Rest and Play

Last weekend, my daughter and I woke up to a grey and rainy Saturday. We lounged around in our pajamas, reading books for most of the morning. As we neared lunch time, my child was struck by the idea to build a fort in the living room. We pulled out every blanket and pillow in the house, constructing a cosy rabbit warren of cushions and comfort. We drank tea under the cover of darkness, faces lit by the camping light.

After enjoying our new ‘home’ together, we pulled on some clothes and took our dog out into the wind and rain for a blustery walk on the beach. Returning home to warm mugs of hot chocolate, I prepared dinner, and we watched “The Sound of Music” on tv trays, tucked up on the couch. We pulled out the sleeping bags and spent the night sleeping in the fort.

This day was the first in a long time that I allowed myself to be completely and fully at ease with doing ‘nothing’ on the weekend; my focus was simply on allowing myself to steep in the enjoyment of the moment and be fully present with my loved one. I let my child lead the way. This is her natural habitat. I simply had to follow.

As a busy, independent parent, I normally have a long list of chores and activities to attend to on the weekend; I rush around in a desperate attempt to get it all done before I start back to work again on Monday. It has recently started to dawn on me that the work is never really done and there is very little satisfaction in spending my precious free time ticking things off a list. I need to prioritize rest and play as much as duty.

While it is essential to tend to the immediate and pressing needs of your family, there is a real risk of missing out on the life happening around you, if you push yourself too far in the pursuit of perfection. Endless doing and busyness is more often driven by anxiety, rather than necessity.

There is boundless joy to be found in exploring opportunities to rest and play: and no better teacher than a child to demonstrate how to do this well. Before every weekend task I undertake, I am now trying to ask myself, “Is this really necessary? Can I let this go for now?” Although I cannot always dedicate a whole day to rest, I can purposefully choose to build in pockets of time. It is a dance to find ways to let things go while also achieving what needs to be done to keep my family running; but I am finding it to be well worth the effort.

Something to Inspire

I recently watched a really inspiring three-part Netflix series by Davis Guggenheim on Bill Gates called, Inside Bill’s Brain. The series covers the basics of Gates’ life: his childhood, education, Microsoft stewardship, marriage to his wife Melinda, and the charitable foundation they co-manage.

Each episode of Inside Bill’s Brain focuses on one of the foundation’s major initiatives: improving sewage conditions in developing countries, eradicating polio, and developing a cleaner, safer form of nuclear power. The three parts shifts rapidly between interviews, biographical material, and fly-on-the-wall footage of the Gates team’s philanthropic missions. 

I particularly enjoyed it, as the series highlights what individuals can achieve with personal wealth and influence, if they set their minds to it. Gates, and his wife Melinda, have dedicated their lives to tackling some of the world’s biggest issues and facilitating meaningful change; and it is making a difference.

Five years ago, Gates outlined his concern about an impending pandemic on the TED stage; his predictions were based upon the Gates Foundation’s direct experience in helping to tackle virus outbreaks with Ebola, Zika, MERS and SARS. In the presentation, he identifies the steps needed to prepare nations to face an outbreak on a global scale.

Chris Anderson, Curator of TED talks, recently interviewed Gates to ask him about the current COVID-19 pandemic and to learn how the Gates Foundation is investing in scientific research and the development of a vaccine to tackle it. Amazingly, Gates presents an optimistic view for the future: outlining how nations must act now, learn from this crisis, and pave the way for better response and preparedness in the future.

Life in this Moment

I have been at home with my daughter for four weeks now due to COVID-19. School is cancelled for the foreseeable future and I am working remotely. It is a very strange existence: one in which human contact is limited to the phone and internet. There is almost a complete lack of physical interaction with the outside world: except when I venture to the grocery store once a week. Even that could be ending soon, as some local stores are starting to limit shopping to online orders and delivery.

My ten year old child has not seen her friends for over a month. She is celebrating her birthday on Monday with a Zoom party. I cannot even imagine what this strange reality is like for her. Children thrive on play, exploration and imagination. As she does not currently have access to her peers, I am attempting to fill the void. We are enjoying daily games of hide and seek and impromptu dance parties.

That being said, I am struggling with trying to work full time and also support my child’s learning and emotional needs. It is hard for her to understand why she needs to spend so much time on her own, with self-directed activities, and we have been butting heads more than usual. It is easy to fall into a familiar pattern of feeling like a failure but I have been trying to remember to be realistic and kind. There is no right way to get through the current situation. I just need to do my best and apologize when I lose my temper.

