Feeling Expansive Inside the Gift of My Growing Gratitude Practice.

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving, a holiday tradition we Canucks celebrate every second Monday in October. My first thought upon rising was of the crazy, chaotic Thanksgiving meals that were a part of my old life. I felt grateful that I’m no longer caught up in that pressure and pretense, of how things look and the stress of trying to be perfect. I’m so happy to be living my life of authentic simplicity.

Thanksgiving in our villa on Salwa, 2018

What I do miss about holiday celebrations is my family and friends back home. Love is the greatest gift of all, but with Covid travel restrictions, I haven’t left Riyadh once in 2020. I take comfort in the knowledge that they are all engaged in their own traditions. I can trust in the process of life, that everything is occurring as it should. I may not be with them in our physical forms, but they are in my heart and my spirit, always.

I find myself going deeper into my awareness of what an incredible gift my life is. How blessed I am. I won the love lottery when I found Mister, and everything else is extra. I’m so full up with joy inside our love, there is no space for complaining or wanting more. I accept, with gratitude, what I have. I cherish the flow of a relationship built on open and honest communication and the trust that builds. Every day I appreciate being loved for exactly who I am and for loving him as he is, without judgment or criticism. It isn’t something I have to work at or compromise to feel. After almost nine years together, I still find myself thinking, pinch me, I’m dreaming.

As it is, there are so many layers of gratitude piled on top of the foundation we’ve built together. Big and small; there’s no need to measure. My heart expands every day Lola is still with me. How she still gets so excited to chase her ball for treats every morning and follows me around everywhere I go in our villa. It expands when I look out the office window as I write, greeted by the vision of green leaves and red flowers in the desert. It lights up when I’m at the kitchen sink, preparing gorgeous food, and I see our beautiful palm tree, home to all kinds of bird species who chirp merrily, cozy in their nests built inside strong fronds. I appreciate our space.

I’m over the moon with gratitude for the home Mister and I built together in Panama. I miss it. This year of no travel because of covid has been hard on that front too. But how lovely to have a place to miss? And to be able to relax in the knowledge it is being well cared for by our property management team. We will return, of this I am certain. Having things to look forward to, I’m realizing, is yet another aspect of a daily gratitude practice. 

This year, my gratitude cup is overflowing for the shifts in my dream-to-be-a-writer journey. I’m thankful for the serendipity that started with a chance conversation on the shopping bus with my friend Danielle. I told her I’d finished my first rough draft of my manuscript for The Healing and she shared her family friend’s contact information. Anne O’Connell, of O/C Publishing liked my query sample and we began a partnership. Having her as a mentor has been a huge gift. I’ve grown so much as a writer and regardless of the outcome, I’m proud of what I’ve created.

The plan is to launch The Healing in April of 2021, with the dream of a cross-Canada book tour. But with things as they are with covid, I may need to shift gears. I’m okay with whatever manifests, though, because I trust in the process of life. And I’m often wrong about timings. One thing I know, it will happen, sometime in the future.

I’m excited about my life. I’m jazzed about my future. I feel incredibly fortunate and full of hope. Even with all my challenges, of estranged relationships, my health and of course, covid. I wouldn’t want to change a thing, because I know that even the things that bring me the most grief are the lessons my soul needs to learn.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday or feel gratitude as a daily practice, whether you go big with huge social gatherings or small, with a few people you love, I encourage you to embrace being thankful. Turn your perspective to others, count your blessings and lift your spirits doing whatever it is in this life that lights you up.

From our home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving

To quote from one of my favourites, Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste… Speak your truth quietly and clearly… Be yourself… Nurture strength of spirit… With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

So yeah, I’m feeling expansive inside the gift of my growing gratitude practice.

Feeling Fed Up with Negative News, Inspired to Share Uplifting Life Lessons

I sat down at my computer to write a blog after receiving some positive feedback from a reader. Liz wrote, “I’ve just discovered your blog and have been loving the opportunity to see expat life in Salwa through your eyes.” Her comment had me leaning towards writing another ex-pat piece, perhaps an update on life here in the time of Covid. But to be honest, life here is pretty much ‘same old’ and I’m feeling tired of Covid.

I turned on the television and watched a few segments on BBC and CNN, hoping to find something in the latest headlines to ignite my muse, but it was just more of the same repeated stories covering Covid, racial tensions, the US election in November, Trump’s latest hair-brained tweet…

I felt deflated, ready to abandon my task and return to the flow of writing my next novel. But a voice inside encouraged me not to give up. Seemingly out of nowhere, I recalled how enthusiastic I felt after reading and studying The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho with my good friend Carol. The seed of inspiration was planted.

For those of you not familiar with this little gem of a novel, The Alchemist is a simple text packed full of wisdom and life lessons, as told through the life adventures of the main character, Santiago. For the purpose of this platform, I’ve chosen a few of my favourites lines to elaborate upon.

Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should live their lives, but none about their own. 

This feels for me like one of the huge issues around social media. People use social media platforms to lecture others on the right way to be. The right thoughts, beliefs, routines, habits, political affiliations, diet, way to be in relationship, way to support their cause… the list is endless. And if you dare disagree, you are at best un-liked and at worst, personally attacked.

A good example is the silence is violence slogan that is a popular off-shoot of the Black Lives Matter protests. I’m not a protester. I choose to express my opinions through storytelling and conversation. But that by no means is an indicator that I don’t support racial equality. I am an advocate for equality on all levels; gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion. I demonstrate that value through my actions and words, in how I treat others. Gandhi protested through the medium of silence and is revered worldwide as an example. Silence isn’t violence. You get to choose how to live your own life and how to speak your truth.

The language of love is the purest language of the world. (paraphrased)

Storytelling and conversations might be positive mediums to demonstrate support, but the language of love is even more potent. I can use my privilege of being born in a free country, to loving parents, with free, quality education and boundless opportunities to shine my light and be a force of loving support to others. The language of love is pure because it isn’t diluted with miscommunications fraught inside language and culture. It’s something you feel, and in feeling, you know it in your heart to be truth.

