It Starts with You…

 

 

A few nights ago, I was out for dinner with a friend and I ran into a woman who I met before but who I did not know well. We had seen each other around town so we had formed enough of a connection that we greet each other with an acknowledging head nod and a wave. While I was eating and talking to my friend, she approached us and introduced herself. We spoke about the fact that we seem to know each other without really knowing each other. Then came the question that always inevitably arises when I meet someone new: “What happened to you?” I tell her that I was born prematurely which meant that my lungs weren’t fully developed and as I tried to breathe, I acquired brain damage as a result of a lack of oxygen to my brain. I explain to her that I am very fortunate though because my brain damage has only impacted my ability to walk. Following my answer, she said “But you seem so happy” to which I responded “I am. I love my life.” And I really do. I am so grateful for the life I have been gifted, and I am even grateful for the disability I have been gifted. I regularly say that I know at the very core of my being that this was no mistake. I have become the person I am today because of it. Living with a disability has gifted me a sense of perspective. It has helped me find my purpose.

What stood out for me though, was her initial response: “But you seem so happy.” Although I know her words were in no way ill intended, it reminded me that as human beings we need to practice checking our assumptions at the door, if we really want to connect with another. We have to be careful to examine the pre- conceived notions we carry, if we are to ever move toward a true sense of equality within our society. Why is it assumed that because I live with a disability that I am bound to be unhappy? Letting assumptions rule only serves to reinforce stigma and drives disconnection.

Changing the world really does start with each and every one of us. Check your assumptions at the door, and open the space for people to teach you about their experience, knowing that the vastness that is the human experience can never be contained to a series of labels and assumptions.

By suspending judgement we free ourselves and others. Here’s to radical openness and ever abounding love. It starts with you. Never doubt that.

The Vulnerability Remedy.

A few months days ago, while having a conversation with a good friend of mine, I crossed a boundary. I used a story which wasn’t mine to share, to illustrate a point.  Although the story fit with the nature of the conversation we were having, as soon as the words left my mouth I felt utterly disgusting. I knew, based on the physical reaction I was experiencing that I had made a huge mistake. I immediately went into shame mode. Narratives akin to “I am a horrible person” started to swirl in my mind. I felt that what I had done was in such stark contrast to my core guiding value (fierce compassion) that I couldn’t take it. I literally wanted to crawl out of my own skin and hide. Huge, huge shame.

I let a few more minutes of conversation pass.

The thoughts kept going. “What is wrong with you?” “How could you have been so careless?”  “You are a bad person.”  On and on. And, I knew that these thoughts would continue for days. I would punish myself in this way for hours on end until I felt that I had paid for what I had done. Interrupted nights, and days spent in a bad mood to follow. This cycle was all too familiar to me.

I desperately didn’t want to go down that road. So, instead of condemning myself for days, I decided to purposely break the cycle: I called on my self-compassion. I instantly knew what I had to do. I had to bring this up. I had to get vulnerable. And so, I brought it up. I told my friend, that I was very uncomfortable with what I had said and that I was experiencing some heavy shame about it. I told her about the thoughts that I had been having in the last few minutes of our conversation.  She listened, and I immediately felt better. I told her that I was fearful of her judgment of me, and that what I had done was out of alignment with who I want to be. The more vulnerable I got, the better I felt. She responded with compassion, and assured me that we all make mistakes and that what I had done, she believed was not a reflection of my character.

And, there it was: my ticket to freedom. It was in her speaking those words that I knew that the next few days would not be colored by self-punishing thoughts.

Healing happens in the space of vulnerability.

Yes, vulnerability is uncomfortable. That’s why it’s a reflection of courage, not weakness. But as uncomfortable as it may be, it comes with the greatest rewards life has to offer. It allows us to feel connected, reassured and united. Vulnerability is deeply empowering and enabling. It is the birthplace of freedom, because it is inherently risky, and what is risky is profoundly liberating.

 

 

 
 
 

 

Why Death is One of Our Greatest Teachers.

 

Living life with the end in mind is the most powerful route to personal freedom and authenticity.

