Feeling Fed Up with Negative News, Inspired to Share Uplifting Life Lessons

I sat down at my computer to write a blog after receiving some positive feedback from a reader. Liz wrote, “I’ve just discovered your blog and have been loving the opportunity to see expat life in Salwa through your eyes.” Her comment had me leaning towards writing another ex-pat piece, perhaps an update on life here in the time of Covid. But to be honest, life here is pretty much ‘same old’ and I’m feeling tired of Covid.

I turned on the television and watched a few segments on BBC and CNN, hoping to find something in the latest headlines to ignite my muse, but it was just more of the same repeated stories covering Covid, racial tensions, the US election in November, Trump’s latest hair-brained tweet…

I felt deflated, ready to abandon my task and return to the flow of writing my next novel. But a voice inside encouraged me not to give up. Seemingly out of nowhere, I recalled how enthusiastic I felt after reading and studying The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho with my good friend Carol. The seed of inspiration was planted.

For those of you not familiar with this little gem of a novel, The Alchemist is a simple text packed full of wisdom and life lessons, as told through the life adventures of the main character, Santiago. For the purpose of this platform, I’ve chosen a few of my favourites lines to elaborate upon.

Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should live their lives, but none about their own. 

This feels for me like one of the huge issues around social media. People use social media platforms to lecture others on the right way to be. The right thoughts, beliefs, routines, habits, political affiliations, diet, way to be in relationship, way to support their cause… the list is endless. And if you dare disagree, you are at best un-liked and at worst, personally attacked.

A good example is the silence is violence slogan that is a popular off-shoot of the Black Lives Matter protests. I’m not a protester. I choose to express my opinions through storytelling and conversation. But that by no means is an indicator that I don’t support racial equality. I am an advocate for equality on all levels; gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion. I demonstrate that value through my actions and words, in how I treat others. Gandhi protested through the medium of silence and is revered worldwide as an example. Silence isn’t violence. You get to choose how to live your own life and how to speak your truth.

The language of love is the purest language of the world. (paraphrased)

Storytelling and conversations might be positive mediums to demonstrate support, but the language of love is even more potent. I can use my privilege of being born in a free country, to loving parents, with free, quality education and boundless opportunities to shine my light and be a force of loving support to others. The language of love is pure because it isn’t diluted with miscommunications fraught inside language and culture. It’s something you feel, and in feeling, you know it in your heart to be truth.

True love never keeps you from pursuing your dreams or becoming your authentic self. It never judges or criticizes. Love is the motivation that pushes us to strive and striving makes us better. As each of us improves ourselves, the world becomes a better place. As Gandhi so famously said, “Be the change you wish to see the world.” Be love, and you will never be misunderstood. You won’t have to convince anyone of your good intentions if you be the love that exists inside you.

People live their lives for the future, but the answers are in the present, if you pay attention. 

Mister has said often, how you live your life in the present becomes your future. If you delay your goals, if you don’t make time for what matters in the now, it will never come to be. So many people put all their energy into their work to reach a goal of success and ignore their family and friends in the process. When they arrive at their goal, they find they are alone and miserable, without anyone to witness them in their achievement. 

Others put off opportunities for self-growth and education for some distant point in the future. They avoid the discomfort of challenges and procrastinate. Every step you take now leads to your future, whether you can see it or not. The challenge is to discover that optimal balance of pushing yourself to be your best while accepting your limitations with grace. It isn’t easy, but the secret is to create a healthy routine of hard work, rest and connection with loved ones in the now; in each new moment, every day.

I love Oprah’s wisdom, that your life is whispering to you, if you just pay attention. If you don’t pay attention, the whisper turns into a shout. It gets louder and louder until it erupts into a crisis. The practice of mindfulness, of being aware of, and listening to your intuition, can lessen the drama. Feel your feelings and act on them. Even the little things matter. The small decisions add up to create your life and the person that you become.

When you make a decision that aligns with your heart, you feel at peace.

Mister and I came to this realization a while back. We recognized that when we were struggling between several choices, the decisions that had us feeling light had positive consequences, while the decisions that felt heavy manifested negativity. We use this simple measuring technique all the time when weighing a difficult decision, and it has never steered us in the wrong direction. 

