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 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 Grateful on Canadian Thanksgiving for the Gift of Every Moment

In Canada we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, expressing gratitude for the harvest and other blessings, since 1879. Typically, traditions involve family feasts with a roasted turkey as the main attraction, as well as an abundance of other dishes such as mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing and ending with pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

As a self-proclaimed Foodie and a person who loves to cook, I look forward to this autumnal festival. I also appreciate the opportunity to express gratitude for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me.

As an ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia, I have participated in large pot-luck dinners with our friends in the Canadian community and have hosted more intimate dinners as well. This year Mister and I decided to tone down on the preparations and focus on the gratitude, creating a romantic Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us. We toasted our love and appreciation for one another, which for us is the greatest gift of all.

 

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Canadian Thanksgiving in our villa 2017

 

Counting your blessings and making space to acknowledge gratitude can be a rewarding experience that turns your perspective outward, onto others. It has to the potential to lift your spirits and have you feeling the grace of God at work in the world.

I use gratitude as a tool for discerning what my goals, values and intentions are and I create vision boards as a visual inspiration. I discovered this powerful ritual when I first watched The Secret, back in 2007, and have been making vision boards as part of my positivity practice ever since.

 

 

 

My vision board is a visual representation that shows clearly what matters most in my life. It reflects how much I value family, friends, and relationships, especially my partnership with Mister. It also focuses on my passion for writing and my goals of moving to Panama, learning to speak Spanish, and opening a restaurant. Interestingly, the word gratitude is featured prominently.

 

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my current  vision board

 

I’m a writer and a keeper of journals and I’ve been using the Sacred Journey Daily Journal for your Soul by Cheryl Thiele for many years now. Expressing gratitude is a part of each month’s exercises, along with affirmations, opportunities and goals.

I’ve seen people posting gratitude challenges on social media and how those challenges have the power to lift them up, creating feelings of joy and happiness.

There are several Ted Talks on the theme of gratitude. In his presentation, “Want to be happy? Be Grateful,”David Steindl-Rast posits that choosing to live a life of gratitude has the power to change the world. He argues that living in awareness that each moment is a gift is the opportunity and key to our happiness. He also suggests that even our greatest difficulties have the opportunity for us to experience gratitude by learning something through the challenge of overcoming them. His method for living gratefully is: stop (or at least slow down), look (open your heart) and go (take action).

 

 

There are also a multitude of books on the subject of gratitude. Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul by Robert Emmons and Joanna Hill, A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank you Changed my Life by John Kralik and Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, are a few I’ve discovered. Google books about gratitude and you’ll be sure to find something that intrigues you.

You Tube has a long list of songs about gratitude including Kelly Clarkson’s Thankful, Celine Dion’s Thank You and Alanis Morissette’s gritty version, Thank U, my personal favouriteTake a listen and see what resonates with you in your list of things to be grateful for.

Actions speak louder than words, or so they say. For me, the most powerful experience of how gratitude has the ability to transform has been in witnessing how Mister engages with everyone he meets. Whether he is speaking to loved ones or with perfect strangers, he thanks them for their every effort. He thanks me, every single day, for everything, big or small that I do, never taking even the smallest thing for granted. His actions inspire me to be more mindful and I find myself emulating his example of expressing gratitude more often.

Ghandi urged us to be the change we want to see in the world. I believe that practicing gratitude daily, in every moment, is one way of being the change.

So yeah, I’m feeling grateful on Canadian Thanksgiving for the gift of every moment.

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 Aware of My Ability to Choose to be a Part of the Solution

It seems like everywhere I turn there are stories being shared by people who have survived trauma and it’s no wonder; according to statistics, one in three girls and one in five boys have suffered abuse.

Theo Fleury, a famous ex-NHL player from Canada, spoke on Goalcast in a powerful presentation called Play Your Part. He describes a childhood of neglect and fear, living with addicted parents. He shares his story; that he was raped, repeatedly, by his hockey coach.

Fleury tells how after writing Playing With Fire, at his first book signing in Toronto, he met his first MeToo confidant. He goes on to share how one person turned into over 500,000. He states that trauma is the string that binds us all together and that we have an opportunity to talk with compassion, love, and connection, to have the tough conversations and be a part of the solution.

 

What truly inspired me while listening to Fleury speak was the choice he made when he decided to take the gun out of his mouth. He chose not to punish himself or blame others. He chose to embark on a healing journey. He chose light. He chose life.

Choice. Few things drive me crazier than people who pass off their responsibility by claiming they didn’t have a choice. You always, always, have a choice. Some choices are harder than others. Some take a great deal of strength and courage. But there is always a choice.