As we navigate forward together in this “new normal”, I am taking note of certain things:

A Slowing of Time: In our house, we have shifted from living a busy, frantic schedule, to adopting a slow and even daily rhythm. There is no more commute or rushing to activities. There is just pockets of time unfolding within the small space of our home. I am finding it easier to transition between work and home activities with much less effort than usual.

Heightened Awareness and Gratitude: I have a deeper understanding of the contribution and sacrifice that our front line workers make every day. Not only the amazing health care and emergency services professionals but the grocery store clerks, garbage collectors, delivery truck drivers and mail carriers. Each of them is integral to the success and functioning of our society, both during this crisis, and every other day. Every night, when we show up at 7pm to applaud and make noise across the province, I do it for all of them.

Global Interconnectivity: There is nothing that we have in our society that is not reliant upon contributions from other parts of the world. From the medicine in our pharmacies, to our food supply, and manufactured products, we need each other. No country is an island. We are a global community.

Importance of Movement: Taking the time to move my body each morning is essential for my mental and physical well being, especially right now. It clears my mind and provides me with fuel for the day ahead. There are a number of free resources and trials available online that you can do at home. Some of the ones that I am enjoying include: Beach Body and Do Yoga With Me. My favourite trainer is Autumn Calabrese and yoga teacher is Fiji McAlpine.

Time in Nature: Despite COVID-19, spring continues to unfold around us. Crocuses, tulips and daffodils are pushing their bright heads through the ground. Delicate pink buds are appearing on the trees. Hummingbirds are trilling their mating calls to one another. Life is teeming. It is now warm enough to return to the garden and put my hands in the soil. I am enjoying the gift of the outdoors and feeling the sun on my face.

Time with Loved Ones: Although I miss seeing my friends and family in person, I have noticed an increase in connectivity since the crisis started. I have been using FaceTime and Zoom to call people that I have not talked to in months. We host Friday and Saturday night group gatherings. We make impromptu calls. With more time at home, and a lack of distractions, it is bringing people together more than ever. There is a renewed appreciation for those we love and a desire to express it.

Kindness and Love: Despite all of the frightening things that are happening right now, there are so many stories of hope and love and resilience. From the stories of postal workers in Ireland volunteering to check in on the elderly, to the hundreds of thousands of retired health care workers returning to work to help, and the citizens of Italy serenading to one another from their balconies: people are showing up for one another. As Mr. Rogers always told his young viewers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Hope for a Different Future: Humans can achieve extraordinary things when they put their mind to it. COVID-19 is shining the spotlight on a very broken global economic system and its vast inequities. The drastic changes that have occurred within the last month demonstrates how quickly it is possible for us to shift gears when we are motivated to do so. Perhaps this is our opportunity to start over. To reimagine what is possible if we were to do things differently going forward. This can be our moment.

Living with Uncertainty

“Present moment, perfect moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I have not been able to bring myself to post onto the blog for a month now. Every time I sit down to write, I have been at a loss for words. All I can think is: “What can I possibly contribute at this moment?” A virus threatens the health and security of millions of people across the globe. Many of us are quarantined at home and physically separated from one another, with no end in sight. The world is in turmoil. Why does my one little voice matter?

As I have struggled with these doubts, readers continue to visit my site, despite there being a lack of new content. I am humbled to imagine a person sitting in Australia, India, Russia and Israel taking the time to read my words; and it reminds me that love, community and connection are the lights that will guide us through this this dark time. It gives me the courage to show up again on the page. I want you to know that I am here for you. You are not alone.

As a naturally anxious person, the last few weeks have been difficult. The human brain is wired to project itself into the future; it prefers to imagine the worst case scenario, and anticipate what is coming, rather than sit with the discomfort of uncertainty. The truth is that I do not know what will happen next or when this current situation will end. I do not know what life will look like on the other side. All I know for sure is what I am experiencing in this very moment; and it is hard.

The child-like part of myself desperately wishes for things to be “fixed” and to go “back to normal”. The wise part knows that life is complex and messy: not just now, but always. It is important for me to meet life on its own terms. I must make space for the difficult and uncomfortable emotions that I feel about our new reality: grief, sadness, fear and anger. They are all valid and true. They each need the opportunity to show up and to be heard.

