Practice

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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New Horizons

How do I begin again? I haven’t blogged since April and it is now the middle of July. How did I allow myself to get side-tracked? Why did I stop? This blog is important to me. I want to help others by sharing my stories. Even if only one person gets something out of it, I need to do this for me! It’s personal. I need to stop allowing the ‘reader over my shoulder’ to inhibit my perceptions and begin to be vulnerable again.

I have long believed that in order to begin again, you need to start. Just do it! As Nike would say. I always liked that message. JUST DO IT! Set aside the fears of criticism and allow the universe to be your guide. The biggy is: stop allowing other people’s opinions of what you are doing to control what you do!

Whose opinion matters to you? Who loves you for being you with all your imperfections? They don’t just accept you in spite of your imperfections but because of them. People who love your imperfections are the people whose opinion of you matters. These are the people whose feedback matters. I don’t think there are a lot of people in this category for me and I think that is okay. Who needs a lot of people anyway? A few–or maybe only one–are all we need. Why do we need to be cognizant of whose opinion matters? I think it is important to receive constructive criticism. Without this we never change and, I believe, there is always room for change. If we look at ourselves honestly and to be truly happy, we need feedback from people that matter. Just to be clear, these individuals don’t have control over us; we can accept or deny their criticism. What’s important is that we have something to work from–something that keeps us on our journey towards authenticity.

Authenticity is BIG for me. I can’t change other people but I can change myself and my own mindset. Sometimes I’m stubborn about that, but I still try. Truth is, not everyone is going to like me; not everyone is going to like you either. I feel I need to be okay with that which isn’t easy sometimes. I try to look at it this way: there are going to be people that I don’t like as well. It doesn’t mean I have to be mean to them and, I guess, I hope that the people who don’t like me aren’t mean either. I can’t guarantee that though because I have no control over another person’s feelings, thoughts or actions. Being authentic only means I have control over my own reactions and I always have a choice about the way I respond. It won’t always be the right way because I’m human. I make mistakes. I misjudge my reactions and I sometimes will regret how I responded. I need to be accountable for that. It is part of being human.

Anyway, I’ve started again. I’m writing, sharing and discovering new things about my human capacity. It’s an exciting and terrifying experience, but I’m practicing. 

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The Trouble with Trust

Do you find it difficult to trust people? Maybe you’ve just had one too many people in your life who have broken your trust? If we can figure out how people have failed to live up to our expectation of trust, maybe we can begin to heal our capacity for trusting others. I know from my own experience that having faith in others often backfires. Either I trust too much or I don’t trust at all. What if I’m just trusting the wrong people? And if that is true then how do I go about finding the right ones?

I believe and have come to understand through experience and research that trust has many facets. There are certain qualities that we ourselves have to have and there are conditions that need to be in place before we can share ourselves with another. One element that we need to put into place are boundaries. I have talked about relationship circles in another blog and they come into play here. If we trust people who are not in our inner circle of friends, we might just run into problems. Our boundaries become more translucent, thin or absent even. When this happens, it seems that a lot of people can’t be trusted because we’ve allowed people from the outer circles into our confidence and they have failed to live up to our expectations. We are actually in control but it seems as if others are to blame. This happens because the boundaries we have set are not stringent enough. We need to be careful when letting others into our inner lives. We have all the control and we need to use it wisely. 

I can remember times in my own life where I have let people in that I shouldn’t have. This usually happened because I felt bad about not letting people in. This had more to do with me and my low self esteem than it did about others. It wasn’t really the pressure others were putting on me but the pressure I was putting on myself. I didn’t want the other person to feel bad about not being trusted so I’d lean on them a little more–usually until they broke–and consequently they couldn’t be trusted. This becomes a perpetual circle and only confirms our perspective that people, in general, can’t be trusted. But what if my self-esteem is high? Well, first of all, I look for traits in a person such as their moral values and integrity. What do they profess to know about themselves? Have they gossipped about others (this is a great way to test for trust because if they gossip about others, they will likely gossip about you)? Betraying confidence is a warning sign that needs to be taken into account. Are they reliable? Do they do what they say they’re going to do? Do they accept responsibility for their own actions or do they play the blame game? How judgmental are they of others? Do they put others down and lack compassion for them? Do they display gratitude and generosity or do they consistently complain about how they are treated and that they have always experienced the short end of the stick? 