In 2007 I was in a similar place as Theo Fleury. I didn’t have a gun in my mouth, but I was contemplating suicide as the only choice. I felt desperate and hopeless. I was in an unhealthy marriage to a controlling, abusive and manipulative man. I had three children. I had debt and a huge mortgage. I was afraid. I didn’t know how to free myself and I definitely couldn’t see the choices I had available.

In the end, I too, chose light. I too, chose life. I walked into the Emergency department of the hospital where I lived, taking the first terrifying step forwards. That step led to being admitted to a short term mental health unit. With the stereotypes our society has towards mental health, that choice wasn’t easy. But with the support of my daughter, and many others, I did it.

That was the beginning of my healing journey. In the hospital I received more support, as well as education and skills. When I was discharged, I advocated for myself. I engaged in intense counselling therapy despite objections from my husband about the financial costs. I engaged in positive relationships. I found meaningful work that I immersed myself in. It took time, but eventually, in 2011, I had the confidence and courage to leave.

At that point I embarked on my grandest of journeys; to discover my authentic self. I drove the epic road trip from Calgary to Vancouver Island and started a new life. I found out who I was and I liked her way more than the mask of me I’d been parading around as. From this place of openness and honesty, I met Mister. I’m currently writing a book about that time in my life called The Healing.

With that one hard choice, of speaking up despite the shame and seeking help, I opened the door to an entire life I never could have imagined. A life that every day, no matter how joyful or challenging it is, I feel gratitude for the blessings of my crazy, beautiful, complicated life.

In her presentation on Ted Talks, The Revolutionary Power of Divine Thought, activist Elif Shafak shares her story. Elif claims that NOW is the time, a vital moment in global activism and sisterhood movements to make change. She urges, “One should never, ever remain silent for fear of complexity.”

 

Life is complex. There are a myriad of social issues including economic, educational, and emotional challenges. There are people making the dark choices of complacency, numbness, isolation, competition, greed, and corruption. In my experience, there are far more people who choose Light. Who choose activism, sensitivity, involvement, generosity, cooperation, balance, and equality.

Equally complex is the relationship of dark and light. They are the polar ends of the same entity. Life and Death are the same thing and both forces live in all of us.

As a modern society of the information age, we have foregone our wisdom in the quest for knowledge. We have exchanged the complex stories of our ancestors that address the complexity of our nature for Disney versions where good and evil are dualities expressed in separate characters. Children are denied the teachings that were layered in fairy tales. We need to tell the scary stories. We have to engage in the tough conversations.

We cling to our life-happiness-positive-good model. We ignore or pretend that darkness-sadness-negativity-evil do not exist. When we do acknowledge evil, it is outside of ourselves, in the other. It is contained within a different religion or country or person. With this head-in-the-sand mentality we don’t learn how to confront the negative forces inside ourselves. We don’t learn how to win the battle in our minds; how to feel, release and then return, by the power of our choice, to our Light.

Darkness may have the power to swallow light, but Light has the power to enlighten. If you ignore the darkness, it doesn’t go away. If you surround yourself with positive people, their light will join with yours and ignite to create a powerful and enduring flame.

What will you choose?

So yeah, I’m feeling aware of my ability to choose to be a part of the solution.

 

Feeling Radical, Ready to Channel my Rage Through the Power of Love

I was feeling overwhelmed, like there is no justice in this world, like I had no control to do anything about it. I sat at my altar and prayed, asking, how do I best serve humanity? As I sat there a memory returned of Mister telling me our highest purpose is to love. And with the perfect synchronicity that is God at work in the world, articles and information on the power of love came flooding into my awareness.

The first, and most impacting, was a Ted Talk by Valeria Kaur, an American civil rights lawyer and activist. Her topic, Three Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage began with a vivid description of her personal labouring process in birthing her son, which she used as a framework for the themes of the fire of pain and the determination to push through.

Kaur described her reaction to 911 and the murder of her uncle in the aftermath. She talked about forgiveness. She spoke about feminism. Referring to a diagram that outlines the expression of revolutionary love towards ourselves, towards the ones we love, and even towards our opponents, she encouraged us to see the wound in the ones who hurt us. She ends with the question, “What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” and the invitation to breathe and push with a Warrior’s heart and a Saint’s eyes, to be a part of a future waiting to be born.

 

 

I was reading The Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Este and was taken aback when I read the section titled The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness, central words in the Ted Talk I had just viewed. Pinkola put forth the idea that the release of rage is required and can be a teacher if allowed.

