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.

I Just Want You to Know: A Story of Anticipatory Grief.

 
 
 
 

About a year ago, as I was sitting with my grandmother watching my grandfather, her husband of 57 years, take his last breaths in hospice care, she asked me why anyone would ever want to do this work- caring for people in their last days of life, as she found it utterly depressing and void of hope. My answer to her was quickly and easily given: “because it’s about love.” It’s about free-flowing, unbounded gratitude, raw vulnerability and pure courage.

Hanging in the balance between present reality and future uncertainty, between “have” and “have lost” unites us. It breaks the walls of fear which often surround us and allows us to shed our protective masks. We begin to fearlessly stand in what’s real, unapologetically, for time adopts a new sense of significance when we recognize that it truly is finite.  All things felt, but never said rise to the surface and are expressed with a sense of urgency. Hugs are given. Connection is fostered and love shines brightly.

When I talk to people about my experience of watching my grandfather’s health rapidly decline over a period of about six months, I don’t deny that it is one of the hardest things I have experienced. It was a time wrought with fear of what was to come. I spent many nights worrying about what he was feeling, and how I was to continue living my life without him. At the same time though, those six months were abundantly powerful, because alongside the fears and sleepless nights was a new sense of meaning. Each interaction we shared, we both recognized, was a gift. We were able to have the conversations that we would not have had otherwise, without any sense reservation. Vulnerability was brought to the table in a very real way.

Those six months were about living in the space of fearless authenticity which arose from us both feeling that we were given the permission to engage in those conversations. But here’s the thing,the idea that we need to be given permission to be authentic, and courageously vulnerable with those for whom we care the most, is false. The all-important and life-altering conversations which only seem to happen when time is of the essence, need to start happening without an underlying reason, and without feeling as though we need to be given permission. They need to start happening simply because the people who fill our lives are to be cherished. We need to start letting life unite us, for it is far more fragile than we often care to admit.

So go ahead and be generous with your words of love and gratitude. Tell people what they mean to you and how they have impacted your life. Say “I love you” just because you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, There Isn’t Anything Wrong with You.

I have experienced two significant losses in my life- losses which effectively shattered my worldview, robbed me of my sense of security and normality and forced me to question everything I once oriented my life around. I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed as the reality of the finality of the deaths of those I love so deeply began to sink in. I felt as though I was in hole of hopelessness, helplessness, sadness and despair, and the prospect of ever being able to climb out seemed highly improbable. I was terrified- I was no longer the happy, outgoing person I was before they had died, and I was plagued by the worry that I would never be again. I felt lost. I tried to reach out, but the responses I received felt judgemental and unsympathetic. Each time I would try to speak about my experience, people would become visibly uncomfortable, oftentimes rushing me to another topic of conversation, or attempting to comfort me with “words of wisdom”, highlighting the positive rather than focusing on the reality of what was. I began to loathe phrases like “Be strong” and “Keep your chin up.” That was not what I needed to hear. I needed someone to validate my pain, not try to rush me to a resolution. I needed to hear that however I felt was okay and acceptable.

Grief is a natural response to loss, but it has been my experience that it is often framed as something to be fixed.  It is seen as problematic- it is to be treated, and done away with as quickly as possible. We live in a death denying culture, best exemplified through workplace bereavement leave policies that attempt to quantify and contain grief to 1 to 3 “bereavement days,” after which we are expected to “be strong and soldier on.” Following the allotted time, we are no longer given the implicit permission to express our grief publicly, and if we do, there is surely something wrong with us. And so, we often retreat- isolating ourselves, becoming fearful of reaching out to others due to the judgement we may receive. Furthermore, we become judgemental toward ourselves and thoughts like “Why do I keep dwelling on this? There is something wrong with me,” “It has been weeks/months/years, I shouldn’t be feeling like this anymore,” “I need to get closure, so I can move on,” etc. begin to manifest, and we consequently begin to avoid and deny our grief for the sake of looking like we have put our grief behind us and moved on. But the reality is, the pain is still there, waiting to be heard and felt.

Grieving is not a timed process, as pain of such deep magnitude simply cannot be confined to a number of days, weeks, months or years. You will be sitting in the pain of your loss for the rest of your life. Of course, the pain will transform the more you move toward healing through expressing it, but it will always be there, because your love for the one who has died will always be there.

