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Ten Thousand Days

Gratitude, Love, Milestone, Ten Thousand Days

6 Years of Gratitude

August 17, 2020

Photo: Natasha Welingkar

Day 2193

What a year this has been!  As always, this anniversary sort of crept up on me.  I knew it was coming but this time of year seems to always be so busy that I never find the time to sit down and plan anything special.  It was a miracle that I managed to plan a party for my first year anniversary.  I am sure that I would not have managed it if it had not been for the gentle prodding of friends.

I like birthdays and last year’s 5-year marker was a big one.  I spent the first half of year 6 just being grateful to be alive.  Little did I know that 2020 would bring a string of news stories that would make me want to crawl into bed for at least the rest of the year.  In the end, I’m still grateful for the same thing: to be alive.

I had been struggling with a sense of boredom when, this past year, I hit another milestone and it was a daunting one.  I passed the 2,000 day mark and having spent 1/5 of the time to which I had committed, I wondered: what have I really achieved for the cause of gratitude, in this time?  In this past year, I have started a YouTube channel and I have been creating gratitude related content on a regular basis.  That trial by fire was a great way to get rid of boredom.  But it is hard to measure impact when the goal is simply to practice for a certain number of days.  Measuring impact is something I will be giving some attention in the coming year.  There is no way to increase impact (except by a fluke of luck) without measuring it.

During this past year, it also became clear to me that I am being called to write the stories of love.  I don’t mean some Harlequin romance novel.  I mean that I am being called to bring love to the forefront of my gratitude practice.  I think I struggled with this idea, initially, because I had been burned by love.  But, one terrible romance cannot get in the way of a whole way of being that is at the centre of my spiritual life.  And so, I am being called to bring my spiritual path of love to the gratitude table.

I thank you for 6 great years together and I hope that you will continue into the 7th year and an exploration of gratitude and love, together.

Photo: Carolyn V

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

In the Shadows that Are Not Shadows

August 15, 2020

Photo: JR Korpa

Day 2179 – Day 2191

My mother comes to visit, in the shadows that are not shadows.  I see her in the space behind me, out of sight but not out of sense.  She comes when I’m in trouble.  I know that she has something to tell me.  This time, I can’t focus to listen.

I feel guilty that for two years now I have not taken her with me, on an adventure, to remember her on the day she died.  Last year, I was fighting for my life.  This year, I was trying not to remember how close to joining her I came.  Denial never works for long.

And she is here this week.  This week when all the medical tests that have been postponed over and over again finally happened.  This week when one of the remaining surgical procedures that I needed has happened.  This week when I’ve spent days wandering a fog-filled landscape somewhere between waking and sleeping.  This is the week she appeared.

I spoke to her as I descended into a physical detox of suffering and shaking and told her: talk to CMF (1000 miles from me), because I am in no state to try to walk the spirit world.  Tell him what it is I need to know.  He will hear you.

She talked to him, and he heard her simple message.  It was a message that I knew.  There was no need to hear it.  From the shadows that are not shadows, it was there, in my consciousness already.

My mother comes to me when I’m in trouble.  My spirit was vulnerable this week – a week that was far more physically toxic than I had ever imagined it would be.  And my mother protected me, as only a mother will.

Sometimes it doesn’t take 3 things for which we are grateful or a moment of joy and oneness to know how blessed we really are.  Sometimes it just takes a visit from a mother who has been gone from this earth, for nearly twice as long as I had her in the flesh.

Photo: Guille Pozzi

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

My Quota is Filled

August 2, 2020

Photo: Jezael Melgoza

Day 2174 – Day 2178

“My quota of nonsense has been filled.  If you have nonsense to share with me, you’ll have to queue up for the next life.”

Someone said this is the attitude that I give off, lately.  To be fair, it is the attitude I tend to give off,  in a business setting, whenever I am met with nonsense.  I don’t suffer fools gladly, which makes me rubbish at sales.

If crisis and complex emergency teaches us anything, it is that, in a world of finite resources and challenging logistics, we need to establish what is the quota of stock we can store for the needs of ourselves and our charges, how much warehouse space we can spare for scrap stock, and how we will distribute the most valuable resources.   In good times and in bad, if we are to achieve what it is we came here to do, if we are to have a fulfilling life and to leave a legacy, then we must ration our physical resources, our time, our attention and our effort.  Love – we have that in plenty.  But when we ration the other things, where we spend our love gets focused as well.

My mother was the kindest and most tolerant person I’ve ever known and I developed those qualities through her example.  These are great qualities and I would never want to lose them.  What she didn’t really teach me, however, was how to recognize and minimize the nonsense of the time-wasters or how to recognize and back a good investment.  We don’t always have the ability to discern which will be a good investment, in the long run, but there are some criteria we should apply to our decision-making process.

We want to give where we feel there is some possibility of seeing a satisfying return.  If we’re talking about a relationship, there is nothing worse than finding yourself in the position of doing most of the work to initiate or perpetuate a bond between two people. If there is anything worse, it occurs when all they bring is scrap.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it is better to spend time alone than to spend time with someone who does not invest, valuably, in me.  I have often found that the best investments I’ve ever made have been those that I’ve made in myself.

If, however, we are talking about where we’d like to spread generosity, I look for those who are as willing to invest value into themselves as I am to invest in them.  A key value in my work-life is to develop others and there is nothing more soul destroying than to invest in someone who is dedicated to self-sabotage.

Maybe it was my brush with death last year.  Maybe it is this global pandemic and economic crisis.  Maybe it is one too many exhausting relationships.  Whatever it is, I’ve reached my quota of nonsense and I have no more tolerance for it.  My focus is on the fair and wise distribution and deployment of the assets in my warehouse.