“We can use the light of rage in a positive way, in order to see into places we cannot usually see… We can learn from it and transform it.” Pinkola suggests that once we recognize it, bless it, contain it and release it, rage can impel groups or individuals into dialogue and action towards accountability, progress and improvements.

Later that day I picked up my copy of Warrior Goddess Training and to my delight the next chapter was titled Open Your Heart. Heatherash Amara discusses the healing practice of Metta; the ancient Buddhist meditation of loving kindness. The practice involves visualizing during meditation sending loving kindness to a family member or friend, to an acquaintance, to yourself, and finally, to someone you dislike.

Heatherash also refers to the Hawaiian poem of forgiveness, Ho’oponopono:

I love you

I’m sorry

Please forgive me

Thank you

I first made acquaintance with this simple yet powerful sentiment when I attended Dance Church in Victoria, BC with my daughter. It seems perfect to be reminded of the wisdom in the words of this prayer now.

Praying led me to open my bible. In Matthew it says, “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” and in Mark, “and if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them.”

Toltec wisdom states, “Our true nature is happiness, freedom and love; when we master love, intent and faith we master the dream of our life.” The road to mastering the dream is not easy, but you can begin to change the world by changing your own life, recognizing you have both the choice and the responsibility.

Pema Chodran, a Buddhist monk and spiritual leader, urges us to choose to cultivate love rather than anger. She also postulates that it is necessary to recognize your kinship with others. On the subject of rage, Pema encourages us to use the tools of meditation and loving-kindness to access the tenderness of an awakened heart, to see behind the hardness of rage and not allow it to harden our hearts.

On Super Soul Sunday Oprah talks about making the world a better place by extending yourself in loving kindness with an open heart. Similarly, she advocates that healing the world starts with healing you.

 

Alana Fairchild dedicates in her introduction to the Sacred Rebels, “to those who aren’t afraid to rattle cages… from a place of loving service to the spiritual evolution of humanity… (to) create a world that is fully awakened to love.”

I’m not going to delay any longer. I’m going to start now.

I send loving kindness to someone I love; to my Mister, David.

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You are patient and kind

You tell me it is going to be okay

And somehow it is, inside of your love,

A love more pure and divine than any I’ve known.

 Your love has been the greatest gift of my life.

Your love has taught me love’s power and

Has propelled me to be my best,

To fulfil my purpose, which is as yours; to love.

 I send loving kindness to an acquaintance; to Diane.

I send loving kindness to myself.

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I send loving kindness to someone I dislike; to Nancy.

I send loving kindness to all of humanity; I send loving kindness to you.

So yeah, I’m feeling radical, ready to channel my rage through the power of love.

Feeling Inspired; Lifting the Weight of the World off my Shoulders by Opening my Heart to Love

I’ve been feeling the heaviness of the destruction, devastation, and darkness in the world. One day I woke up and felt so tired of feeling hopeless. And then the awareness returned to me, that I already knew, but had somehow forgotten. I needed to open my heart to all the love and light in the world. I set about searching and before long it was like an avalanche had been created with that simple intention.

It started with music. I decided to listen to some of my favourite inspirational songs while walking Lola around the compound. As I listened to Michael Buble crooning about a new day and A Great Big World telling me “You’ll be okay,” I felt the truth in the words and a spring returning to my step. I even noticed beauty in the self-described barrenness of the desert, in the vast blue sky. By the time India Arie reminded me, “There’s Hope,” I was beginning to blossom. A shift was occurring, not in the world, but in my perception.

 

I thought about the list of Affirmations I’d posted to our bulletin board and I took it down and read it. I was present to the many gifts and blessings in my life. Beginning with the love of Mister. He is an inspiring man to be in deep partnership with, his solid faith in God and in humankind demonstrated in his daily acts of integrity and character. His love for me has been my constant, his solidity a rock in which together we have built our foundation.

 

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I thought about how fortunate I am to have four beautiful children. The two eldest are already making change in the world with their passion and commitment. Scarlet has created Women’s Sacred Wisdom ritual and retreat to empower women and embrace the feminine. Tamara has developed her own website offering her gifts in massage, yoga, and art. She also continues to post spiritually inspiring blogs on Anuttara Tantra. The two youngest are still discovering their passions, but share their hearts and minds with courageous vulnerability.

I brought into my heart the loving memories of all of my family, those living and those who have passed. I was present to the gift of friendship, with my tribe here in Riyadh, as well as so many others here and back in Canada.