These questions can go a long way in helping us set up healthy boundaries with our circle of friends that we allow to get close; we are able to see trust in those we begin to trust before we take the real plunge. We have that control–if we have healthy self-esteem. Loving yourself and trusting yourself goes a long way when it comes to trusting and loving others. If you struggle with this, you might want to read about self esteem or hook up with a therapist/social worker that can help you build yourself up into a person you can begin to love and trust. Don’t be afraid or if you are, give yourself a break, asking for help takes courage and it takes risk, but it has so many advantages in the end that it is worth it. TRUST ME! 

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I Need Help

Three simple words that when strung together become so powerful that we’re afraid to say them: I need help. Asking for help can be one of the most difficult things we do. Many of us grew up in families where ‘asking for help’ was thought to be a weakness. It is, in fact, strength. How many of us wander around a grocery store, a hardware store or a dollar store looking for what we need without asking for help. I know I used to. Now, if I see an employee in one of these places, I simply ask where what I need is. So, what about emotional needs? If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or uncontrollable anger, what do YOU do?

Forgiveness

You’ve Got This

This title is for me. It’s supposed to help me scrounge around my life and my mind to try and talk about forgiveness. I haven’t quite got it yet. And I may not even get it by the end, but I will have inspected and scrutinized it and aren’t we all just exploring anyway? I know I am. We can’t really know anything for sure ( except maybe our limited time here on earth).

If I so choose, I don’t have to forgive anyone. I am free to walk around in resentment and anger if I want to. I can dive right into it, ignoring anything good and getting right down with the darkness of the unforgiving and the unforgiven. I will likely be very unhappy and depressed, anxious and fearful, self-critical and self-centred, BUT I can do it! I can ruin relationships and wander around second-guessing everyone and everything. I have that freedom! I can even explore forgiveness and still choose not to forgive. Or, I can decide to burrow in, getting my heart, soul and mind so dirty that I have to sift my way through to the other side of forgiveness and come out grittier than when I went in, but also more compassionate and accountable towards the truth.

I don’t think forgiveness is the easy way to recovery; it is actually a below the belt attempt to come out with my hands sweaty from the gloves and my mind hot with relief. The kind of comfort one gets when sitting on a firm, forgiving couch with a pint of beer and a smoke after a long, messy, but satisfying, argument with oneself. I DO believe you know what I mean. Forgiveness can only be easy if the person seeks our exoneration and actually means they are sorry and will try hard not to slight us again. Unfortunately, it is not always that clean and tidy and it can be really difficult, especially if the person we are trying to forgive is no longer in our life or if it is ourselves.

Let’s take a closer peek at forgiving ourselves because as with love and compassion, we can only do unto others as we do unto ourselves. It will be a wearisome battle if I try to forgive others without having forgiven myself. I’m going to use bullying as an example in my life. It is something that was done to me and also that I did to others, especially in middle school (aged 12-13). This happened to be a very tumultuous time in my life. In fact, it was the cornerstone of my rebellion. Believe me, I have more than bullying to forgive myself for but let’s begin there. I wanted to hang with the cool kids so I needed to prove my worthiness. I distinctly remember being on a hill near my school with a bunch of very cool and worthy members of a group I wished to be accepted into. There was an extremely uncool girl near us and my group didn’t want her on the hill so I took it upon myself to get rid of her. I called her names–she was rather heavy–and shamed her with my words and my fists until she likely felt very small and undeserving. I received slaps on the back and high fives from the members of my group and felt about as small and undeserving as the girl I had picked on. They were feelings that would stick with me throughout my teens and young adult life and not just because of this relentless attack on another person, but because I already felt them before I acted them out. Bullying didn’t take my feelings away, it made them worse. I have needed to forgive myself for my part in all the bullying that went on during my young life, for all the bad decisions I made so I could soar with the best of them. First of all, I needed to show compassion for the child I was, for the needs and cravings I had to belong somewhere, for the unworthiness I felt both before and after my altercations. Then I needed to accept responsibility for my part in all my wrongdoings and it seems like there were a lot of them. I don’t blame anyone else. Sure, there was peer pressure, but not everyone succumbs to that, I did that on my own. Finally, I can begin to forgive myself. And it is a process not an overnight sensation. Compassion, accountability and forgiveness are three important concepts that I want to bring with me into the authentic life I now strive to live.

