In my quest to educate myself about healthy aging and menopause, I have been keeping my eyes open for good resources: especially ones focussed on providing support to women. I have been particularly impressed with the work of Dr. Sara Gottfried, Dr. Mary Claire and Dr. Jenn Gunter. I follow them all on Instagram and they provide easy, actionable advice on a daily basis. I recommend that you check them out!
Carpe Diem – Seize the Day
One of my dear friends turned fifty this week. We celebrated this significant milestone by spending a beautiful afternoon together at the local sauna, rotating between the infrared heat, eucalyptus-infused steam room, and cold plunge pool. We finished with a quiet dinner at our favourite sushi restaurant. The experience offered us many hours to talk and reflect about this momentous time of our lives and what it means to us.
Up until this point, I have felt like there is nothing ahead but wide open space and possibilities. It always seemed like there was an abundance of time: time to dream, time to plan, time to realize ambitions. I still have two and a half years until I hit fifty, but it is approaching fast; and when you reach half a century of life, it causes you to pause, take a breath, and reflect upon your journey to date.
I previously shared about being a member of the ‘sandwich generation‘, with the challenges of raising a young child, and caring for aging parents. It is a tricky place to be. In recent weeks, my mother’s health took a turn for the worse, and my uncle passed away. There have been a lot of deep and painful emotions. It has been a difficult time: watching the people I love struggle, fade away and let go. It is both frightening and humbling to witness the ‘adults’ in my life reduced to such a vulnerable state. Fragile. Afraid. Helpless.
This experience has reminded me of the finite nature of existence. Our time here is truly fleeting. When we are young, we imagine there will be endless opportunities in the ‘future’ to complete our bucket list, and live out our dreams. The reality is we only have a handful of good decades to do this work, in good health, if we are truly lucky. Every moment is precious. Every year is a gift. No phase of our lives should be lived on auto-pilot. This is easy enough said, and much harder to do, especially when you are in the thick of it.
During our time at the sauna, we met a couple visiting Victoria for the weekend. In their early fifties, they recently quit their jobs, sold their house in North Vancouver, and moved to the Comox Valley. They do not know anyone in their new community. They just felt the calling to take action and simplify their lives. My next door neighbours share a similar story. They packed up their family and moved from Ontario to British Columbia during the height of the pandemic: seeking a life that better aligns with their values.
My friend and I discussed the limitations that we put upon our lives in following the path of least resistance: doing what is expected of us and pursuing society’s definition of ‘success.’ Go to school. Secure a job. Partner up. Get married. Buy a house. Have children. Settle in. Do not take risks. Stay safe and small. In reality, life is pretty fluid. There is no ‘right’ path. There are multitudes.
Each of our children graduates high school in the next four years. As we are both single, unattached women, possibilities abound. Nothing needs to remain static. It presents an opportunity to implement change and pursue new options.
In the meantime, I am working my way through my bucket list. I have signed up for a salsa class and I am planning to ski more next year. I am writing a few pages of my book every day and practicing French to improve my fluency. I am ensuring that I spend quality time with friends and family. I am paying attention to my diet and exercising more to ensure I age well. I am organizing trips with my daughter for the next few years: both close to home and further afield. I am dreaming and putting my dreams into action. One baby step at a time.
Something To Inspire
“Curiosity involves being gentle, precise, and open—actually being able to let go and open. Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves. Precision is being able to see clearly, not being afraid to see what’s really there. Openness is being able to let go and to open. When you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness, and good-heartedness, combined with clarity about yourself, there’s no obstacle to feeling loving-kindness for others as well.“
~ Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion
Heart Centered Learning: Erin Brockovich
Erin Brockovich is living proof that an ordinary person can change the world. As a Southern California law clerk, she spearheaded a successful lawsuit against a major company on behalf of hundreds of people who had unknowingly been exposed to toxic waste. Her efforts inspired the Oscar-winning feature film that bears her name, and led her to a successful career as an environmental activist and public speaker.
