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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Compassion About the Struggles Facing Humanity, Part II

After writing Part I, Mister and I decided it would be interesting to check out the latest documentary on the Venus Project website, The Choice is Ours. It was exhilarating to see ideas and concepts I have dreamed about being demonstrated, based on the principles advocated for by Jacques Fresco, of unification on a global scale. Fresco claims that we have the capability, technology and knowledge for global abundance for everyone if we shared all resources and knowledge as a global community.

https://www.thevenusproject.com/

As is often the case, one stream of visionary ideas seemed to open the door for more to come flooding into my awareness. I was jazzed to start writing Part II and chose as the topics for this blog: Education and Learning, Poverty, Population Growth, the Status of Women and Disease. I started googling and viewing Tedtalks and I was blown away by the plethora of information available. Clearly the choice is ours! We have the technology and the knowledge and skills. We only must put them into action on a global scale.

One of the most impacting videos I have watched on the topic of education was back in 2008 when I was teaching in a special needs setting. As part of our Professional Development we were shown a video by Ken Robinson, Changing Educational Paradigms. I was struck then by the vast difference between what we know about how children learn and how education is delivered through school systems, particularly public school systems. It became a sticking point for me. My value system had me attached to the concept of free, public education as an equalizer, but experience had shown me what many others knew, that public schools continue to manifest the status quo by providing inferior teachers, opportunities and resources to their private counterparts.

https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigm

Fast forward to 2017, and progress is still unfathomably slow. In her passionate Ted Talk, How America’s Public Schools Keep Kids in Poverty, Kandace Sumner outlines the same challenges of resource availability, particularly in relationship to the black and brown population, as she describes it. Of course, it isn’t about skin colour, it’s about poverty. But because of the history of black and white segregation, inequality and racial tension in the United States, there are far more poor black people than white

At present, there are more than 1 billion people in the world living in poverty. Our current value system perpetuates those in power. Greedy people prosper while the poor are enslaved. According to Jacques Fresco, our money system is a mechanism of corruption, deprivation and control where only the few at the top benefit. Higher ideals and aspirations can not be realized when there is poverty and lack of opportunities.

Andrew Youn presented an inspiring Ted Talk, Three Reasons Why We Can Win the Fight Against Poverty. Youn explains that most of the world’s poor are farmers, and most of them are women. They lack access to the tools and knowledge in existence and being used in the first world. So, delivery of tools and knowledge is key. Youn suggests that to accomplish this goal, every field of human development needs to expand to deliver resources. People like teachers and health care workers and farmers need to devote time and money. One Acre Fund currently serves 400,000 poor farmers; providing loans, equipment, and education. It’s a positive step in the right direction, we just need to expand and multiply these kinds of projects.

 

Population growth, or population explosion as I have often heard it termed, may not be as significant a factor as once thought. I read statistics on various cites. They don’t always agree about projections, but while the increase in world population was three times greater from 1900 to 2000 than the entire previous history of humanity, it peaked in 1962. In 1962 the world population increased by 2.1 %, compared to present-day where the rate is half that, at 1.1%. When you look at it closer, the rates vary, predictably, by regions. In the first world, where education rates are higher, the birth rate is lower. In developing countries, the birth rates are usually higher, but so is disease, starvation and poverty related mortalities.

In terms of population growth, what is important is education and empowerment. An educated and contributing population is valuable. Women need to be able to make choices around pregnancy. They need to know their options. Education for communities around safe sexual practices and birth control methods is vital. Wouldn’t it be a better world if every pregnancy was, if not planned, wanted and all parents felt supported to access appropriate resources to raise their children?