When forgiving others, we need to incorporate all these concepts accordingly if we are going to be able to move on with our lives. When that person is no longer in our lives, for whatever reason, it will be more difficult but still needs to be done. For example, during the same time that I was bullying others, I was being bullied myself. Because I have shown compassion for myself, I can now show compassion for my bully. The person I am thinking of, and there were a few, but this one person is stuck in my mind. He would spit big gobs of slime into my hair–usually when I was on the school bus–and although some of his friends would tell him off, they also smiled and laughed. He’d steal parts of my lunch and gob in them. He was just plain nasty. I can still forgive him. I have compassion for him and what he was going through in his life that allowed him to be so mean and destructive. I hold him accountable for the distress it caused me but I can see the whole truth of the story and that’s what’s important. Besides, if I don’t forgive him, I hold on to the idea that I wasn’t worth caring about, that I somehow deserved the poor treatment and that just isn’t good for my mental stability and my desire to live authentically.

Some of us went through much more traumatic incidents than that of the bullying I speak of here. If we were abused in any form as innocent children or as adults, the will to forgive takes much more compassion on our part and sometimes is just too much to ask. It has been for me, anyway. I’m working on it because I don’t want to give those people any more power over my life than I’ve already given them. Forgiving myself has come first. Holding everyone involved accountable is second. And having the compassion to forgive them is the final step that sets us free; it enables us to sit comfortably on the couch of life and feel the lightness overcome us.

You’ve got this!

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Capturing Connection

I’ve been reading a lot about making connections in my self-aware repertoire of books and thought I might share some of the concepts I’ve learned throughout my life and in my readings. I will have written a bit about this in my post on ‘Boundaries’ and today’s blog will hopefully progress from there. First of all, I’d like to share a concept map of relationships and then we can hopefully explore how I think it works and, possibly, you can share some of your ideas and experiences in the comments. (I love to read about your ideas and experiences and actually wish more people would respond, but everyone has to do what feels most comfortable for them. I guess, I would challenge you to take a risk though, and speak your mind.)

It is important to understand that people can move in and out of the circles at any given time. People from the Danger (Stranger) Zone can eventually become Good and Dependable and the reverse could also happen if someone were to betray your trust. These zones are not static; they are interchangeable. People move in and out of the circles, sometimes according to your needs, but also in response to how they have proven their trust or mistrust.

Intimate & Loyal: You can likely guess that this inner circle is where all your closest friends appear. It will usually be the smallest group that you form. It is a place where you can share anything and that the sharing is mutual. I believe that this is a place to begin being authentic, if you are on that path, and can help you stretch your comfort zone of authenticity onto the next level.

Good & Dependable: This group of friends will be slightly bigger and might contain friends that will eventually become more intimate. It may also offer you the possibility of becoming authentic and may help you weed out the loyal from the dependable. One thing about both of these groups, I believe, is that they are good practice arenas for authenticity. 

Aquaintances: This is likely where most of your friends will appear. You know them and hang with them on occasion, but they haven’t quite made it into your inner circles–at least not yet. They are possibilities. They will likely intrigue you or you might find them difficult to be around but you haven’t put them in the danger or dependable zones quite yet. They might be friends of closer friends. This group of friends might be riskier to be authentic with, but authenticity will help you process which way on the relationship circle you wish to move them.

Beware: Danger Zone: I would equate this with a Stranger Zone, which is self-explanatory. I’m not sure I agree with putting all the strangers into a zone labelled danger. If we do that, we spend too much time being fearful of people we don’t know. I think a certain amount of openness with strangers is beneficial if we are going to grow. I would NOT however share my innermost secrets with them. Even when I blog, I only share what I have already worked through and wish to disclose for the purpose of helping others.

The important lesson here is that we all need connection with others to survive, but that we have different levels of those connections. With each level, we set different boundaries and take different risks. It is important not to take too many risks with people we aren’t sure about as they can betray our confidence and will leave us feeling vulnerable. Identifying your friends in the manner above can help you set healthy boundaries about what you share and can be useful if you are struggling with such limitations. Be brave but careful. Take risks and, most importantly, be authentic!