True love never keeps you from pursuing your dreams or becoming your authentic self. It never judges or criticizes. Love is the motivation that pushes us to strive and striving makes us better. As each of us improves ourselves, the world becomes a better place. As Gandhi so famously said, “Be the change you wish to see the world.” Be love, and you will never be misunderstood. You won’t have to convince anyone of your good intentions if you be the love that exists inside you.

People live their lives for the future, but the answers are in the present, if you pay attention. 

Mister has said often, how you live your life in the present becomes your future. If you delay your goals, if you don’t make time for what matters in the now, it will never come to be. So many people put all their energy into their work to reach a goal of success and ignore their family and friends in the process. When they arrive at their goal, they find they are alone and miserable, without anyone to witness them in their achievement. 

Others put off opportunities for self-growth and education for some distant point in the future. They avoid the discomfort of challenges and procrastinate. Every step you take now leads to your future, whether you can see it or not. The challenge is to discover that optimal balance of pushing yourself to be your best while accepting your limitations with grace. It isn’t easy, but the secret is to create a healthy routine of hard work, rest and connection with loved ones in the now; in each new moment, every day.

I love Oprah’s wisdom, that your life is whispering to you, if you just pay attention. If you don’t pay attention, the whisper turns into a shout. It gets louder and louder until it erupts into a crisis. The practice of mindfulness, of being aware of, and listening to your intuition, can lessen the drama. Feel your feelings and act on them. Even the little things matter. The small decisions add up to create your life and the person that you become.

When you make a decision that aligns with your heart, you feel at peace.

Mister and I came to this realization a while back. We recognized that when we were struggling between several choices, the decisions that had us feeling light had positive consequences, while the decisions that felt heavy manifested negativity. We use this simple measuring technique all the time when weighing a difficult decision, and it has never steered us in the wrong direction. 

To bring this point into focus, I’ll share a few examples. When I was out of work and spending my savings, I was worried I would blow it all away if I didn’t accept a job offer. My fear had me choose a teaching position that didn’t feel good. The work environment felt heavy. The work load felt heavy. The learning curve felt heavy. But I didn’t trust in life and I took the job and the stress ended up creating serious health problems for me.

More recently, I was struggling with the decision of whether I should travel to the UK for an opportunity for holistic treatment. My medical doctor here on Salwa had told me there was nothing more he could do for me. It seemed ludicrous at first, to invest so much time and money towards my wellness, but doing nothing felt heavy. Mister encouraged me to go, and the treatment I received from Carole Windross at her Body Clinic was phenomenal. I left the UK and returned home bubbling over with joy and optimism.

The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.

I believe this fundamental principle is operating in many facets of our lives, and at present, the negative news around Covid has created extreme fear. That fear is manifesting in a myriad of ways, including anger and intolerance towards anyone who doesn’t follow the same guidelines around how to best manage the risk of contagion. It’s crazy for anyone to think they know the right way, if there ever is such a thing. The virus is new. Even the medical and scientific community continually change their advice. 

Different countries have vastly differing protocols, from a zero-tolerance eradication point of view in Australia to a do nothing, herd immunity perspective in Sweden. In Canada, the attitudes differ province to province, but the main theology lies somewhere in the middle, with a goal of reducing cases but also opening the economy by encouraging mask wearing and social distancing. All are only choices with no proof as to their efficacy. To hurl insults at one another for disagreeing is disrespectful and unhelpful.

Most people see the world as threatening and so it becomes so.

This life lesson speaks to the power of your belief system. In Louise Hay’s self-help book, You Can Heal Your Life, she goes so far as to postulate that everything in your life is a manifestation of your thoughts. I’m not convinced that everything that comes into my life is by my own power, but I agree that your thoughts influence your actions and in the law of attraction. To quote Henry Ford: Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Sometimes we wish certain things didn’t happen, not realizing how each event is connected to the next. It’s impossible to have only good experiences in your life, but it is possible to transform the difficult experiences by learning from them. It isn’t always about goals and outcomes, although having clear goals helps to keep us on track with our intentions. The process, the things we experience along the way that we didn’t anticipate, bring opportunities for self-growth too.

A great podcast to check out is Not Your Average Operator. Mike, Raf, and Paul, along with some of their guests, discuss a huge range of issues, but one of my favourite episodes was Episode #10: Limiting Self Beliefs. Together they came up with an extensive list of ways to overcome limiting beliefs, including looking at the bigger picture, surrounding yourself with a tribe of supportive peers and mentors, and learning how to be comfortable with discomfort.

Everything that happens once can never happen again, but everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time. (Old Arab proverb) 

If this proverb is true, I suppose we should all be preparing for a third world pandemic. In 1918 there was the Spanish flu, and now, in 2020, we have Covid-19. Will it be another hundred years or is it just around the corner? None of us know the future, but to me, this proverb speaks to the importance of recognizing patterns in your life and preparing for them. That doesn’t mean obsessing. It goes back to awareness, of paying attention to the lessons that keep coming up for you in your life and doing the work they are guiding you to engage in, to become the person you are meant to be and reach your highest purpose. 

So yeah, I’m feeling fed up with negative news, inspired to share uplifting life lessons.

*Note to my readers: musingsofanemotionalcreature.com website will soon be under construction. It is about to be transformed to an author website, in anticipation of the launch of my novel, The Healing, in partnership with O/C Publishing in April 2021.

**Blogs will still be composed and posted under a sub-heading in the new format.

Feeling Prepared for Change, Ready to Create a New Way of Living, Post Covid-19.

Ever since the Corona virus pandemic hit world news in early January, we entered a period of uncertainty and chaos that has turned everyone’s world upside down. People all over the globe are being affected in different ways. For some, restrictions feel like an uncomfortable affront to their personal freedom. Some see parallels to dystopian novels and feel threatened, that it’s all a government conspiracy. On the other end of the spectrum are those who can’t deny the reality, who have lost loved ones or are sick themselves with the disease. In-between are views that reflect economic hardship, political affiliations and mental health challenges, amongst a myriad of other causes and concerns. Today, I’m sharing my experience.

