The Stuff We are Made of…

Because I can’t think of any better title. It’s all just stuff! It fills our minds and reaches into our souls. But how many minds and souls believe in the same things? Should we get together? Communicate? What if our ideas could become realities? If we just reached out to others, would there be too much conflict to rumble with or would we actually listen to each other, believe in each other and hold each other accountable? What would happen if the world did this? How many brave souls are out there? Not the politicians. Not the bureaucracy of organized religion. At least, I don’t think so.

Where do we gather with other independent thinkers and feelers? What would be the cost? It’s always a trade off, isn’t it? What would we lose? Our dignity? Our pride? Our individuality? I think we can hold on to all three and survive. If those of us who gather can be open-minded, kind and thoughtful, shouldn’t we be able to accompany our differences, celebrate them even? 

I’m thinking of us as individuals who, ourselves, have amalgamated our own thoughts, feelings and actions. Not an easy task, believe me, I know, but possible, isn’t it? And if we’re all busy reuniting with the differences within us, won’t we become open to the differences of others? If we can embrace and nurture ourselves in our entirety, can’t we begin to heal, accept and care for those around us? If we have our individual needs met, won’t we naturally acknowledge and satisfy the needs of others?

Like-minded in our values while being ourselves gives us space for our individuality. We don’t have to all be the same; in fact, I don’t think that would even be a good thing. Celebrating our differences while acknowledging our similarities is to sustain our values while moving forward with each other instead of drifting apart. If I respect and value you, will you not respect and value me? 

But it all begins with respecting and valuing the differences within ourSELVES, I believe. We have to put our own individual differences in order and by that, I mean, accepting and nurturing the different parts that gather within us. The judgmental, emotional, thinking, sacrificial parts that are evolving inside us as individuals. This is where I am in my personal journey towards becoming mySELF. And this is where I’m at in truly knowing others. A journey full of surprise, intention and acceptance. Be okay with who you are becoming and allow yourself to do it!

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As I worked through my day yesterday, I was looking to foster confidence in my life. This would take courage, especially to do it soberly. I began drinking when I was 12. It was to be the first of many years absorbed in my fear of not “fitting in”. Already, at this tender age, I belonged nowhere and everywhere. Never in my deepest thoughts did I think I would be coming back to actually cultivating this true sense of belonging. Nowhere and everywhere. I shuffled my way between friends—trying to hang with the cool ones while embracing the uniqueness of the odd ones. I was confused to no end of where I actually fit in. The drinkers, the stoners and the thinkers, all intrigued me. Very often I would find myself stuck between the morals of my faith and the freedom of my thoughts. For the most part, my thinking process won. I became rebellious and conflicted. But I never had much confidence in either. Thus the drugs and alcohol. 

Now, at age 60, I find myself exploring the possibility of getting to know my uncertainties while embracing courage and confidence. Accepting that uncertainty is a part of being human and that it is okay is a difficult process. I am learning that despite uncertainty one can become confident and strong in certain beliefs. Kindness, curiosity, compassion and courage can all be absorbed with certainty. I am positive these qualities are truth. They are a part of who I aspire to be despite the difficulties these beliefs present. The contradictions of a restraining religious order, the confusion in my mind of lost children and the rebellion of a feisty 12 year old all conspire to belittle my faith in my values despite the fact that I believe in their certainty. 

Paradoxes. Life is full of them. Truths become lies and lies become truths; certainties become uncertainties while uncertainties evolve into certainties. Everything becomes misconstrued and onerous, and confusion ensues, wreaking havoc on a tender mind—an unsuspecting 12 year old mind. Only to resurface at 60, when I begin to re-evaluate my life and where I’ve been and where I want to go. That tween is still with me; I haven’t been able to befriend her, but I need to as she still unsettles my perceptions and my actions. She continues to hold a place in my heart that I need to embrace. Her confusion is real, her skepticism irrefutable and her feisty conviction to protect others palpable. But where is her fervor for the protection of her own soul? That she leaves to drugs and alcohol and reality becomes tainted. Connection and the courage to stand up for her own truth become belittled and non-existent. Unworthiness is sustained. 

Finding this life form within me forces my own reality, at 60, to come into question and curiosity permeates my being. Non-judgmental, open-minded awareness begins to see this part of me as an ally within my truth. I begin to show her compassion and give her a voice. And I listen. Her voice is here. She has spoken her truth. I accept and respect it. But do I need the defenses that come up in response to her trepidation? The silencing, avoiding and isolation that comes to protect her fear is no longer necessary. I can take care of my needs now. I’m braver and wiser than I was when I was 12. I need to let her know that I’m okay, that we’re okay!