In her recent podcast, Brené Brown speaks to the damage caused by comparative suffering in a catastrophic situation such as COVID-19. This is the belief that you are not allowed to feel upset and afraid, when many others face much worse: the front line workers; marginalized and vulnerable populations; countries with no infrastructure. The reality is that pushing your own emotions away only results in guilt and shame. Shame is the opposite of empathy. It is constricted, self-focused and finite, whereas empathy is boundless. You can hold emphatic space for your own difficult emotions, as well as for the suffering of others; and it is important to create space for both. This provides us with the strength that we require to make it through a time of crisis: both as an individual and as a part of the collective.

Right now, my daily work is to bring my mind back into the present moment. The wonderful writer, Liz Gilbert, recently shared a technique that she uses to ground herself, and I am finding it to be very helpful. It is called Five, Four, Three, Two, One. First, you look around and identify five things that you can physically see in your immediate surroundings (e.g. green grass, street lamp, red shoes, mail box, flower pot). Then move onto identifying four things that you can hear (e.g. garbage truck, robin chirping, person talking on their phone, wind in the trees). Again, it can be even the smallest thing, but it needs to be something happening in the here and now. Then move onto naming three things that you can feel (e.g. woollen scarf, cold fingertips, watch). Follow it with two things that you can smell (e.g. fresh cut grass, a daffodil). And lastly, one thing you can taste (e.g. remnants of morning coffee).

In a time of great uncertainty, this simple exercise will help to ground you in your body, as it brings the mind back to the present moment. This is our work right now: to feel; to notice; to show up for ourselves and each other; to keep putting one foot in front of the other; to take it one day at a time. As a wise woman once said to me: “The only way out is through.” I have always held this close to my heart and it has served me well. Take my hand and let’s keep going. We can do hard things together.

Slipping Away

As my mother slowly slips away into the unknown abyss of Alzheimer’s disease, I am helpless to stop it. As she walks deeper into the dark and dense forest of her mind, I have to let her go. The entry is barred. I cannot follow her in or bring her back. My role is to bear witness and to nurse my broken heart. To tend to those of us left behind. To be strong. I am familiar with this uncomfortable territory. I have been here before. I long for things to return to how they once were. I yearn for the past.

When I look into her eyes, I do not know where she has gone. There is a glimmer of the woman that I once knew. She smiles in recognition of my face. She kisses my lips with love. But there is a dullness in her gaze and a slowness to her gait. We walk in familiar circles along linoleum lined hallways. She talks about everything and nothing: words crashing together, landing in a tangled pile on the floor.

The fiercely independent woman who once forged her own path in life is now reliant on the help of others to complete the most basic of tasks. A life that was once large and colourful is now contained and beige. I am grateful for the people that help us. They are our community. We lean on one another; but I am sad for a loss that is not yet fully a loss. Her memory is breaking into little crumbs. She is leaving pieces behind her: trying to remember her way home.

I am mourning my mother while she still stands before me. It is a strange and confusing time; and I carry a sadness deep in my heart. It is a weight heavy in my pocket. I try to stay in the moment and appreciate the small things, without looking forward or gazing back, “How are you now?…and now?…and now? What do you need? How can I ease your pain?”

It is hard to allow space for heart break. The discomfort is easy to push against and resist; but it needs to breathe and express itself or it will take up permanent residence inside of the body. This is my work at the moment. Allowing the pain to just be. Feeling it and letting it burn. Knowing that it will eventually pass. Everything is transitory. Remaining grateful for the opportunity to love so deeply in my life that my heart can be broken open, and come back together, time and time again.

As Glennon Doyle summarizes it beautifully in her book Untamed: “…I learned that there is a type of pain in life that I want to feel. It’s the inevitable, excruciating, necessary pain of losing beautiful things: trust, dreams, health, animals, relationships, people. This kind of pain is the price of love, the cost of living a brave, open-hearted life – and I’ll pay for it.”

The Untethered Soul

I recently finished reading Michael A. Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul; and it is one of the best books on spirituality that I have ever read. It is deceptively simple guidebook to connecting with your inner essence. By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, Singer shows how the development of consciousness enables us all to dwell in the present moment: releasing painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization.

Copublished with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) The Untethered Soul begins by walking you through your relationship with your thoughts and emotions, helping you to uncover the source and fluctuations of your inner energy. It then delves into what you can do to free yourself from the habitual thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns that limit your consciousness.

