support me in raising my little girl. It was a perfect choice and I cherished being a teacher for many years.

My father’s death in 2000 was another pivotal moment in my letting go journey. Losing him was like losing a reflection of myself where the image projected was perfect. My father and I shared such an incredible bond that it took me seven years of grieving my loss to truly accept his death and move on. Letting go of his physical presence and learning to connect with his spirit took time, patience, and determination on my part, but it happened. I recently finished writing a novel based on my relationship with my dad titled My Father’s Hands and I’m looking for an agent to represent me.

As each of my children have made the transition to adulthood, my letting go journey has been challenged yet again. When they have made decisions as adults that I don’t agree with, I have had to accept their choices. It is no longer appropriate for me to tell them how to live nor advise them, without their requesting my advice. I have had to summon all of my strength to have the courage to allow them to live their own life journey, even when I’ve been scared of the possible outcomes. The truth is, there are no guarantees in life.

Which brings me to the current situation that is having me feeling challenged on my letting go journey. I have someone in my life whom I love dearly who is struggling with mental health. I feel that from my position of relative objectivity, experience and wisdom, I have the opportunity to make a difference. I feel like if my advice could be listened to and followed, there would be a greater chance of success in managing the illness effectively. I have felt a need to have control, fooling myself into believing that I have the power to keep her safe. I have felt so scared of losing her that I have allowed myself to forget my letting go lesson. I have come to understand, from a place deep in my soul, that her journey is hers to live. It isn’t my cupboard. I need to find the strength and courage to allow her the opportunity to discover her own self. I need to have faith. I need to remember that the only thing I really have to give is love. Loving her is easy.

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So yeah, I am feeling challenged. I’m also feeling the power of hope, prayer, faith and love.

Feeling Concerned about Media-influenced Ideas on Women and Beauty

 

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A few days ago I was scrolling through Facebook when I came upon a video that caught my eye. It was posted by OSKARTBRAND.com and was titled, Stay Beautiful: Ugly Truth in Beauty Magazines. Watching this video, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sadness and concern for the self-image of women and young girls in first world society.

 

 

“85% of beauty magazines’ content is dedicated to making you feel imperfect and inadequate,” was one of the quotes that got me thinking. I’ve never been a huge beauty magazine consumer, but I do pick them up here and again, looking for the newest fashion or styles. I have found the colourful and glossy pages of ultra-thin models and outrageous fashion designs to be more amusing than having anything to do with me and my self-image. At the same time, I know I have felt pressure, especially in my younger days, to look as perfect as the women depicted. In my opinion, magazines aren’t the only culprits. Music videos, television commercials and other forms of media often portray unrealistic and sexist imagery of women.

“70% of women feel guilty, ashamed and depressed after only 3 minutes or reading a fashion magazine,” is another quote from the video. It saddens me to think of women altering their feelings of self based on reading a magazine, and I have to wonder what kind of self-sabotaging behaviour it is to continue to buy and read material that has that effect on you. At the same time, you can’t always escape all of the media pressure to look a certain way. I have talked to so many women, especially young women, who feel inadequate or even disgusted by their bodies.

“In the US and EU 50 million women suffer from eating disorders.” What a mind-boggling statistic! Though horrific, it is not surprising at all. Almost every young woman I know personally struggles on some level with body image and eating. I will leave their stories for them to tell, but I will share my own personal history.

The first time I consciously remember questioning the perfection of my body was in grade one. I was six years old. My teacher casually suggested I sit beside another girl in the class who was “chubby too”. I hadn’t realized I was chubby until she labeled me as so.

I officially started dieting to change my body when I was fourteen. I was five foot four and 110 lbs. Obviously not fat. But I didn’t have the body shape of a long, lean torso with a flat stomach and I thought I could diet my way to achieve that. Of course, I couldn’t, so it failed. Instead of recognizing the futility of dieting, I began a long and self-deprecating journey trying to find the right diet and exercise program that would have me looking good enough.

Over the years I struggled with poor eating behaviours, using food to fill up other voids and then dieting to take off the extra pounds. I’m pretty sure I messed up my body’s natural metabolism. It’s likely why I went from having a full, thick head of hair to hair that is fine and thin. I never achieved the unattainable model-inspired body I hoped for, even at my best.

I’d like to say it was the wisdom that accompanies maturity that changed things for me. And although that certainly contributed, the real change came for me after I had a mental breakdown in my early forties. I made a decision to change my life, and part of my journey toward health included a new attitude towards myself of love and acceptance. It is my belief that my relationship with God and my focus on my spiritual self created the opportunity for a new vision of myself to unfold.

I’m 50 years old now. I don’t weigh the least I’ve ever weighed nor do I weigh the most. Frankly, I’m not all that interested in a number on the scale anymore. I’m more attuned to how I feel. Even though I’m not as fit as I’d like to be currently, I’m gentle with myself. I just finished battling Lyme’s disease for two years. I’ve had Type 1 Diabetes since I was 24. I have Thyroid Disease. And I am a self-proclaimed Foodie and Wine-lover. Instead of focusing on myself and how I look, I cherish every single moment of my life and focus on how I can fulfill a higher purpose of spreading love and light to others.

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my 50th birthday

This seems like a great place to transition into a more positive discussion. After-all, it’s wise to address the issues, not put your head in the sand. Still, there is always a silver lining, even if sometimes you have to look for it. I set out to find examples of changing attitudes and I wasn’t disappointed. What follows are just a few.

At Refinery29.com they are “actively and powerfully spreading the message of body positivity… (stating) stretch mark and scars, rolls of skin, indicate what a body has been through and what it can do.” That had me remembering how hard I cried when I discovered the multitudes of stretch marks covering my stomach after I birthed my first child. Now my vision of those marks has been transformed into a sort of warrior pride. I feel the ropey skin and recall with fondness the birth of my children and experience deep gratitude for my abundant blessings.

The Dove beauty campaign states as it’s vision: “We want women and girls of all ages to see beauty as a source of confidence, not anxiety.” They believe in the power of education and deliver in-school programs to young people to address the growing concern of poor body image in young girls. I can’t help but concur that the solution is education, not just of women and girls, but as a society as whole.

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“We equip women and girls of all ages with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image,” says the About-face.org site mission statement. The site deals with body image, health and weight, mental health, and eating disorders. It provides education and resources with a click of a button, on-line.

The bottom line is that there is a growing awareness of the unhealthy images of women in media and the increase in poor self-esteem and body image in women and young girls. There are people speaking out about it. There are educational campaigns aimed at changing it. So yeah, I’m feeling concerned about media-influenced ideas on women and beauty. I’m also feeling hopeful and optimistic that the future of humanity will evolve into one of greater understanding, equality and liberty for all.