Maybe good…maybe bad…it’s all in your perspective

I have always appreciated the parable of the Taoist Farmer, as I think it offers a valuable perspective on life:

There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky to have a horse to pull the cart for you!” his neighbours told him. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran away. “Oh no! This is terrible news! Such terrible misfortune!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky. Now you will be rich!” his neighbours told him. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no! Such bad luck, all over again!” the neighbours cried.“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men in the village to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind due to his injury. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

In each instance, the farmer does not judge the action as either good or bad. It just is. I like this story as it reminds me that even when a difficult thing happens, there are various ways to look at it. There is much benefit in being open and curious to what comes, rather than reactive and resistant.  Even if something looks scary at first, you do not really know what it is or where it will lead you; a situation that looks unmanageable could reveal hidden strengths.

When my marriage fell apart three years ago, it broke me open. And although it was one of the most painful and frightening times of my life, it also offered me many gifts: gifts of community; gifts of insight; gifts of growth. I would never be where I am today without having made it through that experience, so I cannot think of it as only negative. It contained elements that were both negative and positive; and in many ways, I am grateful for it.

I have been reading Byron Katie‘s work lately to try to help inform my perspective and shape my response to challenging situations as they arise on a daily basis. She teaches about the importance of investigating the present moment and identifying the thoughts that are causing you suffering. This is done through asking four questions of inquiry:

Question 1: Is it true?
This question can change your life. Be still and ask yourself if the thought you wrote down is true.

Question 2: Can you absolutely know it’s true?
This is another opportunity to open your mind and to go deeper into the unknown, to find the answers that live beneath what we think we know.

Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?
With this question, you begin to notice internal cause and effect. You can see that when you believe the thought, there is a disturbance that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic. What do you feel? How do you treat the person (or the situation) you’ve written about, how do you treat yourself, when you believe that thought? Make a list, and be specific.

Question 4: Who would you be without the thought?
Imagine yourself in the presence of that person (or in that situation), without believing the thought. How would your life be different if you didn’t have the ability to even think the stressful thought? How would you feel? Which do you prefer—life with or without the thought? Which feels kinder, more peaceful?

Turn the thought around:
The “turnaround” gives you an opportunity to experience the opposite of what you believe. Once you have found one or more turnarounds to your original statement, you are invited to find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

All of this speaks to the power of the mind and thought in shaping our world experience. We can cause ourselves great suffering or joy, all in the way that we choose to view a situation. And although I have a lot of work to do in shaping my own thoughts and reactions, it is empowering to have the tools to pull them apart and investigate them: rather than being at their mercy.

 

The Body Speaks – Are you Listening?

young women in lotus pose

I really enjoy Liz Gilbert’s work. She is a prolific novelist. Her books, Big Magic and The Signature of All Things are two of my favourites; and she is best known for her mammoth best seller, Eat, Pray, Love. Liz is also very active on social media and I like to follow her on Facebook and Instagram. She posts thoughtful, inspiring and deeply personal content. She is the living definition of Bréne Brown’s concept of daring greatly, inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena quote. Standing in the arena of life: she presents herself with honesty, openness and vulnerability.

A few years ago, Liz posted about her journey to recover from a knee injury (click link below to read the full post). In it, she shares how her pain started around the time of her divorce. It was relentless, real and debilitating. After seeking every medical option, one day Liz finally just asks her knee what it needs from her:

I literally spoke to it. I got very quiet, and very sleepy, and I said, “Tell me what you need from me, dear knee. I’m listening. I’ll do whatever you say. Surgery? A replacement? More gentle care? More acupuncture? A change of diet? Reiki? Just give me the word.”

Then I got very quiet, and my knee told me what it wanted. I heard the answer in the depths of my mind, as clear as day. It said, “GO FASTER.”

