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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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