Sometimes these genuine parts show up in our lives that are trying to save us from something that once threatened us but is no longer there. We’ve moved on, learned lessons and put strategies into play that make our need for these defenses fruitless. They only serve to destroy our relationships, interrupt our growth and keep us hidden from our true selves. Grasping them with compassion and giving them space to see our intentions and growth allows us to let go of the defenses that once served us well.

My desire and need to be confident and courageous is threatened by this part and the reactions it solicits. Embracing that fearful child takes away the power of her fear. It frees me. Embracing your ‘exiles’ (IFS) releases their power. Trying to ignore them increases their power and they will continue to shadow your reactions, choices and decisions. Just wondering if anyone else out there struggles with the past bumping into their future, resulting in broken relationships, the sense of not being enough and the fear of being themselves?

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Passions and Gratitude

Today, I want to talk a bit about our passions and gratitude. Understanding and finding our passions, the things we love to do, gives us part of the road map we need to follow our dreams and be grateful for what we have. Some of you may not even be able to think of the things you really love to do because of the darkness that surrounds you. I challenge you to look into the abyss before you, that is waiting to suck you in, and smile. If you can, allow yourself to fall into it. Remember, you are making that decision; it isn’t sucking you in. As you descend, pay attention to the experiences and situations that envelope you. Some will be dark, but others will be light. You can investigate them all, practicing non-judgment and curiosity; what’s really there?

In my descent, I see music (sometimes of the dark flavour), my writing (also surrounded by darkness) and my need for life-long learning. These are some of the passions I have. They reflect all of me—the light and the dark, and can be used in all situations and to enhance every experience. Our passions go where we go. They follow us into the abyss and continue to follow us out. Grab a hold of them. Write them down. And dwell within them. My passions have helped me escape depression and set me back upright. Yours can too! Just hold on to them and remember, they are always there.

Gratitude can lift you up. I am practicing being grateful for the darkness because it shows me where there is light and then I am grateful for that glorious, rich brilliance. I’m grateful for all the baggage I carry, for if it didn’t weigh me down, I would not understand the relief when it’s gone. I’m grateful for all my past mistakes because without them, I would not have learned. And I practice gratitude towards the past trauma, because without it, I would not be the person I am today and I’m really beginning to like who I’m becoming. 

Death does not have a stranglehold on me because there is so much I am grateful for. Fear is dissipating because I’m giving it space, time and encouragement to show me where it comes from. I’m paying attention to my gifts, my passions and my values and I am restoring my SELF to its natural peace and tranquillity. Its innocence, its fragility and its gifts. 

SELF is where I hang my hat. It can be trusted and is strong with an open heart for compassion and vulnerability. It is guiding me through this continuous journey of thoughts, depression and joy. Everything I am exposed to can be welcomed by my SELF and allowed to have its own experience. When I’m this close to my SELF, nothing can break me. I am strong, confident and free! I am ME!


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Vulnerability. Who Shares First?

“Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you.” (Brene` Brown, Daring Greatly). 

First of all, how does one define vulnerability? I don’t believe it is just about sharing your life challenges with others; it is also about honesty between people: disagreements, calling people out and admitting imperfection in ourselves. So, who goes first? Who admits their shortcomings while staying true to their values before the other person reciprocates? If we always wait for someone else to go first, how do we get to the core of sharing the feelings we have about our experiences? Feelings are key! I believe. Finding them must be at the top of our list while pursuing our true selves and connecting with others.

What are your key values in life? What do you most want your life to be about? This is one of the few things we actually get to choose! Our decisions, responses and choices hinge on our core values. So what are yours? What are mine? Do we actually practice these in our lives? I need to define mine. Do you need to name yours?

I know I often fall short. That’s humanity, but our humanity can not be a place to hang our shortcomings; we need to own them, be accountable and make amends. Only through this process can we be truly, and sometimes brutally, honest with ourselves and others. Maybe honesty and authenticity aren’t part of your core values. That’s okay. We will all be different. I do think these are necessary, though, if we are going to have strong emotional attachments with others. When we venture out into that dark cold world and brush against connection, we need to know who our people are. I believe they need to share some of the same values as we do. There will always be differences that we can acknowledge and respect, but in general, I feel I, anyway, need the people closest to me to share my base belief system: Honesty, Integrity, Authenticity, Respect, Accountability, Personal Growth and Kindness.