I’m grateful for that wonderful observation that has given me a useful image to call to mind, whenever I am tempted to squander my resources.  I’m grateful for the gifts my mother bestowed on me so that I have valued resources to share.  I’m grateful that I have reached my limit.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Rusted Sentiments

July 28, 2020

Photo: Kevin Noble

Day 2167 – Day 2173

I was doing some research into search terms and found that the biggest hits on YouTube for gratitude were 5 or more years ago.  And yet, the world is still full of unhappiness, discontent and loneliness.

I also notice that the things that people seem to pay attention to are not simple and effective tools.  We’ve become so conditioned to highly produced television and film, immersive entertainment experiences and virtual reality that everything must be ‘packaged’ in order to sell.

I have mad respect for some of the non fiction gurus like Brené Brown and Simon Sinek and I notice Brené has the magic of taking home-spun truths and making them pithy and memorable, with catch phrases and acronyms.  Simon Sinek does the same with unexpected word combinations and grand sounding concepts that are essentially ancient wisdom wrapped up in LED lights.

LED lights are just a distraction.  Gratefulness is free.  Gratefulness is easy.  Gratefulness is transformative.

Nobody is searching for ‘gratitude.’  What surprised me more, when I did some research this morning, is that nobody seems to actually be searching for ‘happiness’ either.

If not happiness, what, then are people seeking?

Gratitude is an old-fashioned word.  You might call it a rusted sentiment.  I studied marketing in college, and I’m grateful for those skills, but I’m just more substance over style.  Maybe that’s just snobbery.  Maybe it’s a little bit of fear.

If I were a “YouTuber,” it would make sense to change my brand and niche.  If I were a writer aspiring to write for the New York Times, it would make sense to try to appeal to the hipster.  After all, gratitude is something that really grows with the ability to take a perspective on life.  Perspective, like wisdom, comes with time.  While we may appreciate being middle-aged with middle-aged thinking, only the new and youthful seems to trend.

I need to serve the message as best I can but trying to be trendy for the sake of popularity would be without purpose.   I’m not using gratitude as a vehicle to get famous for my skills.  I’m using my skills as a way to make gratitude a global movement.

I guess for that, I’m going to have to learn to play the game a little bit better.

Maybe, I’m too sentimental for my own good but I would like to live in a world where the go-to response to life is cooperation instead of competition, abundance instead of striving, and gratitude instead of lack.  Maybe together we can turn Joan Baez on her head and find not rust on the memory of Bob Dylan’s diamonds, but the diamond of happiness in that un-hip and rusty sentiment of gratitude.

(What can I say?  I have loved this song since I first heard a young busker play it on the South Bank in London just 5 years ago  – proof that each generation can re-invigorate worthy ideas).

 

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Circles

July 21, 2020

Photo: Robert Lukeman

Day 2160 – Day 2166

I wrote a thousand-word essay for today but I’m keeping it for myself and won’t post it.  When I feel something deeply, I am not inclined to talk about it.   While I may have fallen for the beautiful boy, I am not Ovid’s creation.  I will not be his Echo.

Right now, the ground beneath our feet is broken and so to reveal my heart would be perilous.  Things could spill out and fall through the cracks in the mantle of this world; parts of me might be swallowed by the earth and lost forever.  Or, he could swoop in, the seductive Trickster, and fly off with parts of me, never to be seen again; a kind of carrion that feeds his magic, without reverence for the Feminine.

I’ve got the heel of my soul stuck in a crack in the pavement. So, I walk in circles.  There is a spiritual harmony to circles and a rhythm that draws me inward on a spiral path.   I am descending into the unconscious, a land of images and symbols.  Listen to the drum and travel with the sacred bear to find the gift that will bring freedom.

Words are useless here. And yet, I owe a story.

I’m grateful for the land of symbol that cannot be captured.  I appreciate my readers who have borne witness to this journey.  I am thankful that I can trust you to keep the light on, upstairs, as I venture into the cellar of my psyche to rescue what needs rescuing and to discard what is no longer needed.

I will return, as Persephone, bearing blossoms.

Photo: Ava Sol

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

What if…

July 14, 2020

Photo: Emily Morter

Day 2153 – Day 2159

I’ve been feeling unwell this past week.  I had a surgery last year that went very wrong, and the error was undetected when they sent me home to face multiple organ failure.  The subsequent repair surgery was a long one that “sometimes doesn’t take.”  That potential failure looms for the rest of my life but is most likely to occur in the first two years, post-op.  And, even if it did take, I didn’t heal from it properly.  Last August, when I attended a family wedding, I was careful not to lift anything but I pulled my suitcase along the seat of my car and I ruptured my sutures inside, leaving me with a post-surgical hernia along the incision.  Add to this a deadly virus, and every time I feel unusual abdominal pain or nausea or I just feel generally out of sorts, I wonder: what if something is seriously wrong, inside my body?

The potential for hypochondria is real, but so is the potential to ignore the warning signs.  It makes sense to be cautious.  But, add the news of the world and the worry of losing loved ones who are sick with the virus, and it can flatten a person.

I’ve been sleeping a lot.  I know that when my body is unwell, it needs sleep.  I also know that when I’m depressed, I tend to sleep.  Being unable to do a lot of physical exercise, what if this sleepiness is the result of too many calories and not enough activity? What if I can’t tell the difference and instead of nurturing myself, I’m slipping into a clinical depression or co-morbid obesity?