Go faster, said my knee. Go running. Go climbing. Go dancing. Use me. Jump up and down on me. I am a KNEE. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am wondrously designed, said my knee. I am not a weak point, but a strong one. I am part of your body, and I want to be used. I am not a symbol of your divorce. I am not a sign of aging. I am not a problem. Don’t baby me. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being treated like a Victorian invalid lady who has to take to her bed because of her fainting spells. I am not weak. Stop this. Please, please, please — said my “bad” knee to me — please stop using me as an expression of your weakness, fear, and emotional fragility. Please talk to your therapist about whatever troubles are ongoing in your mind, but don’t blame for everything. Please just trust me. Please just use me as I was designed. Use me as a freaking KNEE.

This post has stayed with me over the years. I find it fascinating how the body often manifests mental pain through physical expression, such as a knee; and how the body will heal itself completely, if it is given a chance.

For many years, I have experienced my own digestion and low energy issues, with a slow and sluggish system. This resulted in my carrying around extra weight and living with a feeling of general exhaustion, which I have spoken to in previous posts.

A year and a half ago, I went to see a naturopath to try to find some answers. I tried the traditional medical route, with no luck, so it seemed like a reasonable next step. After a thorough analysis of my history, he asked me to consider trying an anti-inflammatory diet.

Many major diseases that plague us today — including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s — have been linked to chronic inflammation. One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the grocery store.

He asked me to cut out caffeine, sugar, grains and dairy; and although it seemed extreme, I decided to give it a go. I was at the end of my rope and ready to try anything. This left me with planning my meals around:

  • non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli and dark leafy greens
  • high-fiber foods, including beans and lentils
  • some whole grains, such as quinoa (a seed)
  • protein-rich foods, including lean meats, fish, soy, legumes, and nuts
  • fish with a high omega-3 fatty acid content, such as salmon, sardines, and herring
  • foods that contain antioxidants, such as berries
  • sweet potatoes, which have a lower GI than regular potatoes
  • water, especially as a substitute for sweetened drinks
  • unsweetened herbal teas

After following this regime for the last year and a half, I have lost over thirty pounds and my energy levels are significantly better. I am not always perfect at following it but I am pretty consistent (80-90%). In addition to changing what I eat, I have a consistent exercise routine that includes regular yoga, meditation, walking and boot-camp classes. All of this has contributed to an immensely improved sense of well-being.

Aside from the physical transformation, I have learned to listen to my body. I realize now that it was previously communicating with me; but I was unable to hear it. The weight and sluggish system were crying: “Hey! Something is not right. Please help me. Something needs to change.” As I was feeling sad, stuck and trying to hide from the world after my divorce, it was telling me: “I need nourishment. Move, laugh and love more. Allow yourself to be seen.”

As many western women, I have struggled with food and body image issues for most of my life. For me, it started when I was twelve years old and beginning puberty; my changing shape was petrifying and I felt very out of control. Food became synonymous with comfort and it acted as an emotional band-aid. I became disconnected from my body and it was an enemy.

This slowly began to change for me when I became a mother. I was amazed at how my body intuitively knew how to knit together a little human being: from a few cells to a fully formed baby. It led me patiently through each an every step, from birthing her to nursing her: even creating milk perfectly formulated for my daughter’s needs in our climate. It was absolutely miraculous and I was humbled by the experience.

Learning how to be thoughtful and loving with my body is still new territory. I now try to approach each day and choice by asking myself: “Will this feed disease or fuel health?” Rather than treating my body as a separate entity, I bring it in close, act as a friend, and make choices that will build strength and enhance wellness.

I am motivated by a few things that I know to be true. I want to age well and to feel strong when I wake up each morning. I want to feel comfortable and connected to my core self: to be a good mother and role model for my daughter. I want to love myself so I can love others. These are important factors for negotiating a new relationship with my body going forward: one that is built on respect, love, connection and trust. It is a day by day practice but I am committed to the process and the journey ahead.

 

A Juggling Act

As a single, full-time working parent, I often feel caught up in a juggling act. The balls flying through the air represent my various identities – mother, friend, daughter, employee, community member – and each of them demands time, effort and attention. More often that not, a ball or two drops and I am left scrambling to get it back into the air. Then the act starts up all over again.