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Tracking Down the Truth

So, I’m staring at a blank page. Been awake through the night glaring at it, trying to think of something profound to say. I am still reading Brene Brown’s “Rising Strong”. Well, I guess, I’m going through it a second time. There’s a lot of wisdom to weed through. I wrote about curiosity in a post on March 9th and this is supposed to be related to that. Trouble is, it’s a very heavy topic and I’m not sure how to present it. It has a lot to do with shame so I find myself treading lightly. I guess, in short, it is about answering the questions of curiosity truthfully, with insight into all parties involved by recognizing the whole truth and not just our own.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the old cliche, there are always two sides to a coin? Well, today, I want to be brave enough to look at the other side. I think I have accomplished this with my upbringing in most areas–it has not been easy and I don’t want you to think that this has happened overnight because it has not. It has taken years, decades even, to come to terms with the whole truth and not just my own perspective of what the picture seemed to be. Digging down to find the truth sometimes means accepting a new reality. I don’t think it comes naturally, at least for me, it hasn’t. It is something I have cultivated very slowly into my life in regards to my parents and the environment within which I was raised. 

I have to be honest with you, I am finding this extremely difficult today. And, I guess, it is something I need to look at more completely. It’s not that I experienced severe trauma by the hands of my parents directly, but more by their neglect. But it’s not even the trauma that is blocking my senses at the moment, it is the wounds I suffered just by being a part of the family they made. Without getting into too much detail–and I beg your forgiveness for this, and maybe I’ll be able to write my own story in time; it just is not coming out now–I felt extremely unworthy within my family. I was never good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or thoughtful enough. I craved attention, love and acceptance. And I grew up trying to hide all these needs because they just weren’t acceptable (in my family).

Through all the therapy I’ve had over the last 30 years, I have come to accept the fact that my parents did their best with what they had inside themselves as I was growing up. That they, also, had their own childhood wounds passed down from their own untruths within the families they grew up in. Understanding that they really did do the best they could with what they knew, at the time, allows me to form a new truth about my own situation. I was loved and therefore am worthy of love; and, although expectations were set extremely high, they were set with the ideal that I could achieve them; therefore, I was, in fact, thought to be quite intelligent. I believe I was quite thoughtful and empathetic even though there came a time that I disconnected myself from my family. I believe the truth is that I was too connected in the first place and so overwhelmed by the emotions of others in my family that in order to protect myself, I disengaged. So my conclusions of not being enough were actually based on untruths that I had made up in my head, but had never checked out.

This last paragraph is a good example of how thoughts, behaviours and feelings are all connected and how we need to look at all three in order to become whole again. Finding the truth about our lives can be heartbreaking. It takes courage to seek it out, to delve into our lives and weed out the falsehoods we have formed surrounding our worth as human beings. It is a passage worth taking though as it frees us from the negative thought patterns we have so innocently formed in our minds, the deep-seeded feelings of unworthiness we carry around and the behaviours we exhibit in connection with our lack of love for ourselves.

Take the leap–with a good therapist if you have experienced deep trauma, neglect or abuse–and plunge into the sacred waters of your soul!

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Old Folk

Gotta love ‘em. Trudging bravely on with their walkers and their canes, they have an air about them that is infectious. Laughter comes easily, as they navigate their fragile lives, grateful for their existence in a world that either treads gently around them or forges its way through. Never knowing if they are going to be treated with disdain or gentleness, they continue on. I find their courage contagious.

My Old Folk have been staying with me for the last week. They are both in their early eighties but their minds think otherwise, well my dad’s does anyway. My mum suffers from dementia and is continuously reminding me, and the stranger on the bus, that she is over eighty. It’s priceless and I wonder if this pride that comes out, this fascination, isn’t present in all elderly people and that as a collective, they don’t all perceive themselves as having arrived at an age that demands notice on their ability to have survived for as long as they have. There is a fascination, I believe, towards this. They can’t quite believe that they are at an age they once thought was very old.

I’m reminded, everyday, that they were once children, adolescents, new parents, pioneers and middle-aged. They’ve lived in a world that developed the first bottle with a screw top to the Apple Wallet and they’ve handled it all with grace. Difficult grace, sometimes, but grace nonetheless. Yesterday, my Old Folk went to church; afterwards, they decided to walk through Beacon Hill Park to sit on a bench and watch the ducks and the turtles on the pond. We were to meet at a local pub at 2 pm and although they had more than an hour to pass, they preferred this rather than coming home first. I didn’t understand my father’s reasoning but it soon became apparent that this might be the last time they would have the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company in such a beautiful and nostalgic place. They passed the time walking, with their canes, from bench to bench. This endeavour absolutely nourished them. And I totally understand why!