“Often times we don’t think about or worry about or understand what is happening to another until it happens to us. Deceits have no boundaries. Disease doesn’t recognize the colour of our skin or our political parties affiliation. When it comes to cover-ups and destruction of our environment, we are all up for grabs.” ~ Erin Brokovich
Heart Centered Learning: “A Whole New Mind”
“Lawyers. Doctors. Accountants. Engineers. That’s what our parents encouraged us to become. They were wrong. Gone is the age of left-brain dominance. The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers —creative and emphatic right-brain thinkers whose abilities mark the fault-line between who gets ahead and who doesn’t.”
~ Daniel H. Pink, A Whole New Mind
The Flywheel Effect
The Flywheel Effect is a concept developed in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great. He argues that a good-to-great transformation never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company, or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.
Rick Kettner provides a great summary of the concept here or you can watch his YouTube video below.
Please note: Rick Kettner references both Amazon and the Joe Rogan Experience when explaining the Flywheeel Effect. I am personally opposed to both companies, but I have included Kettner’s video, as I think he does an excellent job in summarizing Jim Collins’ overall concept; and it is of equal value to small businesses, artists, and not-for-profits.
The River of Integration
“When we are integrated, a system such as a relationship or a nervous system with its brain and whole body moves into a flexible and harmonious flow. Integration becomes harmony. Integration is created as parts of a system are allowed to be unique and specialized, like you and me in a relationship or like members of a choir singing in harmony. The differentiated parts retain their unique aspects and they also become linked. The left and right sides of the brain work in a coordinated and balanced manner, and the communication between you and me honors differences and promotes compassionate connection so our relationship flourishes.
If either differentiation or linkage does not occur, then something very specific happens. When integration is blocked, a system moves toward one or both of two possible extremes: chaos on the one hand, and rigidity on the other.
I think of this like a river. The central flow is one of integration and the harmony is creates. One bank outside this central harmonious flow is chaos; the other is the bank of rigidity. When things are chaotic, they are out of control, wild, overwhelming, completely unpredictable. And when things are rigid, they are stuck, unchanging, boring, and completely predictable. Life has a natural movement toward, rather than getting stuck on, the banks of chaos and ridigidity as we wind our way down the river of life, the river of integration.”
~ Daniel J. Siegel M.D., Brainstorm
In reading Siegal’s book, I have been reflecting a lot about the concept of integration. As a person who lives with anxiety, I definitely lean tends towards rigidity. Routines, control and structure provide me with a false sense of security but they can also be very limiting and stifling. It is so important to know when to hold on and when to let go.
A good friend of mine once gave me a good piece of advice. If it is 80% right, it is good enough. Forget the rest. I have been working to bring this approach into my own life by asking myself what is essential (e.g. must do) and what can I drop (e.g. nice to do). The reality is everything does not need to be perfect and I will die with an unfinished ‘to do’ list.
In working towards integration, I need to prioritize time for spontaneous fun and play, as much as chores and routine (rigidity). It is important to enjoy silly experiences with my friends and family, like rock n’ glow bowling, dancing and roller disco, that bring joy. This is just as essential as completing the shopping, cooking and cleaning. The reality is that our time together on this planet is finite and precious. We cannot take anything for granted and we should not fill it up with work and obligations. Valuing the role of love, connection and laughter is at the heart of it all.
Watch List: “Bones of Crows”
Bones of Crows is the first Indigenous and female-led produced, written, and directed drama about the residential school experience in North America. It was created by Marie Clements, a Canadian Métis playwright, performer, director, producer and screenwriter.
The film is a psychological drama told through the eyes of Cree Matriarch, Aline Spears. It reflects the protagonist’s survival of Canada’s residential school system and the impacts of systemic racism, starvation and sexual abuse. Bones of Crows unfolds over a one hundred year span; it captures an inter-generational fight for survival, as well as highlights the strength and resiliency of Indigenous peoples.
I had the privilege of attending a private screening of Bones of Crows earlier this week. Marie Clements and many of the cast members were there in person at the event. Not only was it deeply moving experience to watch the film but it was an honour to learn, first hand, about its creation. Every single Indigenous person who spoke was either a residential school survivor themself or knew a family or community member who had survived. The experience of being there, in that room, bearing witness to the truth of Canada’s dark past, is something that I will never forget.
My Uncle Mike passed away this week at eighty-three years old. He was my dad’s older brother and he played an incredibly important part in my young life. Losing someone you love is never easy, even when it is expected, or it is their time in life. It leaves behind an absence that cannot be filled. A person-sized void.