I know that when I’m depressed, sleep will come as a comfort.  I will curl up under a cozy duvet and sleep for hours.  Early waking is also a personal sign of depression.  What has never been a sign of depression is a falling asleep in the middle of a sentence.

Right now, I need to lay down a lot to alleviate the pain and the nausea.  But this was worse last week than it is this week.  What if I had gluten or dairy and I didn’t know it?  Would that have caused my pain and nausea?  What if I’m falling asleep in the middle of a sentence because I’m de-conditioned and being sedentary and that is actually worse for me than risking making my hernia worse by choosing mild aerobic activity?

What if, what if, what if.  My mind sometimes goes around in circles.

I try not to watch the news.  I get the headlines and that is pretty much enough.  On the weekend, I visited a friend who watches the news all the time.  It put us both in a foul mood.  What if she never finds a job again?  We are both single and beyond the generation that swipes right.  What if we never meet anyone to love and to be loved by, again?  What if the border opens to the US and our curve spikes beyond our ability to cope? What if this is the end of the world?

It was a beautiful sunny day when I visited her in her waterfront home in the most glorious city in Canada.  Rather than want to go for a walk and enjoy the weather, all I wanted to do was to go home and lie down.

Today it is a beautiful day and later, I’m going to go for a micro walk around the block.  Tomorrow I’m going to do it twice.  I’m going to increase my time in the garden and I’m going to book a kayak rental for some time in the next two weeks.  What if it makes my hernia worse?  Oh but, what if I will feel better if I get active?  At least, in the case of kayaking, I will be doing something I love with every fibre of my being.

If I let it, I think this awful spiral of ‘What if” will kill me, long before anything else gets a chance.

I’m working on turning my what ifs upside down so that they are no longer limiting fears but are, instead, an expression of curiosity about possibility.  What if we are at the dawn of a great new world?  What if all this unrest and strife is necessary to bring about better understanding and turn back the tide of obscene concentration of wealth and power?  What if this economic slowdown ushers in an era of rebirth for the earth?  What if food shortages cause us to be more mindful of what we eat and how it is grown?  What if this separation and inability to connect makes us all that more grateful for the connections that we do have and makes us invent or return to old ways of connecting.  (When was the last time you wrote a letter?)

I’ve made an appointment to see the doctor and if I need to, I’ll see my surgeon.  I’m not hiding my head in the sand.  But, today is all I have.  Tomorrow isn’t here yet.  What if there is no tomorrow and I spent today worrying?

What if all the news of the world is just distracting us from our true nature and our birthright: a sense of bliss and equanimity, regardless of circumstances?

What if we can remember who we are and what truly matters?

Today, I’m going for a micro walk and I’m going to write a letter.  I’m going to make a video on another form of self-soothing to post on YouTube, even if nobody ever watches it.  I’m going to get outside and let the sun work magic on my mood and I’m going to water my garden and say hello to my fellow gardeners and maybe talk about the best way to prune the suckers from tomato plants.  I’m going to connect with the world and look for the beauty and the wonder in it all.

I’ve been writing about magic and miracles and about wanting to achieve my full potential.  Life is always finite and so very very short – whether the end of the world happens to coincide with the end of the life cycle of those who are living now or not.  This physical body has limits and it may be failing but it is also a gift and while I’m embodied, I’m going to use it well.  If the world is ending, I’m going to go out with gratitude in my heart, a remembrance of who I am and a connection to that thing that is greater than myself.

Photo: Lucas Wesney

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

To Dance with Channing Tatum

July 7, 2020

Photo: Christian Newman

Day 2148 – Day 2152

During the spring Lockdown of 2020, my friend and I entertained ourselves with fantasies of dating famous men.  Her thing was that she dreamed of dancing with Channing Tatum.  Most of the things we admire about people on whom we are crushing, are projections of our own positive qualities, that we have disowned.

I encouraged my friend to imagine fully what it would be like to dance with Channing Tatum and then to imagine herself as the woman that would be his dance partner.   What would it take to become her?  Would she need to get in better shape?  Would she need to learn to salsa?  Would she need a sexy wardrobe and to spend more time socializing to increase her social circle till that 6 degrees of separation could be worked to bring her into contact with Mr. Tatum?

I challenged her to set to work on being the woman who would dance with Channing Tatum.

For a few weeks, this motivated my friend.  But I think it takes a stronger vision than a dance partner to undertake the difficult work of changing one’s whole life or direction in life.  There needed to be a deeper longing for an inner goal.  We never identified what it was in Channing that she was projecting and so trying to become that was impossible. After a few weeks of dancing around her kitchen, my friend started letting other male friends into her bubble and Channing Tatum was soon forgotten.

I mourned this journey to Channing as much, if not more than my friend, because we failed to get the motivation right.

A few weeks ago, I took a Visioning course, run by my friend Renee Jenais.  I am having coaching sessions for career advice, so this time I decided I would work on visioning a really great relationship with an honourable man who challenges me to live up to my full potential and who has done his own work so that he has freed his mind, opened his heart, fully inhabited his physical being and is living a spiritual life.    In our first Visioning exercise, this man looked a lot like Idrees Elba.

via GIPHY

I found this interesting since I’ve never consciously  been particularly attracted to him.  However, it’s not him but what I project onto him that inspires me.  Now before you jump on me, I am aware that having charisma and confidence, owing to a mind that is free, is something most black men can not automatically claim. It is certainly not something that comes easily to the black man in colonizer cultures.  However, perhaps it is the fact that life is so hard on a black man that he bothers to consciously set out to do free his mind, in a way that many people of privilege will fail to do, all their lives.  A lazy mind and an unexamined self is something I can no longer tolerate in either myself or a partner.

