Tag Archives: learning

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,

Well I never thought I’d be quoting the Spice Girls, but it is a catchy little phrase don’t you think?

What do I really, really want? Well the easy, somewhat entertaining and glib answer is Viggo on a horse, or to win the lottery, to have six pack abs, for my hair to calm, the-fuck, down, for hunky firemen to come to my bidding,  a really good massage, a clean house, my own studio with a ocean view….

Okay, how about a life? A life would be good. A life where I get to do things for myself and put all those grand plans of mine into action. A life where I don’t bounce from one crisis to another. A life that has some security, financial and emotional.

and Viggo on a horse – of course

What I want is something safe, and strong and solid. I want a shoulder that I can put my head on when this crazy life of mine is out of control. I don’t want to be rescued, not really (although… firemen….) I do want something that feels safe.

ImageI feel like a Matryoshka Doll. Layer after layer of a hard wooden, brightly painted shell each covering another inside it with a firm, smooth and solid layer. The biggest with a smile permanently painted on. Life gets difficult? Snap! On goes another smooth, hard, smiling outer layer. People are unkind? Pop, pop on goes a couple of smiling layers. When I’m alone, and rarely even then, that I think about taking off a layer or two, looking at the small doll at the center.

“Beauty comes in many forms–and there is no form more beautiful than you. Just exactly as you are, this minute, right now, without changing a thing…you are beautiful. Beautiful enough to take God’s breath away. You do believe this, don’t you? Oh, you must. You must. How can I believe in my beauty if you don’t believe in yours?” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

Isn’t that great? I need to have it tattooed on my forearm.

Oh god, I’m rambling.

I grew up learning to gauge other’s emotions and adjust my behaviour accordingly. I hid my own feelings for so long I hardly recognize them. I was told, and believed, that no matter what I did, whatever path I would follow I would never be acceptable. I could twist, conform and mold myself to make others like me, but really, it would never work, and eventually people would reject me. I wore masks, layer after layer of hard, resilient masks, all nesting over another. What I wanted, who I was, what I was passionate about disappeared under the layers.

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ~ Jim Morrison

Inside. Way inside there is that little doll, but the light is dimmed from all the other layers and it’s difficult to see, to feel what she really wants. It’s easier to retreat inside, to not do the work needed to live without the safe, nesting layers. It’s never convenient to do this, there are always more reasons to stay where you are, to stay within the boundaries and roles that have been assigned to you.

Despite this. Despite the layers we all wear, and the roles we all are assigned, despite all of this, we are only meant to be ourselves, that’s all. We, in theory, have the ability to release the pain, to remove the masks and to look into the darker parts of ourselves.

Those who will not slip beneath the surface of the well of grief,
turning downward through its dark waters
to a place we cannot breathe.

Will never know the secret water
from which we drink, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness, glimmering–
the small, round coins
thrown away by those who wished for something else

– David Whyte

We have been raised to ignore the dark parts of ourselves, the parts about us we don’t like, the parts that we would like to pretend don’t exist. We want the world to see only what is good in us, only the bright shiny outer layer. Except that’s only part of us. The dark and hidden parts, the shattered and broken parts, the really ugly and shameful parts are as important as the bright, shiny and happy parts. Perhaps more important. If you’ve never suffered, you can’t know empathy. A broken heart is more open, feels more, is better able to love.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”   – Leonard Cohen

So what do I want? The same as everyone else, I suppose. I want to be happy, to be free from suffering. How likely is this? That depends I suppose on how attached I get to certain desires (cough! Viggo! horse!!), and how open I am to accept and appreciate what I already have. So in the end, I’m okay if Viggo doesn’t show up on horseback, and the firemen don’t show up shirtless looking to rescue me. Well.. mostly okay. I think actually I’m okay with where I am right now. I may even like myself a little more, and maybe I’ll take off a couple of those Matryoshka Doll layers and get to know better the not so shiny and slightly cracked and broken parts of myself, because that is where the light gets in.

Gratitute, bah, humbug!

Scan.BMPGratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies,those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
John Milton

It’s American Thanksgiving today and for the entire month of November I have been surrounded by ‘Gratitude’. People have posted everyday about what they are thankful for on Facebook and Twitter. There was a gratitude challenge at my yoga studio. Just about everyday people offered the ‘intention of gratitude’ as a focus for their yoga practice.

So much damn Gratitude. I hated it all. I removed all of the ‘Gratitude challenge statements’ from my timeline, I stopped following people on Twitter, and I never, not even once, made a ‘I’m so grateful for…’ statement, on social media or in real life.