I absolutely love the work I do. Companioning individuals as they grieve the loss of a loved one has been the most powerful, heart-wrenching, enlightening, and meaningful “work” I have done. Bearing witness to one’s stories of loss and heartache is an absolute honour and privilege, for I know that delving into the depths of one’s grief is the hardest thing one can ever do.

Doing this work has made death a constant companion. It’s ever-present reality in my life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the fact that one day my life will end. At first, admitting this was terrifying. It evoked panic and a feeling of being trapped, with no hope of escape- and truthfully, it still does on some days. But, with loss comes forced reflection and subsequent insight.

It is for this insight I am extremely grateful for it has made clear to me that this life is a gift, never to be taken for granted. We are privileged to be here and to be given the opportunity to become the fullest expressions of who we are.

Here a few of the radical shifts/insights that have occurred in my life:

  • Everything is a miracle.

Living with death as an all too tangible reality renders everything and every experience miraculous. The “little things” become the “big things”, and material things lose their value. We also begin to recognize the mere chance by which we were granted this life, and as such we can see with greater clarity that we are not here by accident.

  • Gratitude expands

When we recognize life is a privilege, gratitude expands. Everything of which our life is composed becomes “thank you worthy.” We become grateful for what we have, and especially for the people who surround us. Death also allows us to become less inhibited, and simply say what’s in hearts. It becomes easier to declare our appreciation for the people we love, for we recognize that there may not be another chance.

  • Love and connection becomes all that matters.

Death makes love, and our expression of it, our highest priority. It becomes infused in everything that we do, in every choice we make, and in every interaction we have with others. It allows us to recognize that our attentive presence is what counts, for it through this attentive presence that our love is conveyed. It becomes about fully engaging with every single moment by acknowledging that time is a finite resource. We recognize that one’s time (an expression of love) is the most precious gift one can give another, for the giving of one’s life in this way, signals that the other matters-and that’s all we want to know at the end of the day anyway.

  • You are here to be the fullest expression of yourself.

Authenticity becomes fundamental. Death allows us to disengage from the (false) fear-based thoughts that so often limit us, thus allowing us to become the fullest expressions of ourselves- in an unapologetic way. We recognize that are here to learn, to teach, and ultimately, to expand. As such, living out our passion becomes essential to our personal sense of well-being.

 

Grief is Love by Another Name.

Bouts of yearning, sadness, fear, desperation, anguish, hopeless, anger and helplessness overwhelm you like a tidal wave. Your world has come crashing down around you, and the prospect of lifting your head off of the pillow as the sun rises to welcome a new day is looked upon as an insurmountable task. Everything which you once regarded as beautiful now has a shadow cast upon it. The things that were once meaningful to you, are now no longer so.

You struggle to orient yourself to the new world in which you now find yourself. You didn’t ask to be here, and you despise everything around you. You tried everything you could to avoid getting here, but to no avail. You’re lost, scared and alone. You desperately search for a map, but eventually come to realize that there isn’t one to be found. You realize that you must chart your own course, not knowing how long it will take you to walk the path. Every once in a while your path intersects with another, and you walk together for a while, but eventually you part, for they must walk by themselves again, and continue to chart their own course.

As you walk, you ponder the “big questions.” You meditate on the meaning of life, of purpose, and your sense of identity. You think about the future in this new world and wonder if you’ll ever be able to embrace it as feverishly as you did your future in the old world. You wonder if this new world will ever feel safe as the old one did.

This is grief.

It is blanketed in the unknown, and chalk full of fear as a result. Each loss is territory yet to be navigated. There are no “rights” or “wrongs” in grief. There is no such thing as “should” or “shouldn’t.” Grief is an intensely individual experience which takes a vastly different form for each who endures it. It simply does not adhere to a set of pre-determined stages, and it certainly does not abide by a pre-set timeline.

Grief simply cannot be measured in this way because it is a matter of the heart, and such matters cannot be quantified. Grief is enduring and lifelong because it is a matter of love. We grieve for those to whom we are deeply attached, and such attachments cannot be intercepted- even by death. They are infinite and eternal.

So, do away with the notion that you must “get over” and find closure to your grief. You simply cannot get closure to love, for it is far too powerful to be contained. Grieve as your heart guides you to, trusting that you know what you need in order to adjust to this new world in which you’ve been placed. Trust that this love will carry you and guide you to a new sense of meaning, purpose, and identity. It simply requires you to surrender.