 

March 12: What’s on my mind, heavy, is the corona virus pandemic. It’s almost unbelievable how widespread it has become. I’m feeling vulnerable, having a chronic illness. I feel the distance from my family across the globe as flights are banned in and out of Saudi Arabia. Feeling the heaviness and the weight of uncertainty.

 

April 04: Plugging along in isolation, a new 24-hour curfew has been imposed on the city of Riyadh. Every day feels like the one before. Real life Ground-hog day.

 

Since writing those entries, I’ve had time to reflect, to go inward and sit in silence. I realize there are multitudes of issues that have been exposed in the light of the corona virus spot light.

 

Healthcare inadequacies have been revealed worldwide. Budget cuts have many hospitals unable to cope with basic needs of beds for patients, proper protective equipment for healthcare workers and equipment like ventilators. We’ve seen in Canada the destitution in care homes for the elderly, being operated under disgusting, un-hygienic conditions. Elsewhere in the world, we’ve witnessed the inhumanity of people unable to access proper care, including not being admitted to hospital due to over-crowding or a lack of free, government-provided healthcare.

 

It hit home, when a close friend of mine who lives on our compound contracted the virus.

June 07: Raimo tested positive and was taken to hospital. I’m devastated.

He waited ten hours in the hospital lobby for a room. At one point, a hospital administrator told him he wasn’t going to be admitted. As it was, doctors on our compound pulled some strings.

Days later, when Raimo was discharged, we delivered him some food.

June 11: Raimo sat on his front step, us more than six feet away, at the end of his driveway. It felt horrible, being unable to hug him, after all he’d been through. His head lowered, shoulders slumped, he cried as he told us of his experience. There was no air conditioning, based on a theory of heat killing the virus, and it was 44 degrees Celsius. His bed linens were drenched in his sweat, as he fought fever, low blood oxygen and an infection in his lungs. He described health care workers, dressed in protective gear; too-large plastic gloves, masks and shields in the searing heat, working tirelessly, for hours on end. He lay amongst the sick and dying as he received life-giving oxygen and IV antibiotics, while others, less fortunate, were turned away.

June 13: The worker from our compound who was sent to hospital in critical condition passed away last night. I feel such deep, deep sadness at the tragedy and the loss to his family.

 

Less dramatic, but perhaps as impactful, schools here have been closed since the beginning of March, and in much of the world it is the same. As a teacher, I know the importance of the educational system, and how dramatically these closures affect students, especially those who are vulnerable and at risk already. It’s clear that moving forward, changes need to be made. Class sizes need to be reduced. Technology needs to be available to all students, including low-income, to promote more learning from home and distance opportunities. We need to do better for our children. They are the future.

 

In the workplace, we’ve seen how unsanitary, inhumane conditions in factories, especially meat-packing plants, have led to deadly outbreaks. People need space. The practice of packing everyone into tight quarters to save money needs to change. Factory farming needs to be dismantled altogether.

Looking to the future, companies need to create more work from home options, which would not only create space for physical distancing, but reduce the impact of pollution and the environmental impact of daily commuting to and from work in vehicles with single occupants.

There needs to be access to free public transportation in big cities and more money invested in alternatives like cycling. Since Covid-19, we’ve been staying home to stay safe, and the improvement in air quality and pollution levels are already significant.

 

The question I hear spoke most often lately is “When will things get back to normal?”

I feel that returning to where we were before is a choice to go backwards. I’d like to see us move forward. Based on where things are now, things aren’t going to change much any time soon. Back in March there were 126, 380 cases and 4, 634 deaths worldwide. By early July, those numbers rose to 10,984,798 and 524,039 respectively. In the USA, Brazil, Russia and India there is still a clear rise in cases, even while others, like Canada, New Zealand and Australia, have flattened the curve. It seems to me we have to figure out how to make changes despite this virus.

            June 14: Covid, covid, covid… but is anybody listening? It would seem that in our age of constant social media and 24/7 news we’ve lost our attention spans. Countries are opening up despite growing case numbers. Protestors are marching shoulder-to-shoulder in the street, social distancing all but forgotten.”

 

The human mind is creative. There are possibilities, solutions and positive outcomes. I’ve heard of businesses making changes, like restaurants converting to drive-throughs and new on-line retail options, to name only a few.

April 25: Feeling present to the silver linings of Covid-19 isolation and lockdown. I’m developing patience. My spiritual practice is blossoming. I feel more centred and at peace, more grounded and fully in the present moment than I have in a long time.

Mister and I are committed to wearing masks and gloves when we go into the city. On compound, we maintain two metres distance while walking the dog, getting exercise, or using the facilities. We’ve embraced staying home, with date nights imagined at our favourite restaurants abroad and hours of FaceTime chats. I’m feeling more connected. I even finished writing my book.

It isn’t easy, transitioning to this new way of living, but it isn’t over until it’s over.

 

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Date night in our back garden

 

Life is simpler these days, but sometimes it is the simple things in life that bring the most joy. I’m hoping for changes that have us working as a global community, to be preventative instead of reactive, to do better.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling prepared for change, ready to create a new way of living, post Covid-19.

 

 

 

Feeling Motivated, Ready to Empower Myself to Achieve my Goals

I was feeling in a bit of a slump, impatient that my goals were not manifesting in the way or the time I envisioned, when I happened upon a Goalcast compilation- “The Top 5 Speeches That Will Set You Up for Success.” After watching, I discovered I had morphed from feeling burdened by the heaviness to feeling incredibly uplifted. It was that powerful. I shared it with Mister and he felt it too. So, I’m writing this blog to share the love with my readers.

 

 

  1. Count Your Blessings by Rudy Francisco

Rudy is a poet, and his passion provided the perfect opening. His message was about surviving the hard things in life, about not giving up and focusing on your blessings. He gave examples of people who had survived incredible hardships and challenged us to do the same, to be grateful for the lives we have been given and to lift ourselves up. “You are still alive – so act like it.”