Why am I so Ebeneezer about this? Why am I not stating daily how grateful I am for the thousands of blessings in my life? Why am I not all dewy eyed about other people’s Gratitude?

Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.

Henry Van Dyke

 

To live your life with constant gratitude is a profoundly spiritual way to live. To be continually humbled by the innumerable blessings in your life, and to share them and to live to help others is one of the best aspirations we can have. To remain grateful in times of sorrow, heartbreak and frustration is the way to live through these difficulties with grace and equanimity.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.  John F. Kennedy

And there’s part of my problem with being ‘Grateful’ in November. It’s like children being well behaved in December for Santa. It’s a show. It’s fake. It’s not real. It’s pretending to be something for a short while. Making gratitude statements in November cheapens and trivializes gratitude. It’s not something that we list in November up to Thanksgiving and then drop on Black Friday and start shopping. Living in gratitude is how we should be living every moment of everyday. If you are reading this blog you are one of the most fortunate people on this planet. You can read, you have access to a computer, you very likely have more than enough food and somewhere safe to live. We take so much for granted. Our homes, our health, our safety. Everything is a gift. I love David Whytes poem about, well everything

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

— David Whyte
from Everything is Waiting for You 
©2003 Many Rivers Press

To be grateful for the soap dish, for the window latch, for the pots is to acknowledge you are part of something bigger, so much bigger and grander than yourself. That you are not alone, but part of the greater community, that the world is open to you and that everything is waiting for you.

So today. Today, I am grateful. Today, I know I am part of something greater and more fundamental than myself. Today I am grateful to feel that love as the greatest gift that is bestowed upon me and one that I send back out to the world.

thankful

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Last weekend – if you’re Canadian – was Thanksgiving. We did all the usual things, making stupid amounts of food, eating stupid amounts of food, talking and laughing while eating the stupid amounts of food,  and then digesting it for hours (days) afterwards. There was much talk and laughter during dinner. Both my daughters had their boyfriends over and also some extra friends. We had a wonderful time.

No one mentioned Graham.

Actually I suspect everyone was mildly grateful for the reprieve. To be honest the holiday was easier without him. There was no constant redirecting, or monitoring  or having to keep track of the 6 foot toddler. It was easier in every possible way.

Except that it wasn’t.

Graham was on his own for Thanksgiving. He’s been on his own since he relapsed shortly after his sister came home from school for the weekend. He managed 8 days living with us before the expectations he had agreed to became too much. We actually had only about 2 good days with him before old habits started sneaking back.

He burned his bridges with the Marines and now has no life ‘plan’. He’s not in school, doesn’t work, and is homeless, not the sort of future you envision when raising your little boy. I look back over the last 18 years and wonder what I could have done differently, done better, not done, done more of, and my answer is it doesn’t matter. I did try everything thing I could think of to help him. He had mentors, role models, martial arts, fine arts, music, social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, support groups, summer camps, youth groups, retreats, sweat lodges, and on and on. He had more support and resources in the last 6 years than most people get in their lifetime. Did it make any difference? Who knows? He’s still alive, and maybe some seeds were planted that may grow one day. Maybe, or maybe not. I suppose what is important is that we always tried, that we didn’t give up.

Except it feels like giving up right now.

Still, you have to do you best with what you are given. I have two daughters that deserve my love and support, and my time. I have had my own life on hold for more years than I care to admit, and it’s time to put some time and some love into myself, otherwise I will come out of this hollow with no idea who I was anymore. I deserve more than that. My daughters deserve more than that. My son needs to know what being a whole person looks like, what taking care of yourself and others looks like. One day hopefully he may even be able to take care of himself and have enough left to care for others. One day, maybe.

For now I concentrate on what and who is important. On the people I love and nurture and on those who have loved and nurtured me. I don’t have time for anything else. Living through difficult times provides a clarity that might not have been apparent otherwise. I have a limited amount of time and tolerance for bullshit or superficiality. I am begining to see my own worth and the value of real friends. The rest, is dross….

“What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage…”

– Ezra Pound, The Pisan Cantos

try a little tenderness

Twelve years ago today I was at work. My children were 8, 6 and 4 years old and were at school when a patient came into the office and told us someone had flown a plane into a World Trade Center building. The rest of the day unfolded in horrifying and heartbreaking images  It was a terrible day,

For many people it still is. A day full of pain, heartbreak and fear.  This article The Falling Man – Tom Junod – 9/11 Suicide Photograph – Esquire  is going around social media sites today. It is a very powerful photo and a very powerful article.

