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 Called to Action, Ready to Speak Up for Women’s Equality and be a Feminist

Thursday, March 08, 2018 is International Women’s Day and this year the theme is the Time is Now.

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Around the world events are being run by women’s networks, corporations, charities, educational institutions, political parties and media. In London they are celebrating women in Technology; in Alberta the focus is on influential women. Brisbane is hosting a fun run while Melbourne’s theme is 1000 Women, 1000 Futures. In Vancouver they are presenting Making the Case for Women’s Equality: Reframing a Hyper-Sexualized and Pornographic Culture. In Ontario they are hosting a Shefights amateur Mathai event; in Dubai there is a women’s Art Expo and in Nigeria the main event features Fashion Business. The possibilities to get involved are myriad, with something to inspire everyone.

The Women’s March movement has shown endurance from its inception, with more than 120,000 protestors gathering in New York City advocating for causes from reproductive freedom to immigrant’s rights. According to a statement made in Vox on January 20, 2018, “We’re not going anywhere.”

Movements like #MeToo and #PressforProgress are calls to action to end patriarchy and support gender parity.

The lack of gender parity in education is one of the most important situations that needs to be addressed. It continues to be a significant factor in many parts of the world, including Pakistan, Africa, and Afghanistan, to name a few. In a powerful Ted Talk titled, To Learn is To be Free, Shameem Akhtar advocates for change in opportunities for education in Pakistan. Shameen is a trailblazer for a woman’s right to an education in her community. Posing as a boy to receive her own education, her success planted the seeds of change for other women and girls.

 

Global Sisterhood is a movement of women devoted to transforming themselves and transforming the world together. Their vision is one of a world where women respect, trust, and uplift each other.

You don’t have to join a movement to make a difference though. You can start right now, by making a conscious choice to empower the women in your community. You can notice when you think or speak judging statements and reframe them, choosing to practice compassion and empathy instead.

Currently I’m reading Warrior Goddess Training by Heatherash Amara. One of the activities in the work book was to explore female role models in your life with the goal of identifying their qualities that inspire you. My list was long, but my top three were Oprah, Margaret Atwood, and Brene Brown. Oprah for her awareness and commitment to make a difference, Margaret for the power of her voice in the written word, and Brene for her willingness to be vulnerable and address social issues. It is my wish to embody those attributes in my commitment to myself and to making change in the world.

Living as an ex-pat in Saudi Arabia, I have witnessed incredible change since my arrival in May of 2015, and progress for women is no exception. In October 2017 King Salman decreed women would be allowed to drive, to be effective in June 2018. Women no longer need a man’s permission to travel, study or make complaints. There are more women in the workforce. Recently I read an article where a religious cleric advocated that women should no longer be required to wear abayas; that it should be a choice.

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Choice, freedom, and equality are the central themes of feminism. Unfortunately, the ideology of feminism has been given a bad reputation. Some men who feel threatened by women reclaiming their power would have you believe that all feminists are lesbian man-haters, but these ridiculous statements are merely smokescreens to distract men and women from creating real and honest change. Writer and self-proclaimed feminist, Ngozi Adichie, speaks passionately in her Ted Talk, We Should All Be Feminists. She urges us all to be begin to dream about and plan for a better world, where men and women all take a stand for equality and women no longer need to shrink themselves to feed a man’s ego.

 

It isn’t only women who suffer from the restraints of a patriarchal legacy. Men suffer too. They are driven to be hard, macho, insensitive and unfeeling. They are told not to cry and to buck up. Men need to be given the space to embrace their fullness as human beings. They are so much more than the genetic result of the y chromosome.

As for me, I feel called to contribute using the talents and gifts I have been given. I choose to be a positive advocate for change by using my most powerful tool, which is my voice. I choose to speak my truth, to be open and honest in my conversations. I will continue to write my blogs and write my books. I will not tone myself down to make other people more comfortable.

I choose to change the world by changing mine. To quote Maya Angelou, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” I may not be a young girl, but I’ve still got some ass-kicking left in me.

So yeah, I’m feeling called to action, ready to speak up for women’s equality and be a feminist.