I continued to focus my thoughts on the positive. I made mental lists of the things I appreciate about my community, the country of my birth, and the world around me. By this point I was clear that I needed to allow myself to receive love and support and to put my energy into giving my light and love to others. I collected inspiration from an eclectic array of sources that I will share in the random order that they manifested.

Throughout my life the Bible has been a source of strength and confusion for me. While I can easily accept the basic premises, truths, and commandments, I get hung up on some of the smiting and punishing and judgment that appears, especially in the Old Testament. But, even there, in the very first words of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”

I flipped through to the book of Matthew. Verse 28 states, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, I will give you rest.” It was so comforting to remember that I could lay down my cross and God would carry it for me.

Matthew goes on to list the commandments, revealing as the greatest, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… Love your neighbour as yourself.” I cried tears as I felt how I’d let my pain separate me from God. I’d been letting the darkness in the world turn me away from feeling love for my neighbour and for myself.

I was ready to “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on you own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5). I recognized that I don’t have the wisdom to comprehend the complexity of life and death, good and evil. And it’s okay because I can give it to God and relax in my faith.

I had just finished reading Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. She wrote about the power of courage in the face of pain. About having a “strong back, soft front, wild heart.” She encouraged her readers to practice integrity and authenticity and to “believe in and belong to ourselves and to each other.”

I decided to log onto Face Book and scroll through, searching for positive posts. There were so many choices: Now This, mindful.org, The Mighty, Ted.com, Expand Your Consciousness, Good News Network. And of course, one of my favourites, Goalcast.

I chose Randy Pauseh’s lecture, Live the Right Way, to include in this blog, because listening to him speak brought tears to my eyes. He was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer with only months to live. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he was alive with the energy of spreading his message. To live with humility and integrity, to tell the truth, and to apologize sincerely when you are wrong.

Randy asked, “Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? Tigger’s are energetic, optimistic, curious, enthusiastic, and love to have fun. I knew who I was at my core, even if I’d been traipsing around like a Moping Moper.

 

A few scrolls later I discovered another moving video titled Live Every Moment by Muniba Mazani. She described how she had been at the edge of despair after a devastating car accident left her with a spinal injury. She shared her healing journey of recovery, found partly through the act of painting. She said at some point she made a conscious decision to live her life for herself, and everything shifted after that. It started from within, and she went about making her dreams become reality.

 

I was surprised to find my next Face Book inspiration from an article posted in latimes.com. Featured was the humble and wise Dalai Lama in an article titled We Need an Education of the heart. He stated that to live together as brothers and sisters in peace, we must learn to practice compassion, mindfulness and justice. Furthermore, he postulated this emotional intelligence can be and should be taught as part of a global curriculum.

I set my phone down, and suddenly my feet seemed to literally carry me upstairs to my meditational room. I picked up Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and reviewed them, slowly and mindfully. Practice non-judgment. Wherever you go, whoever you encounter, bring a gift. Bring your choices into conscious awareness. Practice accepting all people, situations, circumstances and events. Release your desires to the Universe, trusting that life will unfold as it should. Allow yourself and the people around you the freedom to be as they are. And lovingly pay attention to the spirit within you. Wise words, but very challenging to practice consistently.

I sat on my pillow and gazed softly at my vision board. My eyes were drawn to the four agreements, which are a part of the Toltec wisdom. Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. I hadn’t been following these basic tenets. I hadn’t been practicing love, intent, and faith.

To add another perspective, I thumbed through a pocket book I have with thoughts from the Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron. She begins by explaining that we are all born with bodhichitta, a Sanskrit word meaning noble or awakened heart, and it is this noble heart that heals us from the difficulties we face in life. She offered tools for being connected to our hearts: meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. She also urged us to be kind to ourselves, to recognize our kinship with one another, to rejoice in the smallest of blessings, to have no expectations, and to be kind.

My journey ended with yet another perspective, illustrated beautifully in Louie Schwartzberg’s Ted Talk, Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. A photographer, he shares the miracle and beauty of nature through his artful time-lapse photography, along with the wise words of Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast. As I watched my soul stirred. When he said, live this day as if it was your first and your last, I knew I had to do something different.

 

Clearly, I had all the tools I needed at my disposal. I had to stop complaining, focusing on the negativity, and living in the past. I was already present to my blessings, but I recommitted to keeping a gratitude journal. I knew I had to celebrate the gift of my life and live it. I felt a renewed energy coursing through my veins and sat down in my chair, ready to write.

So yeah, I’m feeling inspired; lifting the weight of the world off my shoulders by opening my heart to love.