Although it is hard to boil this wonderful book down into a few key messages, here are five that resonated with me:

Instead of identifying with the incessant chatter in your head, you can bear witness to it. In doing so, you create awareness and separate yourself from it, rather than get caught up in it.

Singer states that if see yourself as an observer of the voice, you can view it more objectively. You can say to yourself, “These are just my thoughts. Just because they are doesn’t make them true. I don’t have to identify with them.” Awareness is key. Singer encourages you to live in the “Seat of Self”— the space where you allow events, thoughts, and emotions to pass before you, without drifting off with the current.

We try so hard to avoid pain that we construct a life designed around it.

Singer provides an example of having a thorn (pain) embedded in your body. If you do not remove it, you start to avoid bumping into things, so not to disturb it. You do not get too close to people because you do not want it to be touched. You have difficulty sleeping because you might roll onto it. In order to live with it, you construct a contraption to keep it from touching your sheets. You order specially tailored clothes to fit around it. The pain that you are trying so hard to avoid dictates all aspects of your life. If you instead face the pain and fear, you grant yourself permission to be free.

We tend to either cling to or resist things, rather than accept them.

What we focus on expands. If we cling to something, we are operating out of fear. We are not allowing it to pass through us so we can be fully present in the next moment. We hold on and get stuck instead. When we no longer cling or resist, we witness our fear and pain without satisfying the impulse to protect ourselves from it. This frees up energy and enables us to be present, not caught in the past or paralyzed by what might happen in the future.

We unnecessarily expend a lot of energy reacting and recovering when we could be enjoying freedom and happiness.

A lot energy is wasted swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other—reacting and recovering. A healthier response is to notice a reaction and then choose to relax and release it.

We are most effective when we are balanced. If we forgo the extremes, we naturally have more energy available to us to live our lives fully and with purpose.

We qualify our happiness.

Singer states choosing happiness can be simple. He provides an example of a starving man who is asked what kind of food he wants. The starving man simply answering “food” rather than requesting something specific. He is not picky about the kind of nourishment that he receives.

When we are too particular regarding how we define happiness, it becomes less available to us. If we choose to embrace it in its broadest sense, we let go of our parameters, and we find peace with more far more ease and frequency.

If you would like to learn more, here is an in-depth interview with Oprah and Michael A. Singer on The Untethered Soul:

You can access free audio highlights from the book here.

Family Manifesto

As an independent, working parent life is very full: wake up; get dressed; make sure your child is fed and dressed; rush out the door; drop off at school; make it to work on time; perform all day; pick your child up from school; carpool to activities; cook dinner; clean up; help with homework; prepare lunches for the next day; settle everyone into bed (books, cuddling); go to sleep. Rinse and repeat. There is very little space. Every minute is accounted for and full to the brim. It is easy to become exhausted and burnt out. This hectic pace can strip the joy out of being with one another on a day to day basis.

I have been noticing lately that it is taking a toll in my ability to manage conflict with my child. I lean on old habit patterns learned from my own childhood. This primarily manifests in taking privileges away from my daughter when she does not listen and help. I get exasperated and out comes the punishment. Although this approach works as a temporary measure, it does create understanding about why I need her support as a family member; and it ultimately generates resentment, rather than connection.

As my child nears eleven years old, it is essential that she learns to become an active and supportive family member. I want her to grow up with the ability to take care of herself and to think of others; and now is the time to really drive home these good habits. The challenge that I face is how to help her to understand the importance of helping out, so she does it willingly, and not under duress.

I sat down with my daughter the other day and we talked about our family. What are our values? What are our rules of engagement? And what should the consequence be if we do not honour our agreements? We started to create a rule book, which included joint commitments like: “When someone asks for help, we say yes.” and “Yelling is not ok.” I asked her to identify a suitable consequence if she does not respect the rules and I did the same. It is all captured in our manifesto, which is now displayed on our fridge. It is a work in progress and we will continue to add to it, and update it, as needed.

Since working on this document together, it has helped to shift the dynamic. We continue bump up against one another but it is valuable to lean on our co-created agreement in those moments. To start from a place of remembering that we are on the same team and we have a commitment to support one another. I remain the parent and I ultimately make the final call; but it is important to me that my child feel like she is a respected and valued member of our family. It is also essential that I have a mirror held up to my own behaviour, so I am reminded of when I can do better, and learn from the experience.

Befriending Yourself

I was recently talking with a friend. She spoke to the importance of cultivating a loving relationship with yourself before you can enter into a meaningful relationship with another. In other words, your primary relationship is with you. In order for the connection to be healthy and functional, you need to cultivate and nurture this friendship as you would any other: putting time and energy into the relationship each and every day.