 

 

Why it’s Okay if the Metaphorical Glass is Actually Half Empty.

 
 

We’ve all heard them at one time or another, those trite phrases of wisdom intended to uplift and inspire when we turn to others in times of pain. “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “You just need to start thinking more positively,” “Look on the bright side…,” “You need to see the glass as half full,” the list goes on.

Well intentioned? Most definitely.

Helpful? Probably not.

When we turn to others in times of pain and distress, we are not looking for the quick fixes offered by such words. In fact, such words can often increase our pain, and make us feel even worse. Vulnerability is risky, and often takes all the courage we can muster to reach out and let others in, because our most precious, and deeply held stories – those which require the most vulnerability to speak- are typically cloaked in fear, fear that others will not truly understand, will abandon us, and judge us as weak. That’s what makes vulnerability so incredibly powerful, because we know that when we are truly vulnerable, there was a whole bunch of fear that had to be pushed aside. That’s why bearing witness to someone’s most vulnerable stories and experiences is such a deep honor. It takes an immense amount of courage to expose oneself in such a raw and unprotected way. When we render ourselves vulnerable, we are essentially relinquishing control, and placing ourselves in the hands of another. We have no way of predicting how they are going to respond to us- will they nurture, love and respect us or will they disrespect, hurt, and shame us?

Our stories are abundantly powerful, and when they are met with quick fix phrases, it can make us feel that they have been robbed of their power and importance. Such phrases can be degrading and disrespectful because they fail to acknowledge the courage that is vulnerability. They dishonor the sheer valor it requires to let someone else in. Such phrases can make inspire shame and guilt, because they are wrapped in the implicit message that “negative” feelings are bad and therefore should be vehemently avoided. They send the message that we are wrong to have feelings that are not “positive.” Welcome disconnection, isolation and sometimes, self-loathing.

But here’s the thing, the idea that feelings can be labeled as “positive” or “negative” is a social construction. Feelings do not have a positive or negative value. They just are. They are all of equal importance. It’s okay to experience feelings of sadness, hurt, grief and so on because they are all part of the human experience, as much as happiness and joy are. We get scared. We get hurt. We can feel ashamed. We can feel lost. We can feel hopeless. And that’s okay, because it’s normal, and inherently human.

It’s okay that the glass isn’t always half full. It’s not supposed to be.

When we let someone see our pain, what we need is for them to truly honor our story and to meet it with empathy- a compassionate willingness to sit alongside us and delve into our experiences without judgment, as it is though this compassionate presence that connection is fostered. The walls of isolation are effectively shattered because we are made to feel “normal” when we begin to understand that all feelings are universal. We begin to understand that we are not weak because we are scared, hurt, grieving etc. We are in fact, just human, and that all we really need when we are in pain is for someone to sit with us and say, “I get it.”

 


 

 
 
 

Friends who Bring Coffee.

The Sunday morning hangover. Physically not feeling great, but running through all the events of the night before in my mind and thinking about how lucky I am to have such amazing people in my life. Experiences had and memories made. The stuff that makes life so incredible. I turn over and look at my phone…I see a message from my soul sister- one that I have known for a majority of my life. The one who I shared a good portion of my childhood with. The one who was there for the rough stuff, the lessons learned through all those awkward times, and the countless laughs over something that really, isn’t/wasn’t even that funny (to the rest of the world anyway).  The one who just knows without asking. She asks if I want to get together.

She comes over about an hour and a half later, with two coffees in hand, and we spend the next hour talking, like we hadn’t seen each other in years. There is an ease to it, and a comfort in the feeling that neither of us has to be anybody but who we are. Pure and raw authenticity informs our interaction, as it always does. There is an unconditional acceptance of the other that lies at the foundation of our friendship. There is a knowing that even if one of us was to screw up that the other would be right there saying “I got you.”