“They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building’s fatal wound.”

It bears witness to the horror and heartbreak of that day. I think this is important and necessary that we have these images, and the stories that go with them, but I believe it is more important to be respectful of people’s emotions surrounding the events of September 11th. For some this is too much to look at. For some this hurt is still too raw, and these images are still too painful to look at.

They are important, they should never go away, but maybe it is still too soon. Years from now when my children are adults, when their children are adults and the events of September 11th are not a memory, but a story told to them, then the videos, and the photos will be crucial, they will make what happened real for those who never experienced it. They will bear witness in perhaps a similar way as artifacts from the Holocaust keep that from becoming just a story. These images will not, and should not ever go away, but who sees them and when should be a matter of choice. It has been suggested on one facebook page that not showing the image of the Falling Man is  “Political Correctness and it’s sniffling sanitation to protect people (keep them ignorant) who will not deal with truth and what needs to be done.” I don’t agree. I think when someone finds an imagine too painful to look at it indicates that they are not ignorant of the events, on the contrary, that the events are very real to them and still very painful. It is not the same as someone denying an event occurred or sanitizing how it did. It is very real people dealing with very real and powerful emotions.

I think we could all do well to treat each other with a little more tenderness, and a little more compassion, today and always. We’re all fighting our own battles and our own demons and absolutes and judgements do nothing but isolate and cause more pain. I may be wrong, I may be missing the point of absolutely everything. I may be naive and do not understand the nuances and implications of the situation. All of these things may be true, but in the end I believe it is more important to be kind than it is to be right, that people are more important that news. I believe that whenever possible I should be kind, and as the Dalai Lama says it is always possible.

“Try a little tenderness (that’s all you gotta do)
It’s not just sentimental, no, no, no
She has her grief and care, yeah yeah yeah
But the soft words, they are spoke so gentle, yeah
It makes it easier, easier to bear, yeah…”

image

(thanks Bilbo)

I just got home from a 3,368mile (5,420kms) drive (there and back again) from my home in Naperville, IL to Wolfville, NS. Two days driving there, one day stop-over, Two days driving back. About 54 hours driving time. It was the longest drive to and from school I have ever taken one of my kids on.

I spent the days leading up to the drive randomly being gripped in terror. I would suddenly feel the ground drop from under my feet and my stomach would leap into my throat, my heart would pound and I would want to cry. I felt certain that I was making a huge mistake, or at the very least doing absolutely everything wrong.

I get angry at myself for remaining in situations that do not serve me, my marriage, my job, my home, okay, my life in general, but then I’ve always had that terror and painful certainty that pin me down. With any major, and most minor decisions I am generally quite certain I have, or I will make the worst possible choice, and that sitting and doing nothing is my safest option. I assume that everyone else on the planet, or at least my peers, or my betters (which is where I put most people), would be handling this, or have handled this so much better, or have, at the very least, been better organized about it (my disorganizational skills are legendary). Other people, I dangerously assume, have the support of a partner, of parent or if they’re insanely fortunate, parents,  or at least some close friends to reassure them they are making good choices. I have none of these and as a result am left with the really not nurturing voices in my own mixed up head. It’s a motley crew, the voices in my head. Part my mother (appearances are everything), my father (appearances are bullshit), my step-father (you’re utterly worthless, stupid and will make utterly worthless and stupid decisions unless you think and act as I do), ex-partners (I didn’t love you and I will leave you shortly so you better get that wall up to protect yourself), the occasional friend (hey, you’re awesome!  *but if they really  knew me they would get over that notion pretty quickly), and finally, in the back ground, usually jumping up and down like a far away but hyperactive 3 year old, is a  small fierce voice that is the part of me who hopes and tries for something better. That small voice is the one who talked me into the 50+ hour road trip, it’s the voice that took me scared shitless to surfing lessons, the one that had me running around London and later the Dominican Republic on my own while presenting this brave adventurous face to anyone looking. Inside I thought I was an idiot, and doing everything wrong.

So, my monster drive, that I still can’t decide was brave and meaningful or crazy and stupid, or maybe it was all of these. I can present a very believable case either way. It did allow me meaningful time with my daughter, to process her going onto this next important stage in her life, to honour what she has done, and to be present for part of the transition which was painful for us both. That was important and I’m very glad we had that time (not sure if we needed so many hours of that time, but that’s done now).  I brought several books to listen to, and was lost in stories for much of the drive. I drove past and through many landmarks of my life, in places I’ve lived and by people I have loved.  So many places, so many people, so many memories.