Although this is a simple concept, it was a revelation for me. I have generally lived my life focused outwards. Helping others. Listening to others. Assisting others. I spend very little time checking in with me. This approach inevitably leads to burn out. I shift from being a high functioning performer to running on empty, without ever seeing it coming. This is a direct result of not listening to myself or acknowledging my own needs.

As a simple way to establish a connection, it was recommended that I start and end each day by checking in with myself: first thing in the morning and before I go to sleep at night. To place my hands on my heart and my belly and ask the questions, “How are you feeling? What do you need?” To listen and create space for the emotions and answers that come up: even the uncomfortable and difficult ones. To allow them just to be and try to meet them with kindness.

As the connection increases, you can start to take action on what you hear: “I need more rest”, “I need a hug”, “I am feeling lonely”, “I need to move my body more.” Taking action on these micro requests will eventually add up to a cumulative feeling of love and support: an understanding that someone always has your back.

It is easy to prioritize everyone and everything before yourself. What I am learning is that caring for yourself is essential to being able to love and care for others. The key is to make a regular practice of it and to commit to cultivating this relationship, as you would with any one else.

Be the Light

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” 

~ Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)

As I watch the news these days, it is hard not to feel sad, scared and overwhelmed. There are many frightening and despicable actions taking place every day and it can often feel like there is no hope. When I start to feel like this, I lean on the wise advice provided above. I look for the helpers. I search for the light. Throughout history there have been brave and selfless people who have fought for justice, despite facing great personal and professional risk. Alongside the pain and injustice in the world, there continues to be an abundance of kindness, love and bravery.

With this in mind, I wanted to highlight some positive stories and resources for you to check out. I hope they inspire you, as they do me.

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Factfulness: Ten Reasons we’re wrong about the world — and why things are better than you think by Hans Rosling

When asked simple questions about global trends―what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school― people consistently get the answers wrong.

In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and renowned global speaker Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens.

They reveal the ten instincts that distort our perspective―from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse). 

Our problem is that we do not know what we do not know, and our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases. It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. That does not mean there are not real concerns. But when we worry about everything all the time, instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most. 

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Official Secrets

The other night, I watched a film called Official Secrets, which tells the true story of British intelligence specialist Katharine Gun. One day in 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, staff at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) received a memo from the National Security Agency (NSA) with a shocking directive. The United States was enlisting Great Britain to help them collect compromising information on U.N. Security Council members: with the aim of blackmailing them to vote in favour of an invasion of Iraq.

Unable to stand by and watch the world be taken into war under false pretences, Gun makes the incredible decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. She does this at a great personal cost to both herself and her family. She is arrested, loses her job, and faces trial under the Official Secrets Act. Her story is an inspiring example of how an ordinary person can do extraordinary things.

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Together Rising

Glennon Doyle is a writer, speaker and activist. Doyle’s online writing career began in 2009, with the creation of her blog, Momastery. The funny, conversational and tell-all nature of her writing quickly gained popularity. Viral blog posts beginning with 2011 Lesson #2: Don’t Carpe Diem led to the publication of her memoir, Carry On, Warrior and the growth of her social media audience. Doyle has since gone onto write two more books, Love Warrior and Untamed. She is a professional public speaker and the President of the not-for-profit, Together Rising.

Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real. My job is to wake up every day, say yes to life’s invitation, and let millions of women watch me get up off the floor, walk, stumble, and get back up again.”

~ Glennon Doyle

Together Rising invests money in both domestic and international projects. It’s motto is “Love Wins”. 100% of what Together Rising receives from every personal donation goes directly to an individual, family, or cause in need – not one penny received from individual donations goes to administration costs, unless a donor specifically authorizes that use.

Ringing in a new decade

As 2019 came to an end, and we welcomed in 2020, it made me to pause and reflect back on the decade coming to an end, as well as look forward to the one about to begin. The main lesson that I learned over the past ten years is that we have very limited control in this life. Don’t get me wrong. There is great value in planning, visualizing and working towards goals. This serves an important purpose. It is essential to be clear and know the direction that you want to move in: to identify your dreams and values. To set a course towards a destination.