It got me thinking about the independence myth that seems to inform our society these days…the idea that we must be completely self-reliant, and self-sufficient or otherwise run the risk of being seen as weak or “needy.” The idea that dependence is inherently bad, and that if we depend on others it means that we have failed. It can make us feel that we can’t reach out, even if we desperately want to or need to, for fear of the judgement that might be laid upon us, or for fear of the judgement that we might lay upon ourselves.

But here’s the thing: humans are not wired for complete independence, and to buy into the notion that we are, is to significantly truncate the size of our lives. We thrive on connection. We are literally wired for it. The need for a sense of belonging is as essential to our wellbeing as food and water is.

We need to be dependent to be independent.

It is only through cultivating and maintaining connections with others that we are truly able to commit to what makes us shine. It is through knowing that we have people in our lives in front of whom we can show our authentic selves that we are truly able to risk, and reach beyond our comfort zone. We need to know that we have certain people in our lives who are 100% behind us to facilitate our personal expansion. Without having these people, the risks become too big and too fear provoking, because we run the risk of being completely shattered and deflated if the outcome is not favourable. We need these people in our lives to remind us that a failure or a mistake has absolutely no bearing on our worth and that we are still just as inherently valuable and lovable as we were before we fell on our face.

Life is not meant to be a solo journey.

If you’re about living big, seizing the moment, and living a life of greatness, nurture your connections. They will enable you to shine.

PS:  A note to express my deepest gratitude to all those in my life who have helped and continue to help me be the best that I can be. I love you all deeply, and am immensely grateful to you for accepting me exactly as I am without expecting anything else. You all have supported me in making necessary changes in my life, and have given me the courage to reach beyond what I thought possible. Thank you for being champions of my growth and success, and it is my deepest hope that you feel that I am the same for you. xo

Gratitude: A Love Note to Life.

Cottage

If you and I are friends on Facebook, you have probably seen one of my many gratitude lists. I write them frequently and typically with a sense of abandon… it is literally my soul on the page, summed up into words that always seem somewhat inadequate to express what I feel. An attempt to convey this seemingly inexplicable connection to life… to spirit… to goodness…to love. To express a  feeling of being nurtured, supported and fulfilled. An expression of the knowing that life, ultimately, has my back.

I’m not saying that bad and painful things do not and have not happened to me… they absolutely have. But, what I have found is that the intentional practice of gratitude allows me to better delve into my pain. It has provided me with a life preserver of sorts. A thread to grasp in moments of overwhelm and the seemingly unbearable. A consistent reassurance that there are moments of untainted good in the bad. Its reliability is empowering. It simply requires a commitment to the willingness to notice.

I started my intentional gratitude practice approximately two years ago, at a time of great emotional upheaval, and I can say that without a doubt that it was, and still is, one of the most powerful practices that has helped me on my journey of embracing a life of fearless authenticity. The practice has helped me to more purposefully engage with the now. It allows me to embrace the moment completely, dropping my worries of what is to come. It also has enabled me to form more authentic and meaningful relationships with others, because I’m more connected in the moment- attuned, engaged, and present with that person. Incredibly powerful stuff. Gratitude is no longer I feeling I experience only upon reflection… it now happens in that very moment.

Gratitude keeps us alert to the miraculous. 

The more intentional we are about it, the more we find to be grateful for. It radically shifts our focus. It transforms. It allows us to recognize the beauty that resides in every kind word, every compassionate action, every moment of laughter, every hug, every interaction, every moment of stillness, every gorgeous view. It reminds us that life is a privilege.

Suddenly, we begin to feel overwhelmingly abundant. Happier. More peaceful and at ease with life. Nourished. We begin to recognize the power that we each have to shape our lives.

Ultimately, we all hold the power to choose the lens we are going to wear.

And so, in the spirit of this post, I am inviting you to sit in some deep gratitude. I challenge you to name at least three things you are grateful for right now.  Claim it, state it, declare it. Don’t hold back.

 

 

Some Words on Inspiration.

“You’re an inspiration.”
 
A phrase I have heard countless times throughout my life, and one that I have truthfully, come to dislike. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that when people tell me they find me inspiring it is coming from a well-intentioned place. That it is likely coming from a desire to connect with me. I do truly appreciate it. But the phrase has always made me uncomfortable, and it wasn’t until recently that I put some time and thought into figuring out why.
 