My uncle was strong, resilient and smart. He was a boxer in his youth and he played rugby in his forties. He always smelled faintly of cologne and soap. He gave big bear hugs and he was always laughing. We spent many summer afternoons visiting his cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe: located just down the road from Obexers Marina and Chambers Landing. The coolers were always teeming with ice, pop and beer, and the charcoal barbecue smoked on the wooden porch for hours, cooking endless burgers and hot dogs for the friends and family that always filled his house. I remember sitting on the swing in the yard with my sister, our bare feet skimming the dry grass, watching the adults laughing and talking all around us, and feeling very happy to be a part of it all.
One of my favourite family photos was taken when I was about ten years old. It captures a beautiful moment with my California relatives: Aunt Charlis, Cousin Kate, Aunt Susie, Grammie, Dad, Mom and Uncle Mike. With the exception of my Dad, all of the adults in the picture are now gone. I feel their absence as a deep aching in my heart. I realize that when it was taken, many of them were roughly the same age that I am now. I remember how old and wise they seemed to me back then. Now I know the truth. None of us really ever ‘grow up’: we only grow older. Although I am an ‘adult’, I will forever remain seventeen in my heart. It is now my job to pretend that I know what I am doing, and keep things steady for the younger members of the family: to guide them as best I can with what I have learned along the way.
I was incredibly fortunate to visit my uncle this past October. I knew it would be the last time I would see him, so I tried to cherish every moment that we had together. I told him how much I loved him and what he meant to me. I gave him extra hugs and I inhaled his smell. I created memories to draw on now that he is gone. I am so grateful to have had him, and all of my beloved family members, in my life. Sometimes you get a long time together and sometimes it is cut short. Although I believe he is happy and at peace now, reunited with his loved ones in the world beyond this one, I miss him. It is never, ever easy to let go.
Black History Month
Every February, people across Canada participate in Black History Month events and festivities that honour the legacy of Black people in Canada and their communities.
Historically, Black people have largely been ignored in the telling of mainstream Canadian history. Black History Month is a time to learn about these important stories and significant contributions.
The 2023 theme for Black History Month is: Ours to Tell. This theme represents both an opportunity to engage in open dialogue, and a commitment to learn about Black histories, successes, sacrifices and triumphs. I encourage you to start by checking out this great series 28 Moments of Black Canadian History by Unilearnal.
My mother’s generation never talked about menopause; and now that I am in the midst of perimenopause, I am having to navigate this phase on my own. Aside from not being a topic that women have historically talked about in the open, there is also a lot of misinformation in the health system. I found this article to be particularly enlightening. I hope you enjoy it too.
I was driving my daughter home from dance the other day, and she casually commented, “I never see you laugh. You smile all of the time but you never laugh.” This took me aback. Of course I laugh, I thought to myself; but the more I reflected on her words, the more I realized she is right. I do not laugh. Not very often anyway. When did that happen?
I sometimes think of this period of my life as a marathon. My head is down, and I am striding along, mile after mile, with my teeth grit: determined to reach a finish line that is nowhere in site. I am taking care of a teenager. I am taking care of aging parents. I do my best at work. I keep our household running. I cook. I clean. I drive. I do laundry. I sometimes find a moment to write and be creative. I repeat.
When I think about my best belly laughs, it is always with the friends I grew up with. The ones who knew me when I was in my teens and twenties. It is the last time in my life that I remember being really really silly. We would find something dumb to riff off of, and laugh about it so hard, it would make us hyperventilate and cry.
I realize that in my quest to be the a ‘good’ mom, daughter, friend and colleague, over the last thirteen years, I have lost connection to the free spirited, immature part of myself, that just wants to play. As much as any other priority in my life, is important to make time to laugh and let go.
In addition to being fun, laughing has many health benefits. It relieves tension, it boosts the production of immune cells and antibodies, and it releases endorphins to improve your mood. All in all, it is just a good thing to do. In the spirit of good belly laughs, I have been on the lookout for videos I can watch when I need a boost. Here are a few that made me laugh until I cried. Please share any videos that you love with me. It would be great to have your recommendations.