The truth of the matter, however, is that despite the most careful planning and preparation, much of life simply happens to us without rhyme or reason; and it is often presents a very difficult and unpleasant reality. All we truly have control over in those moments is the choice on how we respond. The good news is that there is power in this choice. There is dignity in this choice. There is grace in this choice. It may not be what we planned or hoped for but it is where we are at. Rather than fighting what is, there is an opportunity to change and shape it through how you look at it, and how you choose to move forward. I have taken a lot of solace in this over the past decade and I will continue to lean on it in the years lying ahead of me.

Cultivating Intimacy & Connection

I have been reading a lot of non-fiction over the past year. I wrote an article on the blog a few months ago sharing financial resources that I enjoyed; and my most recent learning focus has been on relationships. As I explore the world of dating, I am particularly interested in expanding my knowledge of how to cultivate a strong and lasting connection; and I have been delving into all kinds of books that cover this vast topic.

Although I have already had a successful long-term relationship (21 years), it was not a healthy one towards the end. As I learn more from experts in the field, I can now identify many of the things that pulled us down, and I see an opportunity to do it better the next time around. A relationship is a living organism; it is something that requires daily care and tending, like a delicate plant. Love is not a destination. It is a way of being.

On that note, I have picked a few of my favourite books to share with you. They vary in topic and approach: from exploring early dating to maintaining an established relationship. They each offer a valuable perspective on the complex journey of being in relation with another human being. I can highly recommend them all.

Wired for Dating by Stan Tatkin

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, is the author of Wired for Love and Your Brain on Love, and coauthor of Love and War in Intimate Relationships. He has a clinical practice in Southern California, teaches at Kaiser Permanente, and is assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In his book, Wired for Dating, Tatkin uses neuroscience and attachment theory to understand dating couples. He categorizes readers into one of three attachment types: islands, whose predominant approach is “I can do it myself”; waves, with a more psychologically dependent nature; and anchors, with a balanced, stable approach. He then counsels readers on how to identify and interact with each of these personality groups while exploring how childhood influences shape one’s psyche.

Tatkin provides practical tools for navigating the emotional landscape of early dating, so your choices are based on fact not fiction. These include: developing “sherlocking” skills so you can really get to know your partner; asking your friends and family to provide honest and regular feedback; and learning how to foster a securely functioning relationship.

Secrets of a Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch, PhD

Dr. David Snarch is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist. He directs the Marriage and Family Health Centre in Evergreen, Colorado. Secrets of a Passionate Marriage is structured around three main sections: the Basics; the Tools for Connection; and Observations on the Process.

This is not a “how-to” book on creating a passionate marriage. Rather, it is an insightful book which gives couples a guide to sexual fulfillment and intimacy via emotional maturation. The first section lays the groundwork for the book and acquaints the reader with an understanding of Schnarch’s theoretical model of sexual and emotional development. The second section, Tools for Connection, offers the reader specific examples of where and how to begin in making changes in your life and relationship. And in the final section, Observations on the Process, he reflects upon his own experiences as a clinical counselor and a married man.

Throughout the book, he provides thoughtful insights by:

  • Describing the process of differentiation in intimate relationships;
  • Discussing why emotional gridlock is a critical and necessary phase for a healthy relationship;
  • Recommending steps to achieving more passionate sex and a more intimate relationship;
  • Explaining how to “self-soothe” your anxieties and open to the full range of human eroticism;
  • Interpreting the psychology of sex.

The Mastery of Love by don Miguel Ruiz

don Miguel Ruiz is a renowned spiritual teacher and internationally bestselling author of the Toltec Wisdom Series, including The Four Agreements, The Mastery of Love, The Voice of Knowledge, The Four Agreements Companion Book, The Circle of Fire, and The Fifth Agreement. The Toltec Wisdom books have sold over 12 million copies, and have been published in 46 languages worldwide.

In The Mastery of Love, don Miguel Ruiz illuminates the fear-based beliefs and assumptions that undermine love and lead to suffering and drama in our relationships. Using insightful stories to bring his message to life, Ruiz shows us how to heal our emotional wounds, recover the freedom and joy that are our birthright, and restore the spirit of playfulness that is vital to loving relationships. The Mastery of Love includes information on:

• Why “domestication” and the “image of perfection” lead to self-rejection;
• The war of control that slowly destroys most relationships;
• Why we hunt for love in others, and how to capture the love inside us;
• How to finally accept and forgive ourselves and others.