I realized that for me, the word “inspiration” carries the connotation of elevation and disconnection. For me, it signifies that one is different from the rest. Images of looking up and pedestals come to mind. Inaccessible. Not relatable.  
 
The notion of “us” (to be inspired) and “them” (the holders of inspiration). Self-judgement. Striving. Reaching. The feeling of not good enough yet. Not good enough until. Aspiring to be better.
 
Missing your innate greatness in the process.
 
We are all inspiring, because we are all human, and we all have stories to tell. We all have stories of triumph. Stories of failing. Stories of mistake-making. Stories of overcoming. Stories of radical insight. Stories of change. Stories of transformation. Stories of transcendence.  Stories of imperfection. Stories of vulnerability and courage. Stories of generosity and gratitude. Stories of pure love.

We all have unique stories that carry the power to connect us to our neighbour, our co-worker, that guy walking down the street, that girl in the coffee shop, that person sitting next to us on the bus, that person behind us in line at the grocery store etc.
 
Each of our stories is innately unique, but through each story is a thread which connects to the larger human experience. We are all holding it, and it is through our grasp of this thread that empathy is cultivated.

Inspiration is founded in the willingness to be real, transparent, raw, and relatable. It is found on the platform of equal ground. Heart-to-heart connections. It is found in the realization that to be inspiring is an inherent state of being. It is not reserved for a select few.
 
Inspiration is about authenticity. A fearless devotion to yourself- your passions, your likes, your dislikes, your mistakes, your dreams, your missteps, your successes, your strengths, your hopes, your excitement, and an unabashed willingness to share all that makes you, you. Inspiration is about openness.
 
Inspiration is about a commitment to embracing your individuality while recognizing your connection to the collective.
 
Individuality connects. Embracing who you are without hesitation, gives others the permission to do the same. Permission to be raw, radically shifting the nature of human interaction on a fundamental level as a result. No more masks and quickly stated “I’m fines.” Rather, more “I am fantastic! How are you?!” More “Life is amazing, I am so grateful to be alive.” More “I’m actually feeling pretty crappy right now.” More “I need a hug.” More “It’s SO great to see you!”

Commit to the expression of what’s real for you.
 
Reveal yourself without hesitation.
 
Revel in all that makes you, you. Revel in your greatness. Revel in your struggles. Revel in your individuality. Revel in your imperfection. Revel in your inherent awesomeness.
 
 Share it.
 
You’re an inspiration.
 

 

Remember Your Humanness.

 




I’m a bit of a compassion junkie. If you have read anything that I have written, you likely have figured out that for me, compassion is my core guiding value. I want my life to be a reflection of it, infused in all that I do and  in all that I say. For me, the practice of compassion is transcendent. It allows me to feel connected to life in an inexpiable way, and functions as a constant reaffirmation of my connection to a greater source. As I have developed as a therapist over the last few years, my relationship to, and interest in the study of compassion has only grown stronger. I have piles of books dedicated to the subject sitting next to my bed, and read nightly to end my day with a little burst of inspiration. Most of the literature I have read speaks about compassion as a deep desire to alleviate the suffering of others, and it is my best guess that this is the definition that most people hold in their minds- compassion is a trait to be focused outward. This is the definition I subscribed to for many years as well, until I read a book titled Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. This book radically changed the way I relate to the concept of compassion. In her book, Neff asserts that while compassion is to be focused outward, it is also to be focused inward, toward ourselves.
 
Radical right?!
 
At first thought, the notion of directing compassion toward ourselves may seem and feel a bit uncomfortable- after all, the critic within each of us can give us a multitude of reasons why we don’t deserve it. It may tell us that the things we’ve done are far too shameful to warrant compassion- that although compassion is all well and good for those around us, we are the exception. That somehow, we should have known better. That we are disconnected, and separate from the rest. Welcome that all too familiar shame spiral born of self-judgement. Consequently, we often begin to believe that we must engage in self-judgement and self-criticism as a way to keep us from doing that (those) all too shameful thing(s) again. We become increasingly unhappy, fearful and emotionally paralyzed. We condemn ourselves to a life of discontentment because we begin to believe that that is all we are worthy of.
 