Life is busy and time is finite: this is a fact. As I walk along this parenting path, I am realizing more and more the importance of prioritization, self-discipline and self-kindness. I simply cannot do it all. Some things need to be set aside and let go. The question then becomes – what is most important to my family and me? What do I need to live my best life?

Most recently, I took time to evaluate my jam-packed weekend routine. After a full work week, I was jumping right into a schedule of “to do’s” on my precious days off. It left little, to no, time for being fully present and engaged with my daughter. I finished each weekend depleted and without rest; and my child was often asking for more of my attention. The worst part is there is no end to it all. As a wise friend once told me: “You will die with an unfinished to-do list.” Amen.

I asked myself – Why am I doing this? What is most important to me? After some reflection, I identified the following:

  1. To be an engaged and loving Mom;
  2. To ensure that we are eating healthy and well;
  3. To keep us safe and protected;
  4. To savour the time that I have with my daughter while she is young (and still wants to spend time with me).
  5. To cultivate more joy and fun.

I then reviewed the activities I was doing most weekends; and it turned out a lot of time was time spent on chores. I considered my list and decided other than laundry, budgeting and keeping the house generally tidy (e.g. changing sheets), a lot of it could wait until another time.

After deciding what chores to prioritize, I decided to create a standard two-week, rotating meal plan. While not as exciting as providing new meals on a weekly basis, it removes the guesswork, and it saves creative cooking for special occasions: like when we host friends and family.

I picked healthy meals both my daughter and I enjoy; I also tried to choose ones that produce multiple servings and allow for portion freezing. When I take the time to cook more labour intensive meals (e.g. Shepherd’s Pie), I know I am also investing in meal preparation offering value and time savings (e.g. two to three dinners). On a busy weekday, there is nothing better than pulling a well-balanced meal out of the freezer and putting it right into the oven.

Lastly, I started to on-line grocery shop, rather than drive to the store. Many stores offer this option now. Not only can you shop in the comfort of your own home, you can set a time to pick up the groceries for free, or have them delivered to your home for a small charge. I place my order mid-week and I track the grocery bill costs as I shop. It is much more efficient than walking up and down the aisles of a store; and my monthly grocery bills have greatly reduced since I started.

Lastly, I asked my daughter to help me identify more fun activities that we can enjoy together over the weekend. She likes to play school, build forts and dance to “Just Dance” videos on YouTube. I enjoy taking her on walks with our dog to Mt. Doug Park, Thetis Lake and in our local neighbourhood.

Although weekends are still really busy at our house, we talk, share and laugh a lot more now. The same is true for those weekday evenings where I am not scrambling to cook a meal. Even though it is still a juggle, my life is also a work in progress; and I am doing my best to evaluate, streamline and adjust as I go.

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This article was written for the April 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.

Podcast Passion

podcast

As I have talked about in earlier posts, I really enjoy listening to podcasts, especially when I am out walking or spending time working in the garden. There are so many good shows out there on virtually every topic. I particularly enjoy ones that delve into topics on writing, creative inspiration, health and well-being.

A few of my favourites at the moment are:

A few episodes that resonated with me recently are from the RobCast. He interviews his wife Kristen Bell on strategies for living with anxiety (episodes 226 & 227). She presents some great self-care suggestions, as well as perspectives on how to befriend the emotion, rather than push it away. I also really enjoyed the two Rob did called “An Anatomy of Restlessness” (episodes 230 & 231). He unpacks the feeling of restlessness and how it is an important message and catalyst for change. Lastly, I loved an interview that Rich Roll did with the screenwriter, Brian Koppelman, on how he broke through his own mental blocks to become a writer. It is really inspiring and contains some fantastic, actionable ideas for how to bring more creativity into your life, if you want it.

What are your favourite podcasts? I would love to hear what they are and why you love them.