To bring this point into focus, I’ll share a few examples. When I was out of work and spending my savings, I was worried I would blow it all away if I didn’t accept a job offer. My fear had me choose a teaching position that didn’t feel good. The work environment felt heavy. The work load felt heavy. The learning curve felt heavy. But I didn’t trust in life and I took the job and the stress ended up creating serious health problems for me.

More recently, I was struggling with the decision of whether I should travel to the UK for an opportunity for holistic treatment. My medical doctor here on Salwa had told me there was nothing more he could do for me. It seemed ludicrous at first, to invest so much time and money towards my wellness, but doing nothing felt heavy. Mister encouraged me to go, and the treatment I received from Carole Windross at her Body Clinic was phenomenal. I left the UK and returned home bubbling over with joy and optimism.

The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.

I believe this fundamental principle is operating in many facets of our lives, and at present, the negative news around Covid has created extreme fear. That fear is manifesting in a myriad of ways, including anger and intolerance towards anyone who doesn’t follow the same guidelines around how to best manage the risk of contagion. It’s crazy for anyone to think they know the right way, if there ever is such a thing. The virus is new. Even the medical and scientific community continually change their advice. 

Different countries have vastly differing protocols, from a zero-tolerance eradication point of view in Australia to a do nothing, herd immunity perspective in Sweden. In Canada, the attitudes differ province to province, but the main theology lies somewhere in the middle, with a goal of reducing cases but also opening the economy by encouraging mask wearing and social distancing. All are only choices with no proof as to their efficacy. To hurl insults at one another for disagreeing is disrespectful and unhelpful.

Most people see the world as threatening and so it becomes so.

This life lesson speaks to the power of your belief system. In Louise Hay’s self-help book, You Can Heal Your Life, she goes so far as to postulate that everything in your life is a manifestation of your thoughts. I’m not convinced that everything that comes into my life is by my own power, but I agree that your thoughts influence your actions and in the law of attraction. To quote Henry Ford: Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Sometimes we wish certain things didn’t happen, not realizing how each event is connected to the next. It’s impossible to have only good experiences in your life, but it is possible to transform the difficult experiences by learning from them. It isn’t always about goals and outcomes, although having clear goals helps to keep us on track with our intentions. The process, the things we experience along the way that we didn’t anticipate, bring opportunities for self-growth too.

A great podcast to check out is Not Your Average Operator. Mike, Raf, and Paul, along with some of their guests, discuss a huge range of issues, but one of my favourite episodes was Episode #10: Limiting Self Beliefs. Together they came up with an extensive list of ways to overcome limiting beliefs, including looking at the bigger picture, surrounding yourself with a tribe of supportive peers and mentors, and learning how to be comfortable with discomfort.

Everything that happens once can never happen again, but everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time. (Old Arab proverb) 

If this proverb is true, I suppose we should all be preparing for a third world pandemic. In 1918 there was the Spanish flu, and now, in 2020, we have Covid-19. Will it be another hundred years or is it just around the corner? None of us know the future, but to me, this proverb speaks to the importance of recognizing patterns in your life and preparing for them. That doesn’t mean obsessing. It goes back to awareness, of paying attention to the lessons that keep coming up for you in your life and doing the work they are guiding you to engage in, to become the person you are meant to be and reach your highest purpose. 

So yeah, I’m feeling fed up with negative news, inspired to share uplifting life lessons.

*Note to my readers: musingsofanemotionalcreature.com website will soon be under construction. It is about to be transformed to an author website, in anticipation of the launch of my novel, The Healing, in partnership with O/C Publishing in April 2021.

**Blogs will still be composed and posted under a sub-heading in the new format.

Feeling Called to be Courageous Through the Practice of Vulnerability

Last week I watched Brene Brown’s much-anticipated event, the Netflix presentation of The Call to CourageIt ignited my inspiration. I feel not only called to be courageous, but called to live big, to get into the arena, and embrace vulnerability even more than I ever have before.