But back to the beginning. Who shares first? How do we know we can trust someone who hasn’t shared and been vulnerable themselves? I think we share small things. Test the waters and weigh in on what we share. Our feelings can be fragile and sacred. We need to honour them–our own and other’s. Remember that we are all in the same boat. We can either risk vulnerability and connect or remain silent and distant. The choice is always ours. Check your own vulnerability radar and I will check mine. The responsibility of connection is ours and ours alone.

Maybe, it is the one with the most courage who shares first…

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Loneliness, Division, Fear and Humanity

I’m likely trying to uncover too much here, but, as with many of my blogs, we’ll see where it goes. I’m hoping to connect all these concepts into an intelligible conversation about the world we live in right now. I’ve been listening to Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness”, studying Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems and reading Debbie Ford’s “The Secret of the Shadow”. It’s a lot of literature to rumble with but it is definitely resonating with where I am in my journey right now. 

Maybe there is so much here because I’m feeling pulled different ways. This journey isn’t straight and narrow, it is fluid, flowing–-just like a river–and its twists and turns are like jumping out of an airplane–a full 200 km/hr in the face, the heart, the body. Like skydiving, over and over, there is the beauty and wonder of flying above the wavy beach–a new idea, creative process–stepping out onto that tiny step–the thrill and terror of a new endeavour–dropping from that step and into a full-blown wind tunnel–sucked in to get the juices flowing–floating smoothly and carelessly–taking in the wonder and the awe as one draws closer to understanding. I’m somewhere in the wind tunnel! Ideas are slapping me in the face. I need the parachute to come out so I can process where I’ve been. I need to land somewhere to appreciate where I’m going. And then, I need to fly again.

This is my parachute. I write to sort things out. To sit back and try to make sense of a nonsensical world. Possibly, there isn’t even a way to do this, but I try and maybe I get a bit closer to the truth, to my truth. Loneliness. When I discuss loneliness, I’m not talking about necessarilly being alone; although, this can and does impact the feeling of disconnection, there are many people who enjoy, and even relish, being alone. I think sitting with yourself and enjoying your own company is quite common among those who like and appreciate themselves. Is this our true sense of belonging? I think it is key to overcoming our own loneliness, whether we find ourselves in large groups, small groups or alone, if we have a good connection with all the parts (IFS) of ourselves and are open to communicating with those parts, giving them the voice they need within us, we can rise above loneliness and belong wherever we are–everywhere and nowhere. Personally, I am just beginning this journey. There is upheaval within me and out there in the big wide world. 

Division. As a society, we are often divided–political perspectives, religious followings and social class or economics. I have seen this discord thrive amidst COVID. The fear of illness (death) vs. the fear of government (tyranny). Both driven by fear. Sometimes it can bring us together, as it did at the beginning of this pandemic, but it often ends up in division. There is a general sense of dissonance amongst different cultures because of this fear. And then, there is the disunion of our internal parts, often, also, driven by fear. We have protective parts inside of us that go into overdrive to save us from the heartache of the dissonance outside of ourselves. We begin to actually fear connection, question trust and become isolated and lonely. Befriending our parts can assist in the combat that dwells within us. Once again, this is a personal odyssey that I am just beginning to partake in. 

We are not just one thing or another, but a multitude of feelings and reactions that change amidst circumstances. Embracing the humanity of all our parts can aid in combating the fear that lives within us and ultimately tame our suspicions of each other. When we can accept and acknowledge our own humanity, we can begin to understand and appreciate the humanity of others. There are 8 big “C’s” and 5 “P’s” to finding your SELF according to Richard Schwartz and his work with Internal Family Systems; they are: Courage…Compassion…Connection…Clarity…Confidence…Calm… Creativity and (my favourite) Curiosity, as well as Presence…Perspective…Patience… Persistence and Playfulness. Think on these for a moment. Give each one space to be observed. What do they mean to you? Applying all of these concepts to both our internal and external lives, I believe, makes space for acceptance of differences, opinions and perspectives amidst all of humanity. What if we’re not right or wrong, but somewhere in the middle? Is there room for that? Is there space for compassion for others and ourselves amidst all the fear? Does it have to be “us” and “them”? When will we embrace our humanity, our imperfection and our innate passion for kindness?

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The Giant Leap of Awe and Wonder

As most of you know, yesterday I jumped out of a perfectly good plane. It was a small aircraft–a Cessna–with very little room. Four of us crammed into the tiny fuselage–me, my friend and two instructors. We bade farewell to the ground and began to climb. The ride was surprisingly smooth and as we gained more height, we began to see the wonders of the world below us. With very few clouds–most of them above us–we were able to scan the horizons and take in the beauty of creation. The long curved beach of Wasaga spread before us and we were awed by the natural aura of the farmland below. It signaled peace and tranquility. It wasn’t to last long.