My daily gratitude practice is one of the tools I use to help me stay on track, especially during the difficult times. I have discovered that when I stay focused on my blessings and gifts, when I stay present to the abundance in my life, the positivity grows. Feeling gratitude is one of the things that motivates me to do my best and to pull myself up when I’m down.

 

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Mister & Me, one of my biggest blessings

 

2. Change the World by William McRaven

McRaven is a member of the Navy Seals who starts his speech by making the simple suggestion of making your bed every day. His premise is that if you set the intention of completing that task, it will lead to the next and the next task, creating a small sense of pride. He laughed as he conceded, that even if you had a miserable day, at least at the end of it, you achieved that one bit of success. He stressed that the little things matter, the power of hope, and the difference of one person. “Nothing matters but your will to succeed and to never, ever give up.”

Sometimes I get so caught up in the big picture of my long- term goals and dreams, I forget that the pathway is made up of all the little steps along the way. I’ve been dreaming so long of being an international bestselling author, to not even have one book published at the age of fifty -three was feeling like a huge failure. But I have taken steps. I have had successes. I started this blog. I published four articles for DQ Magazine. And even though I haven’t found a publisher or editor for the three books I have written, I wrote them. Those are accomplishments to be proud of and McRaven is right – I’ll never give up.

 

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3. Inspire. Empower. By Inky Johnson

That is the catchy title of the third segment. This one was a tear-jerker. Yet somehow, I didn’t feel pity for Inky, who suffered from a hugely debilitating injury at the beginning of his professional football career. Instead, I was blown away by his commitment to himself and the process of living his best life. The main message was “don’t let a circumstance or situation define your life.”

Seeing someone whose physical challenges far exceed my own had the power to have me stop feeling sorry for myself. I’d been feeling frustrated with a frozen shoulder and injured hip-lower back and thigh that happened back in January. I still haven’t fully recovered. I was feeling overwhelmed by an oral health problem that doctors haven’t been able to diagnose and treat. But when I listened to Inky’s kick-ass attitude, I knew I had to buckle down and give it everything I’ve got, regardless of the challenges.

 

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4. Redefine Yourself by Rock Thomas

This one had me tearing up too. It was emotional, watching Rock recall the pain of his childhood, where nothing he ever did was good enough for his father. He didn’t gloss over it, but he found the silver lining. You see, in his quest for approval from his father, he developed a phenomenal work ethic. Through the support of his mentor, who he gives credit for transforming his life, Rock was able to rise above the trauma of his youth and create a new identity of himself. He learned how to reprogram his brain to see himself in a new way through work with daily affirmations. His bottom line: “how you describe yourself is a powerful force. I am…”

I don’t get to my mat or my altar every day. But I go there often to sit in silence. I meditate. I pray. I repeat daily affirmations that are positive and uplifting, that focus on wellness and that acknowledge my gifts and talents. I speak my intentions as though they’ve already happened, using I am. After listening to Redefine Yourself, it is clear I still have more work to do, and I’m taking my inspiration from Rock who said, “say it a thousand times a day or more.” I’m going to up my affirmation game, starting now.

 

I shall not live in vain

I shall not live in vain

 

5. Change the World by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold has five rules that he attributes as his secret to success. The first is to find your vision and follow it. The second is to never think small, but instead, shoot for the stars. The third rule is to ignore the naysayers. The fourth rule is to work your ass off. And finally, number five: don’t just take, give back. In his speech Schwarzenegger gives examples from his life of how these rules motivated him. He was only fifteen years old, living in Austria, when he decided he wanted to become Mr. Universe and star in American films in Hollywood. Everything he did supported his vision and he, like William McRaven, never gave up.

I have to admit, none of these rules were new for me, but certain nuances in Arnold’s story caught my attention. I know my vision and I even created a vision board. But I’ve struggled with thinking big. Some small voice in my head is the strongest naysayer of all, the voice that asks what right do I have to dream of being a New York Times bestselling author? The voice that tells me to be realistic. And while I’ve certainly put in a great many hours towards achieving my goal, I can’t honestly say I’ve worked my ass off. I don’t train for five hours a day.

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my vision board

When the video was over I sat in silence for a while. I found myself wondering, what’s stopping me? I haven’t quite discovered the answers, but I’m working at it. I’m making my bed. I’m exercising every day. I’m writing every day. I’m taking the steps, pushing myself each day to do a little more than the day before. And I’m never, ever, going to give up.

So yeah, I’m feeling motivated, ready to empower myself to achieve my goals.

 

 

 

 

43 Feeling Inspired by Real-Life Stories of Courage and Strength to Speak up Against Injustice.

I’ve been on a lengthy hiatus, having posted my last blog at the end of April. Some of my followers have asked why the lack of production, and the honest answer is I’ve been completely immersed in writing my novel, The Healing. I just finished my first draft and edit and have sent a proposal to a publisher.

I’m feeling inspired to write about two movies Mister and I watched recently. The Best of Enemies is a film based on true events which, in my opinion, are nothing short of remarkable. Set in North Carolina, it is a story of racial prejudice, but more importantly, a story of triumph.

Taraji P. Henson plays Ann Atwater, a black civil rights activist. Sam Rockwell plays C.P. Ellis, president of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. Conflict over the educational directive to integrate black and white students has the town council creating a Charette, a committee where both parties present their reasons for and against integration. Over the course of the Charette C.P. and Ann discover each other’s humanity, and C.P. sees past the narrow stereotypes of race.

 

Watching these two individuals, especially C.P., transform their ideology was a testimony to the power of the getting to know “the other.” C.P.’s ideas about black people were rooted in ignorance. When he got to know Ann as a person, he realized that the assumptions he had made just weren’t true. The movie portrayed just how powerful personal interaction is to transforming indifferent, detached and negative attitudes toward people as a group.