 

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown’s for several years now. I’ve read many of her books and watched her Ted Talks. In the process, I have discovered a great deal about shame and vulnerability and courage. Brene is a gifted storyteller that has a knack for taking academic research and language and transforming it in a way that hits you in your heart. You feel the truth of it. She artfully weaves in humour and sadness, sharing real-life stories of trauma and resilience with integrity and passion.

I was impacted in so many ways, I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll just dive in.

Brene shares how devastating it was after her Ted Talk on vulnerability went global. While the accolades were many, the criticism she received felt overwhelming. She was in a rough space, but then she describes how she had this “total God moment,” after reading a quote by Theodore Roosevelt.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives vigilantly; who errs, who comes short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

That was the moment when she chose to live in the arena, to have the courage to be vulnerable. Because the thing is, you can’t speak up without discomfort. If you’re not in the arena getting your asked kicked, she’s isn’t interested in your criticism. And neither am I.

Vulnerability is the key to whole-hearted loving.” I am so jazzed about being in full-on, authentic connection. I learned at a very young age how being vulnerable was a key part of creating the space for others to trust being open and honest with me. Loving whole-heartedly has brought me more joy and bliss in my life than anything else. In fact, creating deep, meaningful relationships is my life purpose.

“You have to be vulnerable to be brave.” In all honesty, I have never considered myself to be a brave person. I’m just doing what feels natural for me. When I listen to Brene, though, I get it. Being vulnerable creates the opportunity for deep love, joy and a sense of belonging. But it also opens the door for heartache. The pay-off has just always felt greater for me than the risk.

Vulnerability is the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” This is the part that I struggle with; controlling the outcome. It has been the nemesis in my entire letting go journey. Especially when it comes to my kids. I know they are adults. I know they are capable, wise and resilient. Still, I intervene and advise when it isn’t my place. I worry that the path they are on could possibly lead to an unfavourable outcome. It turns out it not only takes courage to let yourself be vulnerable; it takes courage to allow the people you love to do the same.

In a Call to Courage Brene Brown posits that time is our big, precious, un-renewable resource. I have to agree, because it is only after a precious moment is gone that we feel the weight of what we didn’t accomplish. The truth is, sometimes we rock it out of the park, living our lives with energy and enthusiasm and accomplishing great things. At other times we are shut down, emotionally or physically, mentally or spiritually, and time seems to just slip by. And it’s all good. Our best has to be good enough, no matter what that looks like. When you get knocked down in the arena of life, you need some recovery time. The important thing is to get back in.

According to Brene, one of the magical sentences that can help you to deconstruct the obstacles in communication and relationship is, “the story I’m telling myself is…” We all have stories we have created that get in the way of seeing one another and being seen, a critical component of vulnerability. For example, when our partner or friend or colleague is tuning us out, instead of being curious and asking why, we tend to make assumptions based on our stories that it is something about us. Usually it is not. We have to be brave enough to question.

Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool towards joyful living. Pausing to be grateful for the ordinary moments fuels joy, love and a sense of belonging. When we are grateful for the gifts we have been bestowed, we develop healthy self-esteem and we don’t have to look outside ourselves or change ourselves. In fact, if you’re changing who you are, you aren’t achieving belonging, you’re just trying to fit in.

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Many movements have been springing up recently that are supporting this courage to be vulnerable, to speak up in the face of discomfort. The #Me Too movement opened the door for millions of people, mostly women, to tell their stories of abuse. They stepped into the arena. Their bravery has incited criticism from those privileged enough to feel uncomfortable. But the tough conversations have to be had. Change is never easy.

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We, as a global community, need to excavate the myths that get in the way of progress and change. We need to elect brave leaders who are committed to equality and boot out those who are corrupt, greedy, and unethical. We have to be willing to make mistakes and to say the wrong thing. We have to get into the arena. We have to speak up.

As for me, I’m feeling affirmed in my vulnerability journey, ready to continue being open and honest with my heart and my mind. I’m feeling grateful for my life, especially for my Mister, who creates space for me to be my authentic self and loves me unconditionally, who not only supports me to be vulnerable, but embraces it. I’m inspired to continuing risking rejection, submitting my queries to agents and dreaming of being a published writer. I’m going to speak my truth through the platform of my writing.

So yeah, I’m feeling called to be courageous through the practice of vulnerability.

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 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.