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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Feeling Inspired to Follow My Dreams

I admit that I enjoy scrolling through posts on Facebook. It’s something I take a few minutes to engage in each day, mostly over morning coffee and before tucking into bed. I appreciate the opportunity to stay informed and connected, and for the most part I feel disciplined to keep my time spent on social media within reasonable limits.

I came upon a video featured on Goalcast last week. It was brief but impacting. Taraji P. Hanson, a successful actress most recently known for her performance in Hidden Figures, shared a little bit of her story.

When Taraji became pregnant in college, the naysayers said she would never finish. But she did. She walked across the stage and collected her diploma with her son on her hip. When she announced that the was moving to California at the age of 26 to pursue her dream of acting, the naysayers said she was crazy, that she was too old to start up in that business. But she went, and now she is an accomplished actress. In her own words, at age 46, she is “just getting started.”

 

Taraji’s message is that your happiness is up to you. She encouraged me on my own happiness journey to follow my dreams. And she reminded me of my own inner courage. I decided that perhaps sharing my story could inspire others too.

Like Taraji, I became pregnant when I was young. Only I wasn’t in college. I was in my final year of high school. The naysayers told me I would never succeed if I kept my baby, that I would become a welfare dropout. They were wrong. Birthing my angel inspired me even more to be my best and reach for my dreams. How she changed my life is its own story, but I will share here the poem I wrote during my pregnancy.

 

Teenage Pregnancy

The sadness is the hardest part to bear. It sucks to hear we don’t want her at our school and she is a bad example. As I ride the bus to my new school, the one for girls like me, the old ladies across the aisle offer up their condemning stares. I hide my naked fingers beneath me. I cast my gaze downward and dream.

No joyful announcements slipped ceremoniously into mailbox slots. I’m told to hush, when all I want to do is blast away on my golden trumpet. As a pregnant teenager I’m required to take apart my trumpet and tuck it away in its velvet-lined case. I am not supposed to be happy about this. My feelings are supposed to be about shame. My happiness is not allowed to have its name.

I ask myself “why?” I don’t understand why my age and marital status are the only defining labels of my worth. Is the miracle of this conception less than any other? Is it not possible for me to be an excellent mother?

Before (and my life will now and forever be defined by before and after) I was drifting aimlessly, like a leaf being blown about by a playful wind. Now I have this baby growing inside me and a destiny that seems to embody the meaning and purpose of my existence.

I save my joy for the quiet moments alone in my room. I whisper to my little one, you are so wanted and I can’t wait to meet you.” I close my eyes and dream of counting ten tiny toes. I accept the sadness, but I don’t let it define my experience. For now, I keep the secret of my boundless joy between me and my precious unborn baby girl or boy.

 

I finished high school, walking across the stage to collect my diploma six months pregnant. I birthed my daughter in October of that year and brought her home from the hospital to my parents home. When I turned eighteen the following spring we moved into our first apartment together. I completed a year of college, then went onto University. I applied for and received student loans and grants. With the support of many, especially my parents, I earned my Bachelor of Education degree while raising my little girl as a single mom.

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After graduating in 1988 I went on to enjoy a successful and varied career as a teacher. I taught in public and private sectors. I taught kindergarten through grade nine. I taught in typical and special needs settings. I worked full time and part time. I loved teaching and the opportunities it gave me to engage with my students as well as devote myself to my family, which always came first. I married and had two more beautiful children. I was, and am, blessed with so much.

Still, there have been hard times. It would be dishonest and a disservice to brush over those. I struggled when diagnosed with Type I Diabetes and Hypothyroidism. I had challenges in my first marriage. I battled with depression. In 2011 my marriage fell apart. My children were adults and I was ready for a new chapter. That is also its own story, currently in the process of being written, titled Darkness to Dawn.

Now, in 2017, I’m still feeling full of optimism. I’m 51 and no longer teaching. I’ve always loved writing and now I’m dreaming of becoming a published writer. I’ll never give up dreaming. I know that fulfilling dreams takes hard work. So, I write every day. I send out agent queries every week, prepared for rejection, hopeful for affirmation. I remind myself, without comparing my aptitude with hers, that J, K. Rowling received 100 rejections before Harry Potter became a reality.

So yeah, I’m feeling inspired to follow my dreams.