It took unbelievable courage for C.P. Ellis to admit he was wrong and then to speak his truth, knowing he would likely be expelled from the Ku Klux Klan community.  He was willing to give up his experience of a true sense of belonging and leadership within that group to stand up for what he knew in his heart was the right thing to do.  The Best of Enemies was a poignant illustration of the complexity of the human spirit, where even a man filled with bigotry and hate can change.

The second film we watched was the Netflix limited series, When They See Us. Based on true events and also rooted in the dysfunction of racial prejudice, this film illustrates the darker side of reality.

In 1989 five boys of colour, all under the age of sixteen, were falsely accused and found guilty of raping and abusing a white woman and sent to jail. All five boys faced indescribable hardships during their incarcerations. Their innocence remained undiscovered until the true offender admitted to his crime years later.

 

It was devastating to witness the pain and suffering of these boys and their families. From the arrest without evidence, to being held without their parents or an attorney present, to being told lies about false testimonies and being blackmailed with promises to release them if they signed confessions. These boys were scared, coerced and abused by police, then convicted by a prosecutor who knew what she was doing was wrong, who knew they were innocent, but felt pressured by the political and media pressure of the day.

When They See Us portrayed the injustices against these boys with such raw truth, it was nothing less than heartbreaking. It was hard for me to find the silver lining because it was so tragic. These innocent boys had their youth stolen from them. They endured unspeakable atrocities, especially Korey, who had turned sixteen over the course of the trial and was sent to an adult facility where he was repeatedly and severely beaten.

What inspired me was the astonishing strength and resiliency of these boys. They became men in a hard environment, but they didn’t let that harden them. None of them became the criminals they were treated as. Each one of them has a different story, but all five are survivors. Sometimes all we can hope for is to survive, and that has to be enough.

On my own journey through this life I have suffered my own instances of injustice. I wished for an outcome like the one in Best of Enemies, where the wrong-doers realize the error of their ways and take responsibility. In the many cases where justice comes too little, too late, or sometimes never at all, finding that strength is the essential difference between being a victim and a survivor. Part of the healing process is to accept that even if the perpetrators of wrong never admit their guilt, even if justice is never served, you can be whole.

Bluebeard has yet to admit his guilt and take responsibility. He still walks free. But his beard is stained for always and I don’t need a broken justice system to tell me what is truth.

I believe that having a deep spiritual faith is what gives us the strength to not only survive the hardships in life, but to thrive and that love is a potent healer.

There will always be evil-doers, calamities, illness, shysters, and corruptors. Life is often unfair and unjust. We must reach deep into our trust that everything is unfolding as it should. Life is not a one-sided experience of love and happiness, it is heart-beat that moves up and down. If we embrace with gratitude all of the blessings that come our way and focus on the good, we are better able to respond during the difficult times with integrity and character. With strength, we find the courage to speak up.

Ann Atwater never gave up on her mission to fight for civil rights for black Americans. After the huge victory of achieving integration at the local school, Ann and C.P. went on the road together to cities all over the United States to speak about their experiences and remained friends until C.P.’s death in 2005.

The Central Park Five, the five innocent boys convicted of a crime they never committed, were: Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise. They filed suit against the city of New York in 2003 after being exonerated in 2002 but weren’t awarded a settlement until 2014. When They See Us is a perfect title, for it is when you see the person rather than the stereotype that you lose your prejudice and discover your humanity.

Kevin Richardson served six years for a crime he never committed. Now a father of two, he is an activist for criminal justice reform.

Antron McCray served six years for a crime he never committed. Now married with six children, he has never been able to make peace and still struggles with the pain and loss of the past.

Yusef Salaam served over six years for a crime he never committed. Now married with ten children, he is a published poet, public speaker and advocate for criminal justice reform.

Raymond Santana served six years for a crime he never committed. Now a single dad of a teenage daughter, he has his own clothing company and hopes that by sharing the pain of his story in When They See Us it will help to make change.

Korey Wise served twelve years in adult facility for a crime he never committed. He works as a public speaker and criminal justice advocate saying he can forgive, but he will never forget.

These movies about these real-life people and their stories impacted me deeply. They reminded me that injustices stay with you, even when you move on.

So yeah, I’m feeling inspired by real-life stories of courage and strength to speak up against injustice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Called to be Courageous Through the Practice of Vulnerability

Last week I watched Brene Brown’s much-anticipated event, the Netflix presentation of The Call to CourageIt ignited my inspiration. I feel not only called to be courageous, but called to live big, to get into the arena, and embrace vulnerability even more than I ever have before.

 

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown’s for several years now. I’ve read many of her books and watched her Ted Talks. In the process, I have discovered a great deal about shame and vulnerability and courage. Brene is a gifted storyteller that has a knack for taking academic research and language and transforming it in a way that hits you in your heart. You feel the truth of it. She artfully weaves in humour and sadness, sharing real-life stories of trauma and resilience with integrity and passion.

I was impacted in so many ways, I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll just dive in.

Brene shares how devastating it was after her Ted Talk on vulnerability went global. While the accolades were many, the criticism she received felt overwhelming. She was in a rough space, but then she describes how she had this “total God moment,” after reading a quote by Theodore Roosevelt.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives vigilantly; who errs, who comes short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

That was the moment when she chose to live in the arena, to have the courage to be vulnerable. Because the thing is, you can’t speak up without discomfort. If you’re not in the arena getting your asked kicked, she’s isn’t interested in your criticism. And neither am I.

Vulnerability is the key to whole-hearted loving.” I am so jazzed about being in full-on, authentic connection. I learned at a very young age how being vulnerable was a key part of creating the space for others to trust being open and honest with me. Loving whole-heartedly has brought me more joy and bliss in my life than anything else. In fact, creating deep, meaningful relationships is my life purpose.

“You have to be vulnerable to be brave.” In all honesty, I have never considered myself to be a brave person. I’m just doing what feels natural for me. When I listen to Brene, though, I get it. Being vulnerable creates the opportunity for deep love, joy and a sense of belonging. But it also opens the door for heartache. The pay-off has just always felt greater for me than the risk.