In the end, truth be told, it wasn’t really that brave a decision. I could not afford a plane ticket, my husband, who could afford one,  would not discuss it, so I did what I thought I had to to get my daughter to school. I could have pushed the issue, but decades of experience have taught me that I am on my own with this sort of thing and I rarely bother anymore. Now, of course, he is organizing for her to fly home for breaks and is the hero, where I am the one that took her on the never ending car ride. Part of the reason he is adored by both our families and I am not, that and he is a much better schmoozer than I am (to be honest I suck at schmoozing, alas…).

I try not to listen to the less than caring voices in my head. To focus on the little fierce one. I don’ t know if this is wise, or how much wisdom that voice has. In many ways it is a toddler with very basic and primordial needs, so I’m not sure if this is my Id jumping up at down, or at least my ego, but has kept me going when there was nothing else that would, and for that I’m grateful. It has kept me moving forward even when I am certain I will fail, it kept me driving all those hours, it help hold my my head up (even when I’m looking like a complete idiot), and it, usually, keeps me from curling up into a ball and giving up.

I think I need to be kinder to myself, maybe even forgive myself for not having this whole life thing figured out. Maybe even let the kind voice be heard among the rabble-rousers carrying on in my head. I think this is a rather poor ending to this blog, that I could have done better, but maybe this one will do.

get used to it

ImageWhen I was pregnant with Catherine my first child, I worked as a nurse in a very busy pediatric hospital in downtown Toronto. It was here I was the most perfect parent, before I had my own kids, and for the most part, when I was surrounded by people were making mistakes with their own. Things I promised myself that I would never do. We liked to say our ward saw everything (it was actually nicknamed “Nam”, as in Vietnam) and even now I don’t think we were too far off. There were so many worst case scenarios, shaken babies, cancer, home births gone wrong, babies born with AIDS (when it was new and unknown), abuse, neglect…. for me they all were warnings about what not to do. There was one baby, Sheeva, that I will always remember. Her mother was beaten so badly during her pregnancy that the baby had seizures before she was born, and her short life afterwards was little more than seizure after seizure resulting in increasing brain damage until she died. Heartbreaking, and terrifying.  When I was pregnant I would take just about every normal prenatal symptom as a sign of something dire, and I drove myself insane with worry. One evening shift Catherine was hiccuping or kicking or just jerking around as fetuses are apt to do, but I was taking care of Sheeva that night and was terrified my baby was having seizures. I was not my most rational when I was pregnant, and when it comes to my children, I’m still slightly manic. I turned to Emma, a nurse with two young children, and asked in a semi-panicked state if she thought my baby was having seizures. She said, in a very Emma like fashion, “well, she might be having seizures, OR it could just be hiccups”. Somewhat calmed I asked her how she coped with the constant worry that I was experiencing and she gave me the best piece of parenting advice I have ever received, “Get used to it”.

Get used to it. There would be no magic day, birth, grade 1, adolescence, adulthood that a parent gets to say, whew! that’s it I don’t have to worry any more, there would always be something new to worry about. Am I reading the right books to them? Should I let them eat fast food? Do I make them clean their plates? Do I let them cry themselves to sleep? When do I wean them? Is so and so a good enough friend? What about piercings? tattooes? sex?? and will I screw them up forever if I make a wrong decision along the way? What if I’m doing everything wrong? What if ??

When I was five months pregnant with Catherine I had a routine blood test come back as positive for spina bifida. Actually, it was a could be positive and more testing would be required. Again I had taken care of some extremely disabled children with spina bifida and in my young “all knowing” mind had decided that I could never “deal with it” in my own child. Things were so much easier, so much more black and white when I was younger and knew the answers to everything (like all of those “should I?” parenting questions that became much fuzzier with each baby). So they sat us down and explained our “options”, which were, level 2 ultrasounds, amniocentesis, and termination of the pregnancy (we lived in Canada where termination is a medical decision), and there I was, my previous black and white world turned upside down by a blood result. Everything I has regarded as unchangeable fact was now up for interpretation. It was excruciating. In the end I wouldn’t even take the risk of amniocentesis, and opted for the ultrasounds, and my daughter was born healthy with an intact spine. The prenatal worries I had were, mostly, erased by the time Catherine was a a couple of weeks old, but now I was on to a whole new set of worries, and I realized how true Emma’s advice was.

Get used to it. Yeah, well that really sucks.

I was sitting the other day thinking I just had to get through the next two months with my son and then I would get a break, and then it occurred to me that the worries would not end when (if) he got to boot camp, that if anything I would find a whole new set of things to worry about, and when (if) he finishes there was another set of even bigger worries waiting for me. Get used to it. Damn.