When we did our next visioning exercise to take us to ourselves in the future, I was looking forward to seeing Mr. Elba as a slightly greyer fox.  What surprised me was that I saw myself, alone, and living the career and lifestyle that I’m working towards visioning and creating in my career coaching.  I did not appear lonely and I did not appear to be lacking for anything.  I appeared to be very happy and I appeared free.

I’m okay with that.  I like the idea of placing my focus on becoming the woman that will be a match for a man like my fantasy Idrees Elba who carries all of my projections.

I’m really grateful for that visioning class and I’m grateful for the wisdom I showed in advising my friend to do all she needed to do to be the person who would dance with Channing Tatum.  I’m grateful for Idrees Elba because whoever he is, as a person, he has become the repository of all the things I can’t yet own in myself.  Last night, when I felt too lazy to get on camera and try to talk about Mindfulness and Meaning, I knew that just washing and blow-drying my hair, applying a little lipstick, and sitting down to hit the record button took me one step closer to the freedom I desire.  It was a step closer to being the kind of woman that has lived up to  her spiritual, intellectual, physical and emotional potential.

Forget Channing Tatum.  In the end, forget Idrees Elba, too.  I am working to feel the freedom of embodying that woman and to dance with abandon, whether anyone else ever shows up to the party, or not.

Photo: Nadim Merrikh

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

The Magic of Hummingbirds

July 2, 2020

Photo: Nick Fewings of artwork by L7 Matrix

Day 2141 – Day 2147

This has been a strange week or two.  When, in 2020, has it not been a strange?  In my personal life, however, it has been strange and it has been strained.

I had the great good fortune to go kayaking off of Bowen Island this past weekend.  It is one of my favourite bodies of water and one of my favourite things to do and I got to do it with some of my favourite people.  Three great things for which I can be grateful, right there.  I had a busy night the evening prior to going kayaking and I was in the bathtub, washing off garden mud around midnight.  To keep me from falling asleep in the tub, I turned on a video from YouTube and as I have auto play enabled, YouTube just picks a video for me based on some formula.  I’ve ended up in some pretty wonderful places and I’ve ended up in some weird places, too.

YouTube played into what is called a pick-a-card Tarot reading about romance.  (Can you see the eye roll that I just did?) I was in the bath so I listened to all three options, one after the other.  They all had much the same advice.  But in one pile, the reader told the viewer to look for signs in the coming weeks and they suggested watching for repeating number patterns.  Well, we all know that I’ve been seeing repeating number patterns for months now, specifically 11:11, so when the reader said: “Or, you can pick your own sign and ask the Universe to send you the sign when your future spouse is near, or on the way into your life,” feeling cheeky, I said: hummingbird.  I’ve actually only once seen hummingbirds, in my entire life.  So, given that I’ve lived 257 years (or so it feels) and all of it has been as a single person, I figured hummingbird would give the Universe a sign that was as likely to appear as my future spouse was likely to walk into my life.

With 3 hours sleep in the tank, I managed to arrive on time for the ferry and our great adventure on the water.  It was a glorious day.  It was a hard paddle, but we saw lots of lovely birds and seals along the way.  As soon as I felt wind in my hair, however, I left my crew, announcing that I was going to turn back.  I’m the weakest paddler and so I knew that if a wind had come up, we were going to be facing a tide against us on the way home.  I had no idea that we were going to face the kind of waves that we did.  Three times I thought I would either capsize or smash into the rocks and be left with shards of a kayak.  I had to paddle hard and I had to paddle fast.  Once you’re in surf like that you either work the waves or the waves work you.  I was scared for about 15 minutes there and then I was scared for my friends, who were far behind me, having to battle that treacherous section of coastline as the wind continued to pick up.

We all made it back, though we agreed that this was not a day out for an inexperienced paddler.  It felt great to sit safely on the dock, having a drink and nursing our strained arm muscles as we awaited the ferry that would take us home.  We watched boats launch and then one of the guys in our group pointed at a nearby bush:

“Look, it’s a hummingbird,” he exclaimed.

I stared in disbelief.  Less than 24 hours after I had asked for a sign, the sign appeared.  I specifically asked for something that had, up to this point in my life, been rare.

No, I’m not marrying the fellow.  I’m not marrying anyone.  Is my future spouse in my life? Or are they on their way into my life?  I don’t know.  I’m single and wasn’t looking for a spouse when I got in the bathtub the night before.  I’m not in a rush to find a spouse. But I can’t shake the feeling that the hummingbird’s presence was the Universe showing her power and her magic.

About 10 days ago, I received an email from my meditation group.  It was an article from our spiritual teacher and a part of the article talked about how we have forgotten how to see the magic in the natural world and forgotten how to talk to the natural world.  I think we’ve completely forgotten the magic in the fabric of life, entirely.  What Carl Jung would have called synchronicity gets explained away as confirmation bias or coincidence.  Was my hummingbird a coincidence? Possibly.  Did I only notice the hummingbird out of the hundreds of other observations and birds we saw while kayaking? No, but it did stand out.  Was it a sign?  Well, maybe it was.

My spiritual teacher says that we must be attentive to signs, on this path.  It seems to me that I asked the Universe to speak to me and the hummingbird appeared, speaking to me in a language I don’t yet understand.

The day that I had received the article, I decided to forward it to a good friend of mine with whom I share many of our teacher’s videos and articles.  My friend and I talk a great deal about spirituality and I think it is what makes our friendship so deep.  As I went to forward it to him, I began typing his name and someone else’s email appeared.  They didn’t share the same letters in their name at all.  Well, that was weird.