The climb to 12,000 ft was soon to be over as my instructor opened the small door. My instructions were, “I will put one foot out onto the step and then you put both of yours out there.” Aagh! My God, I was scared. Cold air rushed through the plane and with my arms crossed across my chest, I followed my life support system out of the plane and onto the tiny bar just outside the door. It was terrifying and my face reflected this terror–I know, because I have the picture to prove it. Before I could count to three, we were somersaulting into the air. At least one flip, maybe two, and we were hurtling towards all those wonders below. I was given the okay to release my crossed arms and spread them out into the frigid air. A quick reminder to bend my knees up, and I cruised at 200 km/hr towards the ground. A smile spread on my face as I was finally able to let go of my fear and begin to appreciate this feat, taking it in. Apparently, I dropped for 30 seconds–try counting that slowly, right now–until the moment of truth began to slow me down.

The parachute tugged at my body and we began to drift. It was surreal. I don’t know how many feet we were above ground but a serenity of peace coursed through my veins and I was able, finally, to relax. I remember speaking, “this is so awesome”, as we floated towards the marvels below. The scenery was spectacular as we swung this way and that. Going around in a circle, it felt as if I was on a swing at a carnival except that the ground approached me. It was two and half minutes of pure bliss. And then we began our approach to the landing site. Trepidation hit me, but not the pure terror of stepping out of that plane; this was a minute fear in comparison and ultimately, in vain as I welcomed the surface below, my feet sliding along the grass with a satisfying feeling of grace.

Awe and wonder enveloped me as I watched my friend drift from the air to the ground. It was a great experience to share that thrills me, even now. I will be forever grateful for this experience of life within the throes of death. A big shout out to the team at Skydive Wasaga Beach and especially to my captain and my keeper who attached his body to mine and gave me the opportunity to experience the exhilaration, terror and veneration of life all at once. 

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Today, a good friend and I will be jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Yes, we are going skydiving! It’s finally going to happen! Scheduled for my 60th birthday, it has been cancelled twice due to weather but today we will do it! 

What does this mean for me personally? Well, it’s one more thing to cross off my bucket list but that’s not the symbolic reason for doing it. Facing my fears? In a way,  but still not the deep seeded emotion that drives this endeavour. Exhilaration? Yes! For me it is a death defying action that feeds my need to face a reality I live with every day. I will die. It is inevitable. We all will. It is one of the only certain things we will do in our lives. 

How does one go about accepting this fate? Well, without it, I don’t think we would strive towards anything. We wouldn’t whittle away at life, facing it head on. We’d have too much time to accomplish things and appreciate life. I know that sounds like a great plan, but is it really? I’ll just leave that there for one to ponder.

I worry, a bit, about my expectations for this jump. I can only imagine the thrill of freefall for 30 seconds and maybe a flight through the clouds. 30 seconds is a hell of a long time when you think of falling–200 km/hr–for that length of time. Try counting in your head and conceptualise roaring through the air. I imagine the adrenaline rush will be blood-tingling, mind-boggling and hair-raising. I think the thrill will last for days, weeks even. I bungee-jumped the day I turned 30 and I was high for 2 weeks. Will this be the same? I will let you know tomorrow!

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Real Belonging

I’m almost certain that each of us has experienced the feeling of not belonging–whether it be in some place or within certain groups. I know I have and am struggling with this part of my existence right now. It seems that I need to be inebriated or high to actually fit in and be accepted. But fitting in is not the same as belonging and being accepted for who I am not, goes against my core value of authenticity.

In Brene Brown’s book, Atlas of the Heart, there is a quote from an eighth grader. It says, “If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.” Here’s a really brave question for ourselves, “Do I want others to be like me or do I want others to be themselves?” Let’s be honest here. I mean, I often judge others based on their personal journey and their core values. I don’t like this about myself; I want to change it; but, it’s a difficult thing to do. The personal journey of someone else is theirs and theirs alone. Who am I to judge that? Who am I to judge anyone? What I can do is hold myself accountable for my reaction to the core beliefs and values of someone else.