So this is life when you love. You are open, and it will hurt, it will hurt a lot, and the answer is not to close yourself up in hope of protecting yourself from the pain, the answer is to stay open, to be hurt, to be heartbroken over and over again, because this is what will help you be kinder, gentler, more empathetic, and able to deal with life’s heartache, because you don’t get to be alive without heartache. Closing yourself off and hiding from life’s worries and pains makes you hard, brittle and frightened. I know, I’ve tried, and it was horrible.

“The term “kintsugi” means ‘golden joinery’ in Japanese and refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold. Chances are, a vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious than before it was fractured. Some say we need to cherish the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way, seeing it as a creative addition and/or re-birth to the pot’s life story. Others say that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.

And so are we, more beautiful with our wrinkles, our cracked and fractured hearts, and with our worries. This is life, get used to it.

Things I want my kids to know, and try to remember for myself too

20130613_090021_1Your ego will fuck you over,  worse than any person or situation ever could

A quiet morning with a good cup of coffee is worth getting up early for

Sunshine is a beautiful gift too often taken for granted

Your feet are really important,  take good care of them

Every day that you are alive is a gift,  try to remember that

Love is unconditional,  liking is another story

Be kind,  to everyone, period,  really, this is THE thing that will see all of us through our short time on this planet

We live on a planet first, countries later, and lastly homes, try to behave accordingly

Feed people,  care for them,  not just on holidays,  every single day

Smile. Make eye contact when you do it. Do it a lot, everyone will feel better

Show up and do what needs to be done,  do more than needs to be done.  Do this every day

It’s best if you don’t get everything you want

Keep moving, your body, or mind, your soul at whatever speed is your own,  stagnation is death

Carry others when they cannot carry themselves

Do good,  not for any reward or recognition, but because that is why we are alive and on this planet

Look around you, the world is full of beauty and of gifts that you are not noticing

Listen to people,  turn off your own running monologue and just listen

Dance, whatever dancing is to you. Open your spirit and enjoy yourself

Listen to music you love, everyday,  it will feed your soul

Be alone and be quiet.

Everyday work on loving the person you are right now, not the person you want to or wish to be. Love yourself,  right now, grow from there

Forgive yourself,  forgive everyone else, for your own sanity

No one thinks they are the bad guy, everyone, EVERYONE is doing the best they can

Let yourself love an animal, let yourself love something that will die before you.

Let your heart get broken, over and over again

Stay open and vulnerable,  even when it hurts,  especially when it hurts, this will open you to the beauty of the world

Fight for those who cannot,  lend them your heart, your voice, your strength and your love. One day someone will stand and fight for you

Speak your mind with love

Laugh!! Everyday, many times. Your sense of humour will keep you sane. Never take yourself or your life too seriously to laugh at. Laughter keeps the importance of things in perspective.

Surround yourself with people who love and value you. Stay away from those who do not, they will suck the joy out of your life, don’t give them the opportunity.

Do others the honour of seeing your real self, your scars, your warts,  your self loathing and your unspeakable beauty

Love and honour something greater than yourself

The world is not here for your entertainment,  you are here to do some good in whatever form you can manage

People will not behave as you like, this has nothing to do with you

What other people think of you is none of your business

Resist absolutes, judgements and black vs white,  and good vs bad thinking, it’s lazy and will not serve you

A person’s skin colour, gender, sexual identity,  social status has absolutely NOTHING to do with their value as a person

Be mindful of your own biases
Everything begins with your thoughts, your actions, values and character all grow from your thoughts,  make them worthwhile

Change happens, always, get used to it

You will change,  this is a very good thing, try not to fight it too much

Read. Read. Read.  Read everything you can, you are blessed to be able to read and to have so much available to read,  do not ever stop reading, it will make you a better person

Be passionate about something, live your life in a way that expresses this passion

You will get hurt,  you will suffer in your life, this is not optional.  Use it to make yourself kinder,  softer,  more empathetic so you can be there for the next person who is suffering.  Don’t let your hurts make you hard and bitter.

Get out of your comfort zone, regularly,  this is where you learn and where you grow

Make mistakes and spend your time learning from from them instead of beating yourself up over them. Mistakes aren’t optional,  what you do with them is up to you

Nothing’s good or bad that thinking makes it so, decide how you want to think and then do it

Practice moderation,  and then truly enjoy the things you love

What a person says and does says everything about them and has nothing to do with you

Remember always you are precious beyond all measure and loved no matter what.