I sat with it for a good 5 minutes, wondering if I should send the article to the person whose email appeared.  I’ve never met that man, but I do care about him.  We were experiencing something of a conflict and looking back, I was afraid that our connection might be irreparably strained.  I was afraid to reach out with an email from a spiritual teacher that he did not know, in the wake of conflict.   So, I deleted his email address and typed in my friend’s address in its place.

Last night, my meditation group met by video conference to discuss the article.  Our big take-away was that we needed to work to redefine our place in the natural world and to learn to communicate with. heal, and be healed by the non-human world of which we are a part.  This was going to require new symbols and working with new devices to tell a new story of creation.  It might feel like a kind of magic was unfolding.

Also last night, the person with whom I had been in conflict posted something suggesting that the pathways of communication may still open between us.

This evening, I sat down to write this post and it has taken me about 5 hours to know what to say.  While I waited, I listened to music and thought about the weird week or two that I’ve been living.  I thought about the magic of the hummingbird that appeared just when I asked for a sign.  I did a little google search this evening and found that in the Indigenous traditions of the Northwest Coast, where I live, the hummingbird is a symbol of healing, and a bringer of love, joy and luck.   I thought about the email address that appeared where it was not expected to be, and I put my doubts aside.  If that hummingbird taught me anything, it was to believe in a little magic.

I sent the article where it seems that it was intended to be sent, 10 days ago.  If it is the Divine’s intent, I hope it works a little magic in his life, too.

 

Photo: Christopher Campbell

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows

June 25, 2020

Photo: Nojan Namdar

Day 2134 – Day 2140

Sometimes life is not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.  Sometimes its riots, deadly viruses and murder hornets.  Lately I’ve become aware of my maladaptive behaviour that is really aimed at managing the stress and anxiety around the current state of the world and of my private life.  I know I’m not alone in this, but I honestly thought I was NOT experiencing any anxiety.  I’m cool.  I’m calm.  I’m on a spiritual high.  Yeah, what I was, was sick with some virus for many weeks, and sleeping while the world was panicking.  I’m not panicking, but I’m sure not even-keeled and some of my behaviours (like buying way too much pasta in my weekly grocery shop so that now I’m pretty sure I have pasta in my pantry for life) betray a real desire to find some control in a world that is out of control.

In the last week or so, I’ve laid down some difficult boundaries with a long-time friend, I got into a disagreement with someone I care about but have never met (I need to back away from my computer), and I watched my family gather for Father’s Day and talk to one another, instead of with my Dad in the way that people tend to do with the elderly or sick, as if they’ve already left the room, or the planet.  I can’t bear that.

It is all just getting to be too much for me and I’ve been feeling the weight of this for at least 3 weeks.  I’m no longer buying pasta.  But this leaves a gap and I’m trying to find ways to self-soothe when it can feel like the whole world is falling out from under us all.

I’ve been gardening.  There is a unique satisfaction in killing off a pesky weed.  Even gardening is not easy.  I was cut from breastbone to pelvic bone and then across the midline at the waist last year, when I needed surgery to save my life.  As I was healing, the midline stitches ruptured and now I have a hernia across my waist along the incision.  It’s not like we ever use our core to oh, get out of bed, or stand up straight, let alone bend or lift things when gardening.  I’m pretty tired of being physically limited, myself.  If I could, I’d be out every other night, kayaking.  I feel like a prisoner, not only of my own home, but of my own skin.

I started disappearing from view many weeks ago, when a friend urged me not to spend so much time being a ray of sunshine on social media and to just focus on myself.  Maybe if I were a different person, that would help me get through this time.  But, I find meaning in trying to be a positive model of gratitude, even in the dark times.  When I stopped, in a public way, I lost the meaning in my life.  That is a terrible place to be.

It all is hitting me, and I know my mental health is suffering.  And then I withdraw, more.  Aside from hoarding pasta, I’ve been hoarding my emotions.

It’s time to let them go and lay them down and let the fear just be there.  I haven’t wanted to do that, but finally, today, as I sat in the car outside my Dentist’s office, anticipating the special-forces-covert-operation that I was about to undertake to fix a tooth broken from nighttime teeth grinding, I had a meltdown.

I know.  You came here for sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.  This is crap!  I know: You want a refund.  But here is the plot twist…

After my meltdown, just as I have done every day in my private way, as the weight of this crapfest has been descending on me, I stopped and I gave thanks for 3 things.  I looked for that moment of beauty or laughter upon which I could reflect and feel joy.  And, despite my withdrawal, I do know that I am connected with a network of wonderful friends around the world.  I’m here writing to say you are not alone, in case life ever seems too much for you.

A simple practice really can keep one’s head above water.

I’m grateful for this practice, which lifts my spirits so that I can face another day of worsening news headlines.   I’m grateful for my own wisdom that tells me that the future has never been certain and that this is the opportunity to see that the way we live is built on illusion.  If the future is uncertain, then maybe, just maybe, we get the chance to decide how to live in the now.  And I’m truly grateful for the friends I have, IRL and virtually, around the world.  They remind me that we are all in this together and that we can’t survive without one another.  But most of all, I am grateful for my faith – in humanity, and in something greater than myself.

I am still paying off a mountain of credit card debt from all that pasta, so I can’t afford to refund your money.  I went to the internet and found some Lesley Gore for you.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Articles, Ten Thousand Days

Five Ways to Have Healthier Disagreements

June 18, 2020

Photo: Frank Busch

Day 2127 – Day 2133

If you are not currently getting into debates with people, you probably are in a coma. As we open up our countries from a prolonged lockdown, there are all sorts of opinions of how to properly be out in public.  Add to that the issue of the existence or non-existence of systemic racism, throw in a pinch of national xenophobia over border closure in pandemic times, and a climate of political discourse that precedes any American election, and BAM! we’ve got ourselves a nice little Molotov cocktail of disharmony.

