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.

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.

 

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.”

 


 

 
 
 

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?