Learning How to Date…Again…

“Thankfully, relationships aren’t like baseball, where it’s three strikes and you’re out. The universe keeps pitching us new opportunities to redo, repair, and reinvent ourselves with another person.” ~ Dr. Stan Tatkin

Give Love Man Holding Red Heart In Hands For Love Valentines Day

I never enjoyed the dating experience as a teenager. It always felt awkward and uncomfortable to me. I think this is, in part, because I am an introvert: so making small talk with strangers is a challenge. I much prefer spending time with people who I know and love well and engaging in deep, intimate conversation. This is generally not a great fit for the superficial nature of the dating scene.

I met my ex-husband when I was nineteen years old; and we stayed together for twenty-one years. I was overjoyed at the thought of having found my special person so young and I loved the idea of staying with him ‘forever’. I never wanted to date again. Check!

For a variety of reasons, I found myself at the end of my relationship two years ago; and now here I am starting all over again.  After experiencing deep heart-break, it is hard to imagine re-entering the arena of love. The vulnerability required to play the game is truly intimidating. You have to bring your whole self to the dating experience; and this means taking a deep breath and jumping into the unknown.

To start the process, a friend of mine recommended that I look into the work of Dr. Stan Tatkin. His is a relationship expert and his work focusses on how to build secure, functioning relationships.  He draws on principles from neuroscience and attachment theory to first help you better understand yourself and then your potential partner. I am currently reading his new book, Wired for Dating. It is a great resource and I highly recommend it to anyone considering entering the dating scene.

The interview with Dr. Tatkin posted below, hosted on the podcast Relationship Alive with Neil Sattin, is a good capture of his work and overall approach:

I really appreciate Dr. Tatkin’s description of the various attachment types (anchor, wave or island). I found it to be very revealing and I now much better understand my own preferences and approach (I am a wave). Additionally, I like the traits that he describes of a secure functioning relationship. It provides me with a clear outline of what needs to be in place for a romantic partnership to succeed. I also love it because it is so relevant to parenting my daughter and nurturing a healthy relationship with her as she grows into adulthood.

Traits of a Secure, Functioning Relationship

Security: We protect each other.

Sensitivity: We are aware of each other’s needs.

Justice and Fairness: We quickly repair any hurts that occur.

Collaboration: We are in this together.

True Morality: What is good for me, is good for you.

Although I am still nervous about the journey ahead of me, I feel like I have some really good tools on hand now to help me enter into this experience with an open heart and mind. I will let you know how it goes!

Blossom & Grow: A Healing Garden

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.’ ~ Audrey Hepburn

LuckyBoy

Two years ago, spring was very difficult for me. My heart was broken in a million pieces after the sudden end of my marriage; and I was very focused on just getting up every morning and putting one foot in front of the other.

It was at that time that I came back into contact with a dear friend of mine, Heidi. Heidi is a not only a lovely woman; she is a very talented horticulturalist and garden coach. What is a garden coach, you ask? Her vision is to reconnect people with their gardens. She is interested in building your confidence and knowledge, so you can ultimately learn to work intuitively in your own space.

When we started the project, I had been living in my home for thirteen years.  During that time, I had spent almost no time at all in my backyard.  My house was originally built in the 1950s and the yard itself was large and unruly. I had always mowed the grass but that was about all I could manage.  Just being in the space made me feel uncomfortable. I did not know where to start.  How do you revitalize a whole garden? As Heidi so wisely summarized it: “One bed at a time.”

Throughout the spring and summer, we worked together to transform each bed.  There was a lot of digging, hauling and hands in the soil.  Gardening is a really therapeutic activity, which leaves very little time for rumination: it brings you right into the moment and the task in front of you.  We brought in sea soil to nourish and new plants to brighten. Heidi has the unique ability to see the project as a whole. All I had to do was show up and do the work.

The back yard before we started work.