This week I got embroiled in a discussion with someone I care about, who happens to be in the public eye.  Everyone who tried to engage with him, and caution him about his involvement with something that many deem to be shady, was trying to be helpful.  I dipped a toe into the pool and before I knew it, I was head first in the shallow end.

What I got was gaslighting, denial, deflection, dismissal and defensiveness.  Okay, okay, I was arguing ethics and as a Minister, I am passionate about morality and ethics.  Anyone arguing ethics can come across as condescending and bossy.  I’m sure that I did.  I was probably judgemental even though I was trying to reserve or at least – let’s be honest – conceal my judgement.  I made assumptions. Yeah, I am not perfect.  What I can say is that I tried to be kind, and to come from a position of caring concern, but I made a rookie error.  I didn’t engage him.  I never asked him a question. I just threw statements at him and there is nothing to do with a statement but agree with it or refute it.  It encourages lines in the sand.

When hot-headed passion meets hard-headed defensiveness, that’s not going to produce anything good.

A friend of mine, who is one of the most intelligent men and most effective negotiators I’ve ever known, recently posted some advice to his friends who are engaging in BLM discussions.  One thing he advised people was to always make sure they are laughing when they respond to egregious comments.  If it doesn’t lighten the mood, it will at least keep you from sinking into hopelessness or exhaustion.

I was exhausted.  We laughed once but we both have a good sense of humour and in retrospect, we should have gone for more levity.

Why didn’t I ask questions to engage him?  To be honest, I didn’t like the way he spoke to me.  I may have come across aggressive.  He got defensive.  In his defensiveness, he gaslighted everyone who had raised the red flag and called us, essentially, liars.  My buttons got pushed and I machine-gunned him with statements.  I know better!  But my point is that when we are passionate, it is so easy to let the worst come out in ourselves.

It didn’t go well, but I’m grateful that I spoke up.  I have felt like I’ve been watching a slow-motion car crash.  I’m grateful that I tried to divert the car from crashing, but if someone is hell-bent on driving a 12-foot truck under an 8-foot bridge, there is nothing you can do.  And, it’s not our job to get in the way of karma.  All in all, it didn’t feel good, but I’m grateful that we at least had one moment of laughter.  And finally, I’m grateful to be able to discern where I failed in my approach.  Yes, maybe the guy is a jerk and nothing I did differently would have helped us to have an emotionally mature disagreement.  I don’t believe that of him and I do believe there is always more we can do to improve our communication.  Even when we try to come from love, we can fail.

For the benefit of those who may be embroiled in passionately heated arguments right now, I offer you what I’ve learned from my own failures, this week.

 

Five Ways to Have Healthier Disagreements

 

1. Convey that you are not here to fight.  Never raise your voice, use affirming word choices, and if you are offering a criticism of someone’s actions, do so indirectly so that it gives them some solid ground on which to stand. Even the phrase: ‘I don’t want to fight, I’m here to help’ may be useful, but sometimes, nothing works and you’ve got to diffuse the argument.

2. Ask questions instead of making statements.  This effectively engages the person in a conversation rather than creating a situation where everyone will dig in their heels and lob rocks at one another.  When asking those questions, really seek to listen and to understand.  It is the beginning of the process of helping someone feel heard.

3. Take a breath and listen.  Taking a breath can stop us from saying those things we can’t take back.  Pause.  And then listen. Actually listen to what is being said and to what is being conveyed, non-verbally.  There is magic in being heard.  Listening does not mean we are relinquishing power.  When we give space to someone to be heard, we are actually holding that space and it is we who are empowered.  When we have finished listening, we can then mirror back what we have heard.  Being heard is the most miraculous heart softener there is.  Once someone feels heard, and understood, they are always more open to persuasion.

4. Exercise empathy, humour and seek areas of agreement.  There is always something we have in common and if we can find common ground and loosen up our positions a little bit, we both can become more willing to be persuaded.  One of the easiest ways to loosen up our positions is to use humour.  That doesn’t mean laugh at one another and ourselves and then go home.  It means laugh at one another and ourselves and then get back to talking, with empathy, about the topic at hand, but from a more agreeable space.  If all else fails, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see it from their perspective.

5. Pick your battles and recognise when to quit.  We are not the rulers of the world and we are not here to control the actions or change the thinking of everyone we meet.  Why waste time, emotional and spiritual energy on petty matters?  By the same token, as members of society, we must speak up when to do so could result in the prevention of harm to another.  Even our best intentions sometimes can be ineffective and we must learn to recognise intransigence and conserve our energy.   When someone takes a position and digs in, it is very difficult to move them out of their trench.  Trench warfare has never resulted in anything but a great deal of loss of life.

Stop, because any caged animal will attack.

Stop.  If we’ve failed in any of our skills of persuasion, it is a good time to review the conversation and see how we could have been more effective.  Perhaps there will be a better time to re-open the discussion.  And perhaps there will not, but – again – it is not our responsibility to change the minds of everyone in the world.  Let it be.  We never know what impact our conversation may have, over time.

I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities for all of us to practice our skills in the coming days.  And even if we feel we must fight the good fight, it is alright to take a break.  Exhaustion is as good as defeat.  If you find these suggestions difficult to implement, you are not alone.  I have a lot of work to do on this.

But, if we are going to bring about the world we want, then we can, and we must learn to have healthier disagreements.