Vulnerability is the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” This is the part that I struggle with; controlling the outcome. It has been the nemesis in my entire letting go journey. Especially when it comes to my kids. I know they are adults. I know they are capable, wise and resilient. Still, I intervene and advise when it isn’t my place. I worry that the path they are on could possibly lead to an unfavourable outcome. It turns out it not only takes courage to let yourself be vulnerable; it takes courage to allow the people you love to do the same.

In a Call to Courage Brene Brown posits that time is our big, precious, un-renewable resource. I have to agree, because it is only after a precious moment is gone that we feel the weight of what we didn’t accomplish. The truth is, sometimes we rock it out of the park, living our lives with energy and enthusiasm and accomplishing great things. At other times we are shut down, emotionally or physically, mentally or spiritually, and time seems to just slip by. And it’s all good. Our best has to be good enough, no matter what that looks like. When you get knocked down in the arena of life, you need some recovery time. The important thing is to get back in.

According to Brene, one of the magical sentences that can help you to deconstruct the obstacles in communication and relationship is, “the story I’m telling myself is…” We all have stories we have created that get in the way of seeing one another and being seen, a critical component of vulnerability. For example, when our partner or friend or colleague is tuning us out, instead of being curious and asking why, we tend to make assumptions based on our stories that it is something about us. Usually it is not. We have to be brave enough to question.

Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool towards joyful living. Pausing to be grateful for the ordinary moments fuels joy, love and a sense of belonging. When we are grateful for the gifts we have been bestowed, we develop healthy self-esteem and we don’t have to look outside ourselves or change ourselves. In fact, if you’re changing who you are, you aren’t achieving belonging, you’re just trying to fit in.

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Many movements have been springing up recently that are supporting this courage to be vulnerable, to speak up in the face of discomfort. The #Me Too movement opened the door for millions of people, mostly women, to tell their stories of abuse. They stepped into the arena. Their bravery has incited criticism from those privileged enough to feel uncomfortable. But the tough conversations have to be had. Change is never easy.

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We, as a global community, need to excavate the myths that get in the way of progress and change. We need to elect brave leaders who are committed to equality and boot out those who are corrupt, greedy, and unethical. We have to be willing to make mistakes and to say the wrong thing. We have to get into the arena. We have to speak up.

As for me, I’m feeling affirmed in my vulnerability journey, ready to continue being open and honest with my heart and my mind. I’m feeling grateful for my life, especially for my Mister, who creates space for me to be my authentic self and loves me unconditionally, who not only supports me to be vulnerable, but embraces it. I’m inspired to continuing risking rejection, submitting my queries to agents and dreaming of being a published writer. I’m going to speak my truth through the platform of my writing.

So yeah, I’m feeling called to be courageous through the practice of vulnerability.

Feeling the Impact of Shining and Sharing my Light and Love with the World

My muse was dry. I figured that perhaps after forty blog posts I’d covered everything I wanted to say. Then I glanced at my calendar and noticed that it is Random Acts of Kindness week. I never knew there was an official acknowledgment of the valuable art of practicing random acts of kindness and suddenly my muse was nourished, ready to write a fresh blog.

Upon googling my topic, a plethora of interesting sites and images came to my attention. I checked out several videos on YouTube before choosing this simple clip from Scoop to share with my readers.

 

I reflected about my own experiences. In September, my good friend Kim sent me a photo challenge and it was so much fun and so gratifying I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of creating monthly challenges for myself. October was a yoga challenge followed by a daily ten- minute meditation challenge in November. But the one that gave the most back was in December, when I chose to challenge myself to send daily loving-kindness messages.

I was only a few days into it when I recognized that while I was sending daily loving-kindness to one person each day, each person I reached out to gave a loving kindness message back to me. By mid-month I’d received so many affirmations, good-wishes and kind-hearted sentiments my cup was literally overflowing. I felt energized and joyful in a way I hadn’t experienced with any of my other challenges. It confirmed what I already knew; that love is the medicine, our healer, our purpose, our path.

I went back to my computer and watched Ted Talks and more YouTube videos, searching for more examples to share. There was plenty of great material worth sharing, but nothing seemed to express the feeling I was hoping to emote. Feeling stuck again, I took a break, hitching Lola to her leash to walk in the fresh air where I hoped to find inspiration. As I walked, a memory I’d long since forgotten came to me and with it, the beginning of a poem.

I haven’t written any poetry for some time now, but this is what seemed to flow with divine grace from my mind to my pen.

I see a homeless man as I’m strolling down the street,

His clothes are dusty, ratty shoes upon his feet.

My gut reaction is to turn away my eyes

But for some reason I smile instead and we are both surprised.

His mouth turns from an “oh” to a tentative smile

And suddenly I’m asking if he’ll watch my dog a while.

His smile becomes a grin as he gives Lola a tender pat

And I tell him it won’t be too long before I am back.

 

Inside the bookstore I thumb through rows and rows of books,

Every story in my head urging me to go and have a look.

I choose instead to trust my heart

For it gave me the intuition to have faith from the start.

After I pay for the book I desire to buy

I go outside where on his lap Lola lies.

This man I don’t know is grinning from ear to ear

And it almost makes me heart break; I shed a single tear.

 

I realize all the stories in my head

Conceived from ignorance and fear; instead

I’m seeing past the judgment he must be mentally ill

Or a crack-head or an addict to some crazy little pill.

I see a man like any other who happens to be down on his luck

And I ask him if I can pay him, even though it isn’t much.

He thanks me and then he tells me Lola has made his day

And I think, it is oft the little things that help to ease the way.

 

 

So yeah, I’m feeling the impact of shining and sharing my light and love with the world.

Feeling Disciplined, Committed to Practicing Virtues and Living with Intention.

I’ve been contemplating what living my best life means and how that commitment manifests in reality. It’s all so elusive, murky and abstract. My best seems to change from day to day, from hour to hour. Sometimes I’m rocking it, yet at other times my best is quite simply the shits.