The normal you once had can no longer be found, because it no longer exists. The focus of the grief journey therefore, is not resolution but integration. It is about integrating the reality of your loss into your life, not putting it behind you.

Rest assured that your grief is not a problem to be fixed. There nothing shameful about it, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. However you feel is okay- today, tomorrow, and the countless days after that.

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.

 

 

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

Confronting Your Inner Critic.

 

 

We all have one. That inner voice that tends to judge, use put downs, and continually tell us that we are not good enough. That voice that tends to control us and severely impact our sense of self-esteem. It tells us that we have no right to “play big” or risk. That we shouldn’t even try because we’ll never make it. It latches onto our perceived flaws, weaknesses, limitations and keeps us stuck in a place of mental and emotional paralysis. It tells us that others are more favourable, that they are better- more talented, better looking, smarter etc. That they would never “mess up” the way we have. That they have it all together. It conjures up illusions of the “perfect other” and keeps us dormant.

Your inner critic typically sounds something like this:

  • “That was stupid!”
  • “You could have done that better.”
  • “You should have known better.”
  • “You’re such a disappointment.”
  • “I am so weak.”
  • “I’ll never be anything.”
  • “I knew I couldn’t do it.”
  • “You may as well give up.”
  • “You’re a failure.”
  • “Look how capable _______________ is.”

 

Shaming, degrading, discouraging, limiting, and usually, completely automatic. The inner critic can take some time to identify, as we are typically not even aware of the voice inside our minds and the profound impact it is having on our emotions and actions. The inner critic is also habitual, learned, and therefore changeable.

It’s in your power to change the critical voice which holds you, but it requires a dedicated willingness, persistence, patience and an abundance of self-compassion.

Imagine for a moment, a time when your critical voice took over. Bring yourself to that moment. Immerse yourself in the feelings of that moment, as difficult and as painful as it might be, remembering that you’re safe now, and grounded in this moment. If you can, however, try and reflect on the following questions:

  •   If your self-critical thoughts took on the appearance of a person, what would           this person look like?
  •          What is this person’s facial expression?
  •         Is this person big or small in comparison to you?
  •          What is this person’s tone of voice like?
  •         Is this person directing emotions your way? If so, what are they?
  •          Does he or she remind you of anyone?

(Welford, 2013, p. 40-41).

What have you discovered through reflecting on the questions above? Not surprisingly, the critic can often take on the appearance, stance, and tone of the person who was most critical toward you. We internalize their voice, until self-inflicted pain is all we know and the belief that criticism is all we are deserving of overwhelms us, making it all that more difficult to break the pattern. Plus, as odd as it may seem, there is comfort and security in the criticism for it is familiar, and solace usually comes from what we know, and what is predictable.

Welcome fear and hesitation around the prospect of ending your relationship with your critic. It’s natural. Be patient with yourself.

  •         What’s your greatest fear around giving up your self-criticism?
  •         What do you think might happen if you let it go?
  •         When reflecting on the emotions brought up by your self-critic do you think it          has your best interests at heart?
  •          Does it take joy in seeing you be happy and doing well?
  •          If your self-critic does have your best interests at heart, is it going about it the           right way?

(Welford, 2013, p. 42)

The thing about self-criticism is, it often makes us believe that we need it in order to grow, change and evolve. That without it we are destined to a life of mediocrity. That it is what motivates us to do better and be better. We begin to believe that achievement and criticism go hand in hand, because it is through being hard on ourselves that we are able to strive and succeed. And, this is all well and good…for a while at least. It’s all well and good until it begins to hinder our willingness to risk because we become fearful of the consequences we will surely endure if we fail.

Risk is the birth place of personal evolution.

The mere prospect of failure becomes crippling because we begin to feel that we would not be able handle the messages our internal critic would deliver to us should we not attain or achieve the outcome we desire. And so, we become stagnant, and mediocre.

Personal growth must come from a place of self-love.

Softness and gentleness are imperative mechanisms for change, because they allow us to give ourselves permission to falter and fail without condemning us to a feeling of complete and utter shame if the outcome is not that which we hoped for.

So, I encourage you to get cozy with your inner critic, as uncomfortable as it may be- for it is only through our awareness of its presence that we are able to eradicate it, and welcome the freedom found it unwavering self-love, for that is where your happiness, joy, and fulfillment rest.

 

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.

 

 

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.