“Happiness can only come from inside of you and is the result of your love. When you are aware that no one else can make you happy, and that happiness is the result of your love, this becomes the greatest mastery of the Toltec: the Mastery of Love.” ~ don Miguel Ruiz

Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, PhD

World-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, John Gottman has conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples. His work on marriage and parenting has earned him numerous major awards. Dr. Gottman was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century by the Psychotherapy Networker. He is the author or co-author of over 200 published academic articles and more than 40 books.

The Seven Principles

Gottman’s principles are research-based. He and his colleagues have studied hundreds of couples (including newlyweds and long-term couples); interviewed couples and videotaped their interactions; even measured their stress levels by checking their heart rate, sweat flow, blood pressure and immune function; and followed couples annually to see how their relationships have fared.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman outlines the principles that build emotional intelligence and a successful relationship:

  1. Enhance Your Love Maps: Gottman encourages couples to get to know each other well. Asking questions is a way to meaningfully learn about your partner and to stay connected as you grow and change.
  2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration: Gottman contends that fondness and admiration are two of the most important elements in a satisfying and long-term relationship. By focusing on each other’s positive traits, you will build respect for one another, and it is easier to move past the more challenging aspects.
  3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away: According to Gottman, “[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.” This principle teaches that little things add up. Couples that turn toward each other have more in their emotional bank account. This account distinguishes happy marriages from miserable ones. Happy couples have more goodwill and positivity stored in their bank accounts: so when rough times hit, their emotional savings cushions them against conflict and stress.
  4. Let Your Partner Influence You: Happy couples work as a team. They consider each other’s perspective and feelings. They make decisions together and search out common ground. Letting your partner influence you is not about having one person hold the reins; it is about honouring and respecting each other’s role in the relationship.
  5. Solve Your Solvable Problems: Gottman says that there are two types of marital problems: easily resolved conflicts and perpetual, gridlocked issues. It is important for couples to determine which ones are which. Telling the difference can sometimes be tricky: “One way to identify solvable problems is that they seem less painful, gut-wrenching, or intense than perpetual, gridlocked ones.” Solvable problems are situational and there is no underlying, long-term issue.
  6. Overcome Gridlock: While some conflict can be solved through simple adjustments, many disagreements are related more to more fundamental differences. Finding a way to respectfully work through these more complex and difficult issues is the key to a healthy marriage.
  7. Create Shared Meaning: Building shared meaning together sustains the family culture; this is where traditions, rituals and rites of passage are found. There is a spiritual element underlying this principle; and it is the one that binds a family together.

Winter Solstice

In astronomical terms, the Winter Solstice (20-23 December) is the single moment when the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky (or its northernmost point if you are in the southern hemisphere). Solstice means ‘sun stands still’, and for three days at this time the sun appears to rise and set in the same southeasterly position on the horizon, before beginning its gradual incline north once more.

It is a spiritual event as much as an astronomical one, calling in the rebirth of the year, as the day on which the Winter Solstice occurs is the shortest of the year, and the night the longest. From now on the sun will gradually arc higher and higher in the sky until it comes to another standstill at the Summer Solstice, on the longest day of the year, when it rises in the northeast.

The Winter Solstice has been of deep spiritual significance since the Neolithic era and was marked by the stone circles and rows, passage tombs and temples left by the first farmers ever to till the rich earth. There are a number of sites aligned to to the rising or setting of the sun in the United Kingdom and Ireland: the ancient monuments at Maeshowe on Orkney, Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Newgrange in County Meath.

Newgrange, also known as Brú na Bóinne (Palace of the Boyne), is a majestic structure dating from 3200 BCE. This circular cairn or passage tomb has an exterior of white quartz and rounded granite boulders, and its impressive entrance stone is famously carved with intricate spiral designs, referring perhaps to the wheel of the seasons or the journey through life, death and rebirth. Its entrance also includes a small roof box through which the first rays of the Winter Solstice sunrise penetrate the deepest recesses of the tomb and illuminate the triple spiral carved on its back chamber.

My daughter and I visiting Newgrange in 2013

In the Celtic calendar, the Winter Solstice is a time of stillness and rebirth, when the wheel of the seasons completes its turning, only to begin again. At this time of year, I like to light candles in the early morning hours and spend some time reflecting. What are the seeds of intention that I wish to plant? What are my hopes, dreams and aspirations? How can I be of service? This is a quiet, inward time. It is a wonderful opportunity to slow down, express gratitude, and cultivate focus for the year ahead.

*Passages quoted from The Magical Year by Danu Forest.