What are the factors that contribute or negate from my ability to consistently rock my productivity and contribution?

One thing I’ve discovered, having the discipline to follow through with my intentions is integral. It sounds basic but it’s not easy, especially if I am having health challenges, low energy from lack of sleep, or a lack of vitality from emotional or mental distractions.

Practicing virtues, I’m recognizing, makes a big difference in achieving a positive outcome.

Back when my now adult children were in elementary, the administration decided to have the school participate in a virtues project. There were fifty-two virtues in all. Being smack dab in the trenches of the survival years, I didn’t pay the project a great deal attention.

Until one day while I was sitting in my mini-van waiting to pick up said youngsters the words on the school sign caught my eye. “Virtue of the week: detachment.”

The idea of teaching detachment as a virtue horror-struck me. I ranted to my kids on the drive home, imploring for them to explain how detachment could possibly be virtuous when everyone knew that the opposite, attachment, was the virtue. They tried their best to educate me on the value of letting go of expectations from others, but it was in vain. I remained unconvinced. By the time I was preparing supper I’d forgotten all about it.

Years later I re-opened the cupboard labelled Detachmentand discovered my horror was connected to my own lack of boundaries. As in, I did not have many. Furthermore, I had no idea how to create them or enforce them or how valuable they could be. As I learned how to honour my boundaries and those of others, I finally understood the value of detachment.

Here I am again, considering the value of virtues, but not limiting my exploration to detachment. I googled virtues and discovered that virtues are embedded in most cultures, are often taught as part of educational systems, and are an important part of religious doctrines. Aristotle wrote extensively on twelve virtues. The Pope identified seven that correspond to the seven deadly sins. Confucius and the Sikh Gurus agreed on five, albeit not quite the same five.

Truth, compassion, honesty, integrity. Faith, justice, courage and charity. These are a few of the virtues that I believe, when practiced with commitment, can assist in one’s endeavour to live a better life. To transcend the ordinary and embrace our Divinity.

Jonathon Haidt presented a Ted Talk titled Religion, Evolution and the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence. Haidt postulates that virtues are embedded in our morality. He describes a state of altered consciousness, achieved through meditation or prayer, that uplifts us to be good and noble and to see the sacredness in everything around us.

 

I re-read one of my all-time favourite books, Ishmaelby Daniel Quinn, and discovered some more virtuous nuggets embedded in its prose. In his “earnest desire to save the world,” the protagonist answers an advertisement in the personals; “Teacher seeks pupil.” What follows is a heart-wrenching exploration on the evolution of humankind and the nature of good and evil.

Ishmael, the teacher, turns out to be a gorilla. He has an urgent message for humankind about what Mother Culturehas taught us a Taker society and how we can choose to change the story, to change our lives and in so doing save the world from destruction and ourselves from extinction.

From Ishmael we learn that in order to live our best lives we need to give every other species on the planet the right and the opportunity to live theirs. We are not the Divine rulers of this planet. Earth was not created for us alone. We are a part of all creation, no less, no more.

I watched a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism. Letting go of stuff, of material possessions, to achieve lightness was something the producers identified as a virtue that helped them to live their best life by living deliberately and with intention. I can’t claim to relate to living the minimalism lifestyle, but I appreciate the concept of living with intention.

 

Sometimes in our modern world we rely solely on the internet to answer our questions. When it comes to understanding how to live a virtuous life, the answers are more likely to be found in the wisdom of the teachings of our ancestors. Or perhaps in the opening of our spirits. Even as we strive to be our best, it is well to remember and accept, we are only human after all.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling disciplined, committed to practicing virtues and living with intention.

 

Feeling Triumphant, Transforming the Traumas of my Life Through Storytelling

Recently I viewed an inspiring Ted Talk by Andrew Solomon titled, How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Make Us Who We Are. Solomon presents a provocative argument outlining how challenges have the power to change us when we use them as opportunities to forge meaning in our lives. He then expands to the next task, which is to build identity, and in the process, change the world.

 

If, as Solomon adheres, stories are the foundation of our identity, then the stories we tell about ourselves are vitally important. I decided to look back at the worst moments of my own life and examine how I might forge meaning and build identity and tell a new, empowering story.

When I was four years old I was sexually abused, repeatedly, by my babysitter’s son. It is extremely difficult to forge meaning from that, but, if nothing else, I developed resilience and strength from that experience. I protected my light and I kept my faith in humankind. But the gifts were even greater. In therapy, years later, I had a vision of that time. God took my face in his hands and turned it away so I couldn’t see what was happening. That trauma gave me my first opportunity to accept and receive God’s love.

At the age of fifteen, I was raped. The triumph for me inside of that worst moment was in my ability to forgive. I recognized his insecurities and lack of self-love. I felt sorry for him, that he was so deep in the darkness. I knew what happened ravaged my body, mind and emotions, but it didn’t touch my spirit. He tried to steal my light, but he could not. My faith in God grew stronger, and accordingly, my inner strength.

I was pregnant with my second child when I was diagnosed with Diabetes. The doctors presumed it was Gestational, but as it would turn out, I had Type I Diabetes as well as Hyperthyroidism. Having two chronic immune diseases has been a gift for me in so many ways. It has given me deep empathy for others who suffer from illness. It has given me a profound appreciation for my life. I am grateful for medicine and invention and life-saving insulin.

Solomon conjectures in his presentation that being married and having children has special meaning for him because it hasn’t always been that way for the gay community. In fact, it is a right recently granted, yet still denied in many places across the planet. I feel similarly about having Diabetes. The discovery of insulin was only made in the 1920’s. Before then, I wouldn’t have survived. But for the miracle of when I was born, I did. I am a survivor.

My father passed away when I was only 34 years old. I was a Daddy’s girl. My relationship with my father was one of ease and flow. I always was present to his unconditional love. I loved how I perceived myself through the mirror of his eyes, and when that was gone, I felt lost. My grief took me on yet another spiritual journey, where I learned how to love eternally. It took me seven years, but I finally understood that my father lives forever in my heart.