And so, here are my questions for you:
 
  •          What really makes you so different from everyone else?
  •          Have we not all made mistakes and done things we are not proud of?
  •          Could it be that you were doing the best that you could in that given moment?
  •          Could it be that you were simply trying to fill some underlying need or void? (i.e. a              need for belonging, acceptance, love, connection etc.)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that self-compassion is a way to let yourself “off the hook.” Rather, I am saying that, yes, although you may have made mistakes, they do not define you. Imperfection is a part of being human, and past mistakes do not change your worth. Worthiness is to be claimed, not earned. It is a gift that comes with being human. It is unchangeable and constant. You are worthy of love, belonging, unconditional acceptance, compassion, happiness, connection etc. regardless of the things you have done or have not done. It is an irrefutable fact.
 
Self-compassion is a commitment to your long-term well-being, not short-term gratification.
 
The practice of self-compassion asks you to begin to relate to yourself with self-kindness when you have failed, made a mistake, feel inadequate and so on. It asks you to recognize imperfection and begin to speak to yourself more kindly.

Imagine a close friend of yours is going through the same thing you are. This friend has made a mistake, has failed at something, and is right in the depths of a shame spiral. 
 
  •          How would you speak to this friend?
  •          What would you say to this friend to comfort him or her?
Turn those words away from your friend and toward yourself, remembering that at your core, you are no different from your friend.
The practice of self-compassion also asks you to recognize the interconnectedness of all human beings. It operates on the core premise that we are fundamentally the same. Underneath all appearances, abilities and perceived differences, we are all looking for the same things in this life. We really are on this ride together. 
 
Finally, the practice of self-compassion asks you to be mindful of your feelings related to the various experiences you have had. It asks you to practice unconditional acceptance toward whatever feelings are coming up for you- even the ones that are immensely difficult and painful to feel, for it is in facing them that we allow them to dissipate.
 
 
How do you think your life would change if you were to treat yourself more compassionately? 

Release (Negative) Judgement: Honor the Uniqueness of the Journey.

 

 
We’re all guilty of it, and I’m more guilty of it than I’d like to admit… passing arbitrary, and often unfounded judgement on others. It usually goes something like this:
 
That rude customer service rep?  She’s a bitch.
 
That friend who seems to keep making the same mistakes again and again? She’s stupid, and should really know better by now.
 
That waiter who took “forever” to bring the meal to the table? He’s slow. Lazy. Clearly not suited for the job.
 
That employee who keeps making mistakes? She’s not smart enough.  
 
That guy who is quick to lose his cool? He’s an asshole.
 
And it goes on… the list is literally endless. To judge others, is part of the human experience. We all do it, for various reasons. We do it to make ourselves feel better, to prove that we’re right, to compensate for personal insecurity and sometimes, we judge in an effort to connect with and be accepted by others.
 
To pass judgement signals the creation of a hierarchy in which the individual making the judgement places him or herself above or apart from the individual being judged. It says “there is nothing about this person that I can identify or connect with.” At its root lies disconnection and the notion that we are inherently different from one another. It fails to recognize the commonalities of the human experience. It denies that fact that at the end of the day, we are all striving for the exact same thing: to feel loved, and accepted and to know that we matter.
 
The act of judgement is a failure to recognize our humanness. It is a failure to recognize that it all boils down to this:
 
We are all doing the best we can to make it through this beautiful mess called life, the best way we know how.

 
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even when they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
– Miller Williams


The truth is, none of us really know what we’re doing. We are all students of life, and none of us have the answers, and to believe that we do only serves to stunt our personal growth. To believe in the idea of absolutes is to shut ourselves off from the possibility of expansion, and novel insight. It hardens our hearts.

To adopt the stance of not knowing keeps us soft, open, and compassionate. It allows us to give others a break, because we recognize how often we need one too. From this standpoint, the question becomes “what gives me the right to judge if we are all on equal ground?”
 
That customer service rep? That friend? That waiter? That employee? That guy? They are just doing the best they can. They are on their own path colored by a myriad of unique experiences, some of which have been joyous and uplifting and others which have been immensely painful and heartbreaking.
 
Speak with love. Act compassionately. Give generously.
 
We are all in this together.