Which brings me to the topic of the status of women. The UN Commission on the status of women was held March 13 – 24 2017 in New York. The focus was on women’s empowerment, particularly economically. Women worldwide earn 23% less for work of equal value to their male counterparts. While women comprise 61.5% of the Services work force, only 4% of CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies are women. The world of work is changing fast, spurred by innovation, globalization and mobility. Yet women continue to face barriers of unequal pay, discrimination, and access. “They shoulder the enormous – economically essential – burden of unpaid care and domestic work.”

http://www.unwomen.org/en

The sad fact about deaths by disease is that most are preventable. Ken Silverstein, author of Millions for Viagra, Pennies for Diseases of the Poor, asserts that most of the deaths due to disease occur “in the third world (from) preventable, curable diseases (such as) malaria, tuberculosis, and acute lower-respiratory infections.” However, the number one condition causing death globally is Cardiovascular disease, which accounts for 30% of all global deaths. Of those, 80% occur in low and middle income families. Studies have shown that pollution and other environmental impacts increase the occurrence of cardio-vascular disease.

Clearly, once again, it is about the rich and poor divide. It is about increasing gaps instead of narrowing divides, between have and have-nots, rich and poor, healthy and sick, educated and illiterate, women and men.

The future can unfold in a myriad of different possibilities. Perhaps a total global systems approach will manifest, where global cooperation, a resource based economy and the use of sophisticated technologies create a model of existence based on abundance instead of scarcity, as Jacques Fresco envisions. Perhaps the future will have humans abandoning the Earth altogether in search of life on other planets, as depicted in movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Passengers.  Our imaginations are limitless, we need only the resolve.

first-star-trek-beyond-images-tease-new-friends-and-new-foes-spoilers-star-trek-3-g-752249[1]

Change is possible – let’s make it happen!

And yeah, still feeling compassionate (and hopeful) about the struggles facing humanity.

 

Feeling Compassion About the Struggles Facing Humanity; Part I

Being an optimist, I tend to avoid the news. I try to focus on the positives, on the good things people are doing. But inevitably, my attention gets drawn towards the numerous struggles facing humanity. And since putting your head in the sand never makes your problems disappear, it seems prudent to address these challenges. We must identify the issues before we can work towards change. We all must do our part, in our own unique way.

 

Which all sounds reasonable, until I started to delve into it. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to cover all, or even the top struggles, in one blog. I’ve decided to break it down into a two-part series. This post I will look at the issues of Food & Water, Sustainable Development & Climate Change, Peace & Conflict, Global Finance and the Sex Trafficking Industry.

 

Yesterday I was mindlessly scrolling through the television channels while eating my lunch when a broadcast on CNN caught my eye, and then my heart. The U.N. made a statement that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. 20 million people are at risk of starvation in Kenya, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia. The devastation of a massive drought, combined with the Terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, blocking roads and stealing aid have combined to create this horrific situation.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/11/africa/un-famine-starvation-aid/

The distribution of food and water globally is a challenge that many have already identified and are working towards changing. The problem is one that permeates many of the big issues facing humankind. There is a huge gap between the have’s and the have not’s. In the third world, approximately 36 million people starve to death every year, while in the first world, 66% of Americans are either obese or overweight.

Factory farming, particularly the inhuman treatment of factory farmed animals, is a blight on a supposedly civilized world. The facts are that 37% of CH4 (methane) emissions are caused by factory farming. 41 million metric tons of CO2 emissions are created from burning fossil fuels to produce fertilizers. And 2.4 billion tons of CO2 emissions are caused by deforestation for animal crop feed. I viewed a Ted Talk where the speaker identified that if every person in the world were to commit to a vegetarian diet, even only for two days of the week, the positive impact would be significant. You can read more in-depth commentaries on this issue in Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer or The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The efforts of a few folks on the fringe aren’t enough; there needs to be a global commitment.

 

4620822042_999947d2ac_o[1]OmnivoresDilemma_full[1]

 

Access to clean water should be a basic human right. It’s outrageous to me that some people consume bottled water by the caseload while others are forced to drink from contaminated water supplies. I am inspired by the human ability to create solutions, like the invention of portable and inexpensive water purifying systems. But again, the challenge comes to distribution and economics.