 

Photo: Daniel Mingook-Kim

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Colour Blind

June 11, 2020

Photo: Sharon McCutcheon

Day 2121 – Day 2126

This week I was speaking with a friend about the BLM protests we’ve been seeing around the world.  I have my theory, from a white person’s perspective, on why this has erupted in a way it hasn’t before, and I’ll talk about that this week in a post on my YouTube channel. At issue is our role in systemic racism.

So many people have suffered these past two weeks:  George Floyd and his family; the protestors and journalists who were shot, beaten and tear gassed; and the many looted businesses, some of them small businesses that will never now recover.

All the attention to the issue has been inspiring but what do we do to actually change systemic racism in the world? Yes, there has been moves to reform policing but nothing exists in a vacuum.  The system is not just the system of enforcement but the system that allowed it to go unchecked.  If nothing really changes in each of us who stood by and let it happen, it will be a terrible tragedy.

I read Dr. Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Prison this week, which the Atlantic kindly republished.  What struck me was the way he called out supposedly God-fearing people that have stood by and allowed unjust laws and unjust application of laws to continue.  Serving God means working to be anti-racist.

I don’t know how to change a “system” to make it anti-racist.  I studied international development, political science and economics and as I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I came away not with hope for change but a cynicism born of academic discourse.  The one thing that had been drummed into my mind was that systems cannot be changed.  Change must come from the people.  Even then, don’t blink, because special interests and power-politics will always be a part of human nature and corruption will arise over and over again.

The darkness of the world has always accompanied the light.  Yes, corruption may always exist, but it does not have to exist within me.  I am a part of the “system,” just as you are.  A system is nothing more than a collection of processes and machinations that people agree and accept.  People create and perpetuate the system and if I change myself, the entire system changes.

I’ve been examining my assumptions this week.  The other day, I was in the garden centre and a young black man was there picking out some herbs.  I suggested to him to get some basil because it goes so well in so many dishes.  I was aware that he was black, and as I walked away, I wondered if I had assumed that he had never gardened before, because he was black.  Would I have made the same assumption if he was a young white man?  I think I probably would. Perhaps I was friendlier than I might have been out of a sense of solidarity, but my response – while perhaps ageist and sexist, was not particularly racist.  I’m grateful that I was aware in the moment, and checked myself for racism.

I was recounting the story with some fellow gardeners who are POCs this week and I said to them that I’ve always considered myself to be colour-blind when it comes to people but that I was questioning whether that was as virtuous as it first appears.  It is part of growing up in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society where difference is – according to the Canadian narrative – celebrated and normalized.  But not all difference is celebrated here.  For instance, the Canadian population has a deeply entrenched racism against Indigenous peoples.  To dismantle that racism would be to face our existence as trespassers on this land.  For all our talk as a nation, we have not done nearly enough.

And, while I’ve always had friends of many races, and I’ve been aware – intellectually – of the differences in our cultures, I’ve never known what it is to be a black man or an Asian woman, or an Indigenous child.

I think it is a beautiful thing to view my friends, colleagues and lovers as equal to me regardless of their race or ethnicity.  I remember a good friend – a black man in New York City – once told me that he had learned to be much more tolerant of people through knowing me.  I don’t know if that is because I modelled tolerance for him or if he had to stretch his patience to tolerate me.  To be fair, it was probably a bit of both.  But, I was raised to be curious about and respectful of people that lived, worshipped, or looked different than I did, and that curiosity became a value of egalitarianism and an experience of Oneness, as I grew to adulthood.

But is that completely virtuous?  In a group, ignoring difference may impose a dominant cultural norm and narrative to any crowd.  I’ve reflected on the ways in which I’ve had to put aside my religion or sexuality or gender or nationality in order to fit in.  Some of these things are easy to minimize.  I wonder how it must feel to have to put aside one’s skin colour and all the experiences that go with it, in order to fit in.

Like all things in life, there is a good and not so good side to being colour blind.  I’m grateful both that I am not a racist, and that I’ve had the chance to deconstruct my colour-blindness to see where I can work to be actively anti-racist.

Even as I examine colour-blindness, I don’t really know how it actually impacts others.  Perhaps the best way to know is to ask and to listen and to adjust. I intend to continue questioning my assumptions and making space for more consensus in all my interactions.

So much has happened these past two weeks that I think it will take months to process it all.  I have ‘family’ in Belgium and this week I learned, with horror, about the atrocities that the Belgian colonizers inflicted on the people of the Congo.  I was familiar with the legacy of the Belgians in Rwanda but the Congo was a little murkier for me.  The images of black people in cages and the Belgian construction of a human zoo for the world’s fair was shocking to me.  I have even visited the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium and while the place felt creepy and colonial, somehow, I never learned that it was the site of a human zoo.  Did I never learn it? Or, did the atrocity of it just never really sink in?  I suspect that because I visited over a decade ago, this dirty secret had been swept under the carpet and remained there.  But, I can’t be certain that I didn’t turn a blind eye to a distasteful bit of history.

I’m sure that the images of black children in cages were responsible for my dream two nights ago.  I dreamed I saw small black creatures in cages and I was afraid of these creatures and afraid that they might escape.  For all my liberalism, there is still an unconscious part of me that has adopted the underlying cultural narrative that black people are to be feared.

Perhaps witnessing the justifiable anger at George Floyd’s murder turn to violence during these protests threatens my sense of safety in the world.  Consciously, I abhor the police violence, but my unconscious mind throws up images that suggest I fear the unleashing of black power.