I feel we need to highly respect our Old Folk; after all, they have lived before us, witnessing and experiencing changes in the world and within themselves. They have knowledge to share and their stories are fascinating if we only listen. I, personally, appreciate their wisdom and although they weren’t the perfect parents and I haven’t always appreciated their ways, they did their best and isn’t that all any of us can do? We, ourselves, have made tremendous mistakes with our kids and have hopefully learned, as we have aged ourselves, about our own weaknesses and imperfections. My Old Folk have taught me lessons through their mistakes and achievements and I have passed some of this onto the little people who have shaped my own life. We will continue to proceed with this self-awareness and will change also, one day becoming, hopefully, Old Folk ourselves, doing the best we can in an ever-changing world that we may not always be able to understand but trudging on regardless, finding the little things like the colours of the world, and discovering new understandings of what it is REALLY like to become old.

So, here’s a big THANK YOU to everyone who is, or are becoming, Old Folk. You’re the best you can be and that is good enough! 

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Git ‘er Done

To live life to the fullest, I really believe that you have to love what you do and do what you love. But how do you find that balance in a world where making money is the most precious thing in our lives? And how do you choose passion over what society expects of you or what your parents, siblings, wife or husband thinks? I remember when I was 12 and in grade 7 that one of my subjects was instrumental music. I had played the piano since I was 8 so reading music wasn’t a problem and I aced that. But my parents forced me to play the flute and that did not sit well. I had always wanted to play the sax. I begged, I cried, but to no avail and maybe I failed on the flute on purpose, but I don’t think so as I still find it the most difficult instrument in my repertoire. Failing was not an option for me so they (my parents) begrudgingly caved and let me play the sax. The alto sax to be specific. I loved it and excelled! Instrumental music was to become one of the most precious things in my life, but I didn’t know it then.

We DO live in a world with expectations. There is status; there is keeping up with others; there is pleasing others; but when do our passions have a voice? How do we let them in when life is so busy throwing other things at us? In my early 20’s, I decided I wanted to write a book; my imagination possessed me. I was working at a hospital at the time, in housekeeping. It used to be called a janitor and I’m sure it boasts an even better title these days like sanitation expert, perhaps. Anyway, I was overcome with this desire to get my fiction on paper but I did not have a decent typewriter at the time–yes, this was the dark ages–so I would stay, after my shifts, at work where my boss had a very large IBM device (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I invite you to google it) and write for hours. I hammered out more than 450 pages on that ancient piece of machinery and I used carbon copy to punch out two copies of my masterpiece. I was to later rewrite it onto a computer–where somehow I lost several chapters–and save it onto a disc (again, dark ages). To this day, it sits in a box as one of the few things I kept when selling my house. This story isn’t about the low self-esteem that kept me from sending my work out to publishers, it’s about finding space for the things you are passionate about.

I honestly believe that to live a fulfilling life we need to make room for our passions. Come alive in the NOW because we have no guarantee of the future. I find it difficult to listen to someone talk about their desires in the future tense. Once I have a house, I’ll have room for music; once I retire, I can begin to write, dance, sing, focus on my art works, photography etc.. Whatever you crave to do with your life doesn’t belong in later, sometime, eventually; it belongs in the present. I believe there has to be a balance in life to live your best life, an experience you can grab hold of and run with that brings out your best qualities and allows you to live completely. For me, that means writing, playing music, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, helping others and being spontaneous (which is something I don’t do enough of). It also means being kind to myself and accepting myself as I am with the knowledge that I can also change. Loving yourself enough that you also DO what you love is as necessary as, well, brushing your teeth and changing your underwear. 

Some people are fortunate enough to experience this in their life’s work as I was when I was teaching. Most people, though, need to cultivate passion into their busy work and family lives as I did when I wrote my novel. As difficult and dark as my life has been, I have had several opportunities to practice my passions and for this, I am forever grateful. Go out there and ‘Git ‘er done’. Grasp onto those dreams and run like the wind through the meadow of life. You deserve this. You are worthy. 

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