Baby steps

Eighteen years ago today, I walked down the aisle on the arm of my father, bright eyed, hopeful and deeply in love. I made a vow, in front of my friends, family and community to love and honour my partner until death do us part. I meant it. Every word.

All these years later, I sit here on my back deck, on a beautiful sunny August evening, not so different to my wedding day, and I reflect upon where life has taken me. It is four years since the end of my relationship. I am a single, independent parent, trying to figure out how to date online in a time of pandemic. My ex is remarried and expecting a baby with his new wife any day now. Everything has changed.

If you had sat me down at age twenty-seven, as a young bride, and told me where I would be today, at age forty-four, I would not have believed you. Even if I had believed you, I would have crumpled with despair and worry about what lay ahead of me.

I imagine what I would have told my younger self, if I had had the opportunity. Here are a few thoughts that came to me:

  1. Symbiosis: A relationship is not about caretaking or merging with your loved one, at the expense of yourself. It is a sacred coming together of two whole individual human beings who choose to orbit one another with symbiotic love and respect. Cherish and protect what makes you unique. Cultivate and share your most authentic self. This is true love.
  2. It takes two: You cannot make a relationship work on your own. No matter how hard you try, you cannot row a boat with one oar. Once the other person has given up, there is nothing more you can do. True loneliness is living with disconnection. Put your life vest on and jump.
  3. Integrity: You are so much more resilient than you think. When faced with the unthinkable, ask yourself: Even in the midst of this chaos, who do I want to be?” Then simply focus on doing the next right thing. Take one baby step forward, then another, and another. Breathe deeply. Keep on moving and stay rooted in your own integrity.
  4. Curiosity: Although you do not know what lies ahead, it is not all scary and frightening. It is just unknown. Be curious and open. Ask for help when you need it. Trust in the love of your community. Most importantly, remember that everything you need comes from deep within yourself. Love. Acceptance. Joy. It is all there. You just need to believe it and stay connected to your inner knowing.

Most of all, I would tell myself, “I love you and everything is going to be ok.” Or as John Lennon famously said: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Although my marriage did not turn out as I imagined, every experience along the way brought me to where I am today. Painful as much of it was, I would not change any of it. There is no looking back: only baby steps forward. I am excited to see what my future holds.

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.

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.

Never Walk Alone

When my marriage ended almost four years ago, I was emotionally devastated; underlying all of the pain and heartbreak, there was a deep seeded fear that I would always be alone.

I have since discovered that this is a common fear many of us share: often leading people to enter into a new relationship, not because it is the right one, but because it is available.

I was determined that if I had to go through the unwanted experience of a marital break-up, I was going to turn it into a growth opportunity; and I made the decision to remain single until I could do some inner healing and rediscover solid ground and connection within myself.

It is interesting how, if you have been in relationship from a very young age, much of your identity is tied up in the other person, and in being part of a couple. It is hard to answer the question – who is at the core of me?

I set about trying to discover the answer to that question for myself. Through paying close attention, I began to identify what gives me joy. Personal joy. And what saps my energy. I also learned how to befriend my emotions: to sit with them when they arise and give them space to breathe, rather than pushing them away, or distracting myself with activity. To closely listen to what they have to say.

How am I feeling? What is my body telling me? What do I need? What is the next step that I need to take? It is in asking these questions, over and over again, that leads to more intimate connection with self. The quiet small voice at the core of my being who offers gentle guidance, clarity and loving support. My most constant and committed companion.

The other day, I realized that I can now clearly hear my inner guide. The noise and inner chatter of my mind remains but it is turned way down. If I need support and grounding, she is always available to me. It provides me with great strength to know that I can tap into this source of love and wisdom whenever I need to. I simply need to ask.

This benevolent, knowing presence has always been there. It is a kind and trusted friend. Since the day I entered into the world, she has been by my side; and she will remain there until I take my last breath. It is just a matter of listening and tuning in. I can never truly be alone, as she is always close at hand. That simple but profound truth gives me great peace and confidence as I walk this path of life.

The Perfect Fit

Trying to figure out the world of online dating reminds me of shopping in a crowded outlet store. The vast warehouse stretches before you, with its aisles and aisles of clothing, intimidating in its size and scope. You are there to find a perfect pair of jeans. First you wander around for a good long while until you finally locate the right section. You are then faced with daunting task of sorting through piles and piles of mismatched pants, mounded high on the bargain table.

Too tight. Too long. Too retro. Too wide. Too acid washed. It is overwhelming and exhausting. From time to time, you look up at yourself in the mirror of the change room, sweating under the fluorescent lights, pulling off another ill fitting option, and you wonder why you are bothering. But then you remember that all you need to find one perfect pair, just one, so it is worth the effort of trying them all on.