What is that fear about? Yes, losing some of my privilege is scary, but the idea of hundreds of years of anger being unleashed in acts of violence upon me for the colour of my skin is terrifying.  Yet, isn’t that exactly what the white person has done to the black person, for hundreds of years, all around the world?  My unconscious mind fears justice for the wrongs of my ancestors and of my own generation.  Rather than fearful images of a police state, I see images of dangerous black creatures in cages.  My unconscious mind favours the police who maintain my privilege and suppresses black power.  Isn’t that something?

This terrifying dream is a gift of awakening.

Not all fear is a gift of awakening.  I remember, years ago, in New York City, I was walking down the street and as a black man passed me, I found myself putting my hand, unconsciously, on my handbag.  I noted it at the time and noted that there was nothing menacing about the man.  It was an unconscious reaction borne of the dominant cultural narrative that black men are dangerous, and that black men are criminals.  Watch American television and you will see where children become indoctrinated to this idea and grow up to be adults that tolerate the disproportionate representation of black people in prison and the existence of racial profiling in policing.

I asked a friend, who is a therapist, how we can undo all the layers of our unconscious racism.  A good way is to recognize it and talk about it, she said.   She asked me to imagine myself walking down a dark alley at night.  How would I feel if a black person approached me versus a white person?  I told her that the difference, for me, would be if it was a man versus a woman.  I would feel comfortable with a woman of any colour and threatened by a man of any colour.  Given that no woman has ever physically harmed me, and no man of colour has ever physically harmed me, but it has been exclusively white men have physically harmed me, it seems unfair to men of colour.

Would I still touch my handbag unconsciously now, if I were passing a black man on the street?  I don’t know.  I would hope not. No black man has ever harmed me.  Consciously, I have seen my colour blindness as a non-racist virtue.

But my dream tells me that I have unconscious racism and an awful lot of work to do.

 

Photo: Oleg Sergeichik

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Judge and Jury

June 5, 2020

Day 2117 – Day 2120

Earlier this week, I made a statement on my social media in support of the black community, amongst other disadvantaged groups.  Some people joined protests.  Some people donated money silently.  Some people were simply silent.

A lot of people judged one another’s response and pointed fingers at one another.

As far as I understand it, the idea of anti-racism is that it is no longer enough to simply not be racist, we must actively take a stand and work towards dismantling racism within all our systems.  We should not be applauded for never doing something dastardly if we stand by and watch others do it.  I get that.  This makes sense to me.  As a privileged white person, I still have inner and outer work to do.

I also know that I don’t know what is happening with the intentions of others, whether they are silent or vocal. All I can do is pay attention to my own intentions and behaviours and work with those people whose behaviour shows me that they are willing to walk the walk of intentions that align with my own.  If I see someone who isn’t fitting into that category, I have a choice to make: do I assume, or do I have a conversation?  As difficult as it is, I’m going to start having those conversations.  I may lose some relationships, as a consequence.  But, I might actually gain some, too.

There is no perfect response.  Sometimes PTSD and silence look the same.  Let us not judge the BIPOC person who cannot face another dead black man or woman and who does not join the protest.   And, let us help guide our brothers and sisters who have not quite caught on to the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist.  Social change takes changes within each and every one of us.  Change always takes time and isn’t linear.  Let us listen to the needs of the ones who are oppressed and then take action that amplifies, without paternalism.

I know I’ve got a lot to unlearn in order to be a potent anti-racist ally but I’m committed to doing that and I’m going to be imperfect and have blind spots.  I expect people to call me out when I’m wrong, but I ask us all to do so with respect for the fact that we are both headed in the same direction.

One of my best friends is a black man living in New York City.  I admit that I urged him to stay home.  Is that wrong?  I just don’t want him being arrested – or worse – because he is a black man out buying groceries, let alone protesting.  I want my loved ones to be safe and I also want change.  One of my favourite YouTubers captured some footage at a protest and you can clearly hear black protestors arguing about whether they should be putting their lives on the line, if it comes to that.  Everybody is having a difficult time deciding how to respond.

And, with that said, while I’m not reposting photos of police officers taking a knee, this does not mean that I think Blue lives don’t matter.  My personal opinion is that police and justice reform is required, in Canada and in the UK, to promote ways of policing and keeping the peace that no longer disproportionately targets certain groups of people.  (I will leave it to citizens of their own countries to determine if it is needed there).  I do not believe that the majority of law enforcement is made up of bad people – at least not in Canada or in the UK.  The fact that we have frequent incidents of excessive force and a disproportionate number of police killing innocent people from the BIPOC community tells me that if the people are not bad, then the system must be.  That is where I think we should be channelling our work – dismantling and rebuilding a just and fair system.

Everybody – whether BIPOC or white, whether protestor or police – deserves to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. At a time when we are standing up for justice and equality, let us not become judge and jury towards our fellow human being.

Let’s talk and let’s listen.

I’m grateful for the dialogue.  I am grateful for the press – whether official or citizen – that is documenting what is going on in the world.  I’m grateful for those who are willing to reserve judgement and offer ideas that will help me find my way through.  I hope that maybe this reminder might help someone else, who is struggling.  I’m grateful to be called out – either through a public activist who is calling out a society, collectively, or by a friend who will privately have a conversation with me.

But I’m also grateful that I have a platform to say this: call-out culture and an attitude of us versus them is not okay.  Publicly or privately shaming anyone or any group of people is not okay.  Shame is not the way to win someone to your ideas; it seems to me that it makes someone take a firm defensive position even when they might have been struggling to know where to stand.  Where they could have been persuaded to be an ally, they are now divided from us.

Finally, I’m grateful that my spiritual path is love because as far as I have seen, love is always the only answer.

Photo: Perry Grone

 

For what are you most grateful, today?