I don’t have to like them (other people’s core beliefs) but I need to respect them because respecting the journey of someone else is high on my own list of values. To be true to myself, I need to allow others the freedom of their own personal exploration of themselves. They may not be where I want them to be, but they are where they need to be. The reverse is also true for me. I need my own personal journey to be respected by others–especially those who are close to me. They don’t have to conform to my beliefs, but I feel they need to respect them if I am to feel a sense of true belonging with them. Otherwise, I feel disconnected and unsafe. When I feel this way, I don’t want to be around them. I want to hang with the people who believe in me for who I am, not for who they want me to be.

After listening to Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness”, I have come to realize that in order for me to have a true sense of belonging with others that I need, first, to feel I belong with myself. Problem: I am my own worst critic. I think that, deeply, I respect my own journey, but it is difficult to outwardly profess this. The end result, though, if I can be okay with where I am, is that I will always belong. Let that sink in. To truly belong, we have to belong to ourselves first. Without this acceptance, appreciation and respect for ourselves, we will never experience the sense of true belonging with others. Whew! That’s a difficult concept to get my head around. That is where my work is right now. It is rarely out there that our progress needs attention, but within ourselves. Be okay with where you’re at. For me, right now, that is respecting my own values and beliefs. For you, it will be somewhere else, but it will almost always be within you. 

Watch out for it. Wait for it to slap you in the face and knock you down. Then brush yourself off and run with it. You are okay where you are! Just don’t get stuck there or your full potential will never be realized. Change is inevitable if we are life-long learners. But, maybe, that’s not your journey right now. Maybe you just need to be okay with you. Build a sense of belonging with yourself and you will begin to belong everywhere you go!

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Life is full of it. Processing moments into hours, days, weeks and years. We are just practicing–all the time. There is always room for improvement. We will never be done while we are still alive. Does that sound like a heavy job? Does it sound tiring? Does it break your resilience? It might. If you let it. You are in control, afterall. Our attitude towards practice could very well define us. I’m not sure how far our character can be bound by our mindset or even if our character doesn’t actually effect our mindset. I DO, however, believe that the two are connected in some way.

That might sound confusing and I apologize for that. I’m usually a little more straightforward but practice comes in various packages based on our realities (which is a whole subject in and of itself). Maybe I can break it down a bit. I’m using attitude and mindset interchangeably which might clear some things up. I think what I’m trying to say is that our response to the idea of continuous practice is based on our mindset/attitude towards it. 

At this point in my life, I am practicing sobriety. My attitude towards that is based on my reality that I want to be authentic and, for me, that means maintaining an existence with as little distortion as possible. I don’t believe I will ever completely rid myself of misinterpretations but, once again, I am practicing and I want to have a clear head during this dress rehearsal.

So, the idea that practice is continuous, for me, is fortifying. I embrace it and run with it. It allows me to be who I am with all my indiscretions, realities and perspectives. And because I’m honing who I am, I’m changing. It becomes a response to the reality that presents itself to me at any given moment. One has to be open-minded, permeable and flexible in order to have an evolving life and attitude is everything. We need to check our responses and, sometimes, change our mindsets in order to grow our character. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make us better than we were one second ago.

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CBT–All or Nothing Thinking

Some of you will know how frightening it can be to stare at a blank page, knowing there are words that need to fill it and that those words are yours! I seem to be doing that right now. How do I organise the thoughts in my head and begin to write? You Start! So I did and this is what appeared:

Imagine Shades of Grey…not completely white and not completely black, but somewhere in the middle. I struggle with this quite a bit. It can be identified as All or Nothing thinking. An example could be “I am not trusting anyone” to “I am trusting everyone”. I’m sure you can see the problems this might create. One would be cutting off the world and the other would be honoring everything the world has to say. Both are problematic and the only change one can see would be converting to either extreme. But, if we can begin to think in Shades of Grey, we can give ourselves a window for change. Without this window, altering our perspective becomes very difficult and we can remain stuck in a pattern of thinking that is destructive to our well-being.

Think of that perfect relationship–with friends or a loved one. HELLO! It doesn’t exist! But if we think it does, we can be driven to the extreme of completely cutting off the ties with that person. Thinking in shades of grey grants us some sense of pleasure in these relationships, allowing us to live a more fulfilling and enjoyable life. We can also experience less bitterness and disappointment in our lives. Or imagine that perfect assignment/job/adventure; once again, it just doesn’t exist! We are laden with our humanity and with the humanity of others; humankind comes in whispers not in screams. Shades of Grey help us respond to existence and situations with the humility of imperfection.

In reflection, All or Nothing thinking stops us in our tracks. There is no allowance for the gift of being human–either with ourselves or others. We need to appreciate our own humanity before we can allow others the same experience. Give yourself a break and you will be able to do the same for others.

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