In 2007 I experienced a major depressive episode. I was 41, and my age, wisdom and maturity created the possibility for incredible transformation. I was determined to uncover the causes of my extreme unhappiness. It was uncomfortable as hell, digging through all the muck, but the excavation of my authentic self and the revelation of many truths was a priceless outcome.

Most recently, at the age of 51, the most devastating and difficult to overcome trauma occurred in the form of a disclosure. It was horrifying. It turned my life upside down. It re-wrote the story of my life and challenged my identity. But it also had the power of making some of my relationships even stronger and deeper than they were before. It had me call upon my inner strength and my faith in God and brought me back to daily prayer.

I am beginning to learn the spiritual law of detachment. My ability to discern is developing. And I am making huge strides in my Letting Go journey. As I said in conversation with my Mister, “Life’s challenges are the sandpaper that smooths out our rough edges, revealing the masterpiece that God created us to become.”

According to Buddhist teachings, difficulty is inevitable and in fact is an important part of the spiritual path, where real transformation can take place. Pema Chodron states, “We can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is.”

 Adversity is addressed in the Christian faith, and in James we read, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

My perception of reality and my relationship with myself and the world all work together to create the story of my life. Yes, there has been great pain. There has also been great joy. That is Life, for all of us. I get to choose my reality. You do too. What is your story? How can you reframe the worst moments of your life to forge meaning and build identity?

 

So yeah, I’m feeling triumphant, transforming the traumas of my life through storytelling.

 

Feeling Confident I’ve got the Tools I Need to Live My Best Life

As my daughter once aptly stated, we are each the guru of our own lives. I agree with her wholeheartedly, but sometimes a few guideposts along the way can be helpful. It isn’t always easy to attune to your authentic self, and because the nature of life involves change, being aware is a constantly evolving process that requires frequent reflection.

There is such a plethora of specialists and self-help books to inform and advise that even knowing which book or podcast to begin with can be inundating.

One of the first resources I found useful was Goddess to the Core. In her book, Sierra Bender identifies four aspects of self: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. She states it is important to honour each aspect and achieve balance. I’ve discovered in practice that what might sound easy enough is anything but easy to do.

In his book, Finding Your Element, Ken Robinson provides an opportunity for self-discovery by examining your life to discover your aptitudes, passions and attitudes. He encourages you to consider what makes you happy and to identify your circles of well-being.

I’ve sketched and cut out clippings from magazines. I’ve engaged in workbooks and creativity resurrecting activities. I’ve read so many books. I even wrote my own authenticity outline that I use and refer to often to help keep me on track as well as acknowledge growth and change. The resources are out there, you just have to choose what feels right for you.

But figuring out who you are, what your talents are, and what you feel passionate about isn’t necessarily the key to happiness. Despite the fact that we are living in the most educated, wealthy and technologically advanced time ever, people are struggling more than ever. Suicide rates are up. Mental illness is more prevalent. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise. What are we missing?

Recently I viewed a Ted Talk titled There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. Emily Esfahani Smith spoke enthusiastically, believing she may have the answer to that very question. She posits that our goal of achieving happiness is misguided and that in fact chasing happiness creates unhappiness.

 

Esfahani Smith states that the key to living your best life is through finding meaning. She identifies four pillars for meaning: belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling.

Belonging is about being in relationships where you are valued for you are; your authentic self.

Purpose is not about what you want, but what you give. It is about using your authentic gifts, talents and strengths to make a difference. It might be achieved through your career path, but it can also be manifested through relationships, family, volunteering and other activities.

Transcendence happens when you feel the connection to a higher reality. It may be a spiritual experience that is manifested through religious beliefs and prayer or through other ways of connecting with the Divine such as yoga, meditation, and creativity.

Storytelling in this framework refers to the story you tell yourself about yourself. Emily posits that we all make up stories based on our experiences and what other people tell us is our truth, but we have the ability to edit and rewrite our story of who we are.

Emily Esfahani Smith summarizes her presentation with the words, “happiness comes and goes, but when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning gives you something to hold onto.”

So far, most of what I’ve been discussing is quite esoteric. It is wonderful to contemplate and examine the higher aspects of ourselves, but I think an important key to living a good life is through your actions. After all, we are physical beings, and our bodies need nourishment and attention to be at their best too.

I recently viewed a documentary that was making a case of correlation between children’s success in school and their routines at home. As a retired teacher, I can attest to the amazing difference introducing solid routines had in managing students with ADHD, FASD, and other broad-encompassing challenges.

As an adult, I see how I benefit from my routines as well. Just like finding your purpose, your routine should be individualized and reflect your specific lifestyle and needs. My Mister has a high metabolism, so eating regularly is one of the top considerations for him. For me, sleep is the most important. I need at least eight hours of solid sleep to function properly. Having Diabetes, I need to check my blood sugars frequently, eat regular and balanced meals, and take appropriate insulin doses.

Every day I am thoughtful about what I need to function optimally. I choose foods from a variety of sources at each meal to achieve a healthful diet, including lots of vegetables. I know that exercise gives me energy and invigorates me mentally too, so I practice yoga and go to the gym three to five days a week. Being in connection with my circle is vital to my health too, so I try to balance quiet and meditation with social opportunities, conversations, and facetime chats with my family.

Psychologist Susan David presented a powerful Ted Talk on the Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. As she spoke about concepts like emotional agility and authenticity, I recognized the truth in her words. Managing our emotions with honesty is challenging in a society that values positivity, but fake positivity is just as destructive as inauthenticity in any aspect of self.

 

 

The tool box for living your best life is complex. Determine your authentic strengths and talents, passions and aptitudes. Find a community where you feel like you belong. Identify your purpose. Transcend to connect with a higher reality. Start telling a positive and empowering story about who you are. Work to achieve balance across the four aspects of self. Create a routine that sustains and energizes you. Honour your emotions. Start wherever your heart calls you.

So yeah, I’m feeling confident I’ve got the tools I need to live my best life.