Heidi and I started this project in the spring of 2016 and, two years later, we are still going strong. Slowly but surely, my garden has taken on new shape, colour and form. Life is springing up in every nook and cranny. It has even become a family project; my mother and daughter often join us to help out with various projects.

We have spent many afternoons patiently cultivating my overgrown yard together and it is now on its way to being a beautiful, restful space.  Last year, I was able to realize a long held dream to plant a new fruit and vegetable garden.  It is really satisfying to grow your own food. This year, I am going to test out some new, natural pest control options and plant spacing.

Heidi with my mom, Suzanne, at the nursery.
My daughter and I digging the new beds.

There has been something magical about this experience; Heidi and I call it our “healing garden.” Moving and exerting the body. Immersing your hands deep in the fresh soil. Carefully tending to plants and bushes. Breathing in the fresh air and hearing the sounds of nature around you. It is very therapeutic. The ground itself contains powerful, nourishing energy.

Now that spring is on its way, I am really looking forward to getting  back out there and continuing our project together. My daughter is already talking about planting her own special bed with flowers that she chooses herself; and my mom is excited to plant her pots. I am so grateful for this shared experience. My garden has become a living expression of friendship, connection and love.

 

Clean Cosmetics

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I posted back in May about why I am passionate about using clean cosmetics. Being informed about what you put onto your skin is really important for your health. It is also important for the health of the environment. Products are not only absorbed into your skin (the body’s largest organ); they are eventually washed down the drain and into the ocean. So our choices affect both us and the ecosystem.

I have been a customer at The Green Kiss for the last few years. They are a local company in Victoria, B.C. with a commitment to sourcing the best natural cosmetic options on the market in Canada. I have been so impressed with their customer service and the quality of the products that they choose.

The ladies at Green Kiss most recently recommended that I try out the Josh Rosebrook product line. I LOVE it. Here are some of my favourites so far:

Vital Balm Cream: This multi-benefit moisturizer works to facilitate maximum cellular hydration and repair vital skin functions. With aloe vera, rich plant oils and Indian Senna Seed which is know as “botanical hyaluronic acid,” this balm works to hold moisture throughout the day. Skin is left plumped, softened, protected and also deeply repaired.

Nutrient Day Cream (Tinted – SPF 30): This rich and firming moisturizer works double duty to provide deep hydration and natural sun protection in one. Delivering a powerful combination of plant oils and herbal actives the Nutrient Day Cream repairs, protects and treats with highly effective antioxidants, fatty acids and phytonutrients.

Cacao Mask: Packed with antioxidants and active nutrients, this potent face mask is highly effective and perfect for any skin type. Cacao, known for aiding in collagen repair, works with plant and herbal infusions to also tone, firm and exfoliate the skin while keeping it hydrated.

Let me know if you give these products a try. I would be interested to hear your thoughts!

Clean Cosmetics

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A few years ago, my wise friend and acupuncturist, Anne Matthews, opened my eyes up to the importance of my skin. The largest and most absorbent organ of the human body, many of us unwittingly inundate our skin with toxins on a daily basis: due to lax rules in the cosmetic industry.  From shampoo, sunscreen and make-up, to baby soap, perfume and anti-aging face serums, there are more cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting ingredients in products on the market than you can ever imagine.

The cosmetics industry is not required to prove an ingredient is safe for human health before it is used in a consumer product. It is shocking, but true. Most people use these products without a second thought: believing that the government is regulating for safety. This is incorrect. The government does not require health studies or pre-market testing for cosmetic products before they are sold. On average, people apply 126 unique ingredients onto their skin daily.  These chemicals, whether absorbed through the skin, rinsed down the drain, or flushed down the toilet, are causing serious issues for human health: as well as seriously impacting our wildlife and water systems.