Sustainable development projects are emerging. I watched an excellent Ted Talk by Josette Sheeran. She left her successful banking career to travel to Africa and work with the community to educate and facilitate change. Passionately, she explains how every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger. She goes on to cite statistics proving we have the technologies and systems to end hunger now. It’s about transforming through knowledge. It’s about farming techniques like permaculture. It’s about availability and distribution of nutrition, such as the World Food Programme’s Wawa Mum, a complete meal produced for only 17 cents a packet. Despite these initiatives, there needs to be more support, time, money and education into creating community driven solutions to sustainable food production.

 

In the oil and gas industry there is a reluctance to embrace the need to develop sustainable energy resources. The current system is highly beneficial for the CEO’s of oil and gas companies and the sheer magnitude of effort that replacing it would require is likely daunting. However, scientists and researchers are hard at work exploring alternatives and there is a growing body of possibilities including biofuels, hydropower, electricity, solar, geothermal and nuclear.

Climate change and global warming are remarkably still debated as to the reality of their existence. Some claim that the climate changes we are witnessing are simply part of the natural range of conditions on the planet Earth over time. This black and white thinking is no more helpful in this situation than any other. The fact that the earth undergoes climate shifts that aren’t related to human interference is acknowledged by both sides. Al Gore explored the impact back in 2006 in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. More recently, in 2012, environmental photographer James Balog illustrated the magnitude of the problem in Chasing Ice. Even if you don’t believe that global warming is an issue, it’s hard to deny that the way human beings are consuming resources, polluting the environment, and treating the Earth is destructive.

ocean-of-plastic1[1]pacific-garbage-patches-currents_noaa-marine-debris_id[1]

 

Peace and Conflict have forever been a part of human existence, but that doesn’t mean the goal towards peace isn’t attainable or at least worth aiming for. Ken Robinson reasons that for peace to occur on a global scale, it must first begin with the individual. And yet it is a chicken and egg scenario, for how does a person born into war-torn regions such as Syria find peace within themselves?

In 2008 the United States spent over 1$Trillion on their military, which, by the way, is twice the amount spent by all the other countries on Earth combined. Yet Trump wants to spend more to protect Americans against all others, who are seen as the Enemy. It’s time to shift from the War on Drugs and the War on Terror to a Revolution against Greed and Corruption, Self-Advancement, Entitlement and Exclusionism.  To learn more about a real-life example of how to live “beyond politics, poverty and war,” check out The Venus Project.

https://www.thevenusproject.com/

Global Economy is yet another example of inequality. At present, 1% of the world elite controls half of the total world finances, while the richest 10% controls 90% of the global economy. The fair distribution of wealth is a difficult challenge to overcome. Those ten percent of people are very powerful and connected politically. While there are a few philanthropists like Oprah and Bill Gates, many of the world elite are driven by greed and corruption. They benefit from the status quo, and work to ensure that the current system continues.

While filming one of his documentaries Michael Moore interviewed the chairman of Nike, Phil Knight. He was trying to hold him accountable for using Indonesian teenage girls working in factories for 40 cents a day. Moore suggested that if he were to hire unemployed Americans, particularly those in Flint, Michigan, instead, Nike would still make a profit and he himself would perhaps be, instead of a billionaire, a half billionaire. The Nike chairman refused. After watching I wanted to burn my Nikes. Instead, I committed to never buying another Nike product again, and I haven’t.

The sex trafficking industry is another issue plaguing humanity. It is intolerable and quite frankly, appalling to me that it continues to exist. Clearly there is a market and demand.  Apparently abusive and demeaning practices are not limited to animals and the environment, but are considered appropriate towards human beings as well.  Particularly women and girls. Please open the links to Ashton’s Kutcher’s video from Facebook and Sunitha Krishnan’s Ted Talk, The Fight Against Sex Slavery to inform yourself of the reality of this horrific situation. You can also check out the movie Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz, for an emotionally impacting dramatization.

 

 

It can feel overwhelming, when you start to look at these challenges. But it is important not to let the fear or the immensity of the situation keep you from acting, from not taking responsibility. If we all do our part, with the gifts we have, in our little part of the world, we can be the change we want to see in the world. One small step at a time.

So yeah, I’m feeling compassion about the struggles facing humanity.