As I have written previously, I am currently testing out the world of dating. More specifically, the world of online dating. As you get older, there do not seem to be the same opportunities to meet potential partners through the regular channels: friends, colleagues, work, social circles. Everyone is paired up. You really need to search further afield.

There is something very intimidating about putting yourself out there in the virtual space: writing a short biography, adding photographs, posting it and waiting to see who responds. It requires a willingness to both expose yourself and allow for vulnerability. You need to remain open to what shows up: both the good and the bad.

Through the relative anonymity of the internet, I have noticed that people often lack the manners that they would normally have in a face to face encounter. They do not respond. They lack curiosity. They do not ask questions. They drop off in mid-conversation. They do not respect boundaries. They ask for revealing photographs. They expect sexual promiscuity. They do not show up for scheduled dates. It goes on and on and it truly boggles my mind.

The lesson I am learning throughout is how to hold on to myself during this challenging experience. To trust that I can be my most authentic self, staying rooted in my own values and beliefs: to not lose myself in the process of trying to find a partner. What I am realizing is that it could take a long time for me to find the right fit; and that is ok. I am content on my own. I have created a good life and I enjoy my own company; I am surrounded by a loving community of friends and family. Romantic companionship is not a must but it would be a lovely addition to my life. In the meantime, I will try to remain open and curious about this strange and unfamiliar journey, and welcome growth along the way.

Local Explorer

I just returned from a local adventure with my daughter. We live on Vancouver Island and we spent a week on the road, stopping in three different destinations along the way. All of the locations were within a few hours of our home. During our journey, we enjoyed music, hopped ferries, savoured good meals, hiked, paddle boarded, swam in the ocean and played in the sun. The best part was visiting with friends and family at each stop; and there was a lot of laughter along the way.

It was wonderful to discover all kinds of local treasures, as shared by our hosts. There were lake trails, mountain views, hidden beaches and ocean spits to be explored. Our friends shared their favourite places, which we would never have discovered without their local knowledge and insight. My daughter and I came home feeling full, refreshed and happy. All of this took place within a few hours of home, which proves that you do not have to travel very far to discover adventure.

In recent years, I have also tried out a “staycation”, which entails staying home for your break. There is something really nice about exploring familiar surroundings. The key is not to let chores around the house take over your time. Staying close to home can be quite relaxing, as it offers you the opportunity to be a tourist in your own town, and spend quality time in your community. There is an additional element of mindfulness and intention that is required to ensure you maximize the experience; but it is well worth the effort.

I am always grateful for the opportunity to travel to other countries, explore other cultures and experience the world but a local experience can often be as equally fun and fulfilling. It is wonderful to have an economical option for spending time with your friends and family in a unique and meaningful way. There is so much to discover close to home. It just requires a little curiosity, openness and effort.

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Negotiating with Grace

Life is full of difficult conversations. It takes great skill to both advocate for your own needs and empathize with the other person’s position. A successful resolution is one where each party walks away feeling both heard and satisfied with the end results.

I recently finished a short book by Bob Burg and John David Mann called The Go-Giver Influencer. It is written as a parable; and it presents a set of simple, actionable steps that can be taken to negotiate with grace, kindness and dignity.

  1. Breathe: Master your emotions. Retrain yourself to respond to conflict and disagreement by ruffling your feelings. Make calm your default setting.
  2. Listen: Step into the other person’s shoes.
  3. Smile: Set the frame. Whoever sets the frame of the conversation also sets the direction and tone in which it will go.
  4. Be Gracious: Communicate with tact and empathy. Let yourself feel what the other person is feeling, and speak to that truthfully, yet also with compassion. Remember that they are a chime and you are a tuning fork.
  5. Trust: Let go of having to be right. As long as your premise is that your position is the right tone, and the other person’s is the wrong one, you have no chance of arriving at a genuinely satisfying solution.

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Seeing is Believing

I recently listened to a podcast where Oprah spoke to the profound impact of advice, given to her by legendary poet, Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” It is one of the single most important lessons that she has ever learned.

It seems so simple. Believe a person’s actions, not their words. Actions do not lie. But when I think about it, there are so many times in my life where I have ignored the obvious when it does not line up with my perception. It always results in disappointment and heartbreak.

The human brain wants to rationalize the world: to line up reality with our desired state and explain away any inconsistencies. Reflecting back, I have done this myself in all kinds of relationships: romantic, personal and professional. I whitewash negative behaviour when I spot “potential” in a person or I focus on what I want to see, rather than what is really happening right in front of me. The irony is I am always “surprised” when the person proves to be who they said they were in the first place.

My focus going forward will be to remain present with reality. To allow the truth to reveal itself, without an argument. Who shows up when they say they will? Who does not? Who follows through on their promises? Who does not? It really is that simple. Armed with good information, I can then make decisions on who I allow into my life and who I keep a distance from. A strong and loving community is such an important part of nurturing overall health and well being: with a tribe of loving and kind friends, colleagues and family, anything is possible.

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