And so I asked myself, how can I make more informed choices for myself and my family? It has often been a confusing and daunting journey but I have been fortunate enough to discover some great resources over the years. I hope that they will be of use to you on your path to health and well-being:

Environmental Working Group: Skin Deep Cosmetics Database

EWG’s Skin Deep database gives you practical solutions to protect yourself and your family from everyday exposures to chemicals. They launched Skin Deep in 2004 to create online profiles for cosmetics and personal care products, highlighting their potential hazards and health concerns. The EWG’s scientific staff compare the ingredients on personal care product labels and websites to information in nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases. Now in its eighth year, EWG’s Skin Deep database provides you with easy-to-navigate ratings for a wide range of products and ingredients on the market.

David Suzuki Foundation: Dirty Dozen Cosmetic Chemicals List 

U.S. researchers report that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors. Many products include plasticizers (chemicals that keep concrete soft), degreasers (used to get grime off auto parts), and surfactants (they reduce surface tension in water, like in paint and inks).  The David Suzuki Foundation provides an accessible list of the “dirty dozen” ingredients to keep an eye out for; they also provide more comprehensive data on these ingredients for those who would like all of the facts.

“There is Lead in Your Lipstick” by Gillian Deacon   

As a breast cancer survivor, author Gill Deacon takes the issue of toxins in bodycare products to heart. Her book is a friendly, informative and meticulously researched guide to more considered options for personal care, showing how to navigate misleading labels and greenwash, and ultimately arrive at safer choices, for a healthier family and a healthier world. You can get copy of her free wallet-size toxins guide here.

And now for some of my favourite natural cosmetic products so far…drum roll please…

Routine Natural Deodorant: I have tried LOTS of natural deodorants over the years and most have not worked for me. Routine is the only one that never fails. It smells great and it works all day. Routine Deodorant is free from aluminum zirconium, aluminum chlorohydrate, parabens, triclosan and propylene glycol. My favourite one is “Like a Boss.”

Make-up: I am still exploring the world of natural make-up. So far, I can give two thumbs up to the following products and companies.

  1. Tartiest lash paint mascara: Most natural mascaras tends to run down my face half way through the day. This product not only gives me great volume but it also lasts really well. Tarte is a leader in healthy, eco-chic beauty, offering cruelty-free cosmetics infused with ingredients like superfruit and plant extracts, vitamins, minerals, essential oils and other naturally-derived ingredients.
  2. 100% Pure Fruit Pigmented Foundation PowderThe powder is lightweight, while providing great coverage. I like the peach bisque colour for my skin tone. This product is natural and 100% cruelty-free, free of artificial colors, artificial fragrances, synthetic chemical preservatives and all other toxins.
  3. Sappho Cosmetics: Founded by Emmy nominated makeup artist JoAnn Fowler, and developed with experts in the field of green chemistry, Sappho New Paradigm offers formulations created with the finest of certified organic ingredients and infused with phyto nutrients. I have been using their Lisa liquid foundation, as well as their Luv the Cheeks blush and Bronze Goddess bronzer.

Face Cosmetics: 

  1. VIVA Organics: I recently discovered the VIVA product line; and I have been really happy with the quality and value for money.  I am currently using their Antioxidant Serum, the Facial Toner and the Bio-Brightening C Serum. They are all great.
  2. Caudalie: For treating sun spot damage, I like to use the Caudalie Radiance Serum; and for the occasional acne break-outs (once a month or so) I apply an Instant Detox Mask.
  3. REN Clean Skincare: For overall radiance, I like to use the REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask, once a week.

I could type on and on but I will stop here. My enthusiasm for natural products for the home and body is growing by the day. If there is interest, I am happy to write more about soap, shampoo, sunscreen and home cleaning recommendations in a future post.

Tell me – are you paying attention to the products you use on your body? And if so, please share your favourites with me!

 

Something to Inspire

The World Needs More Love Letters is a not-for-profit organization that uses the power of social media to write and mail letters to strangers all over the world.  They let anyone nominate someone in need of a love letter bundle.  In a world fueled by technology and isolation, this is a beautiful and meaningful exercise in human love and connection.  I am going to go out and buy some lovely stationary today.

http://www.moreloveletters.com/the-letter-requests/