TED Talks: My Stroke of Insight

On December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. As she observed her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Taylor alternated between the euphoria of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace, and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized she was having a stroke and enabled her to seek help before she was completely lost. It would take her eight years to fully recover.

For Taylor, her stroke was a blessing and a revelation. It taught her that by “stepping to the right” of our left brains, we can uncover feelings of well-being that are often sidelined by “brain chatter.” Reaching wide audiences through her talk at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference and her appearance on Oprah’s online Soul Series, Taylor provides a valuable recovery guide for those touched by brain injury and an inspiring testimony that inner peace is accessible to anyone.

“Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse is a stark, yet incredibly beautifully written novel by Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese. As one of Canada’s foremost Indigenous authors and storytellers, Wagamese’s body of work includes six novels, a book of poetry (Runaway Dreams), and five non-fiction titles, including two memoirs and an anthology of his newspaper columns.

Indian Horse tells the story of Saul Indian Horse. It is set in northern Ontario in the 1950’s and 60’s. It begins with Saul, a former minor league hockey star, recovering in a treatment centre for alcoholism; he is chronicling his life experience as a means of facing his addiction. Although a deeply personal tale, it is also reflective of the wider intergenerational trauma experienced by thousands of Indigenous residential school survivors across Canada.

It begins in the northern Ontario where Saul lives off the land with his parents, grandmother and older brother Ben. Saul is happiest when learning traditional skills and family lore from his grandmother. Both of his parents are residential school survivors. They desperately hope that living in the wilderness, away from their community, will save their boys from being taken away to from them; but despite the family’s best efforts, the boys are eventually found, and taken against their will.

Once Saul arrives at St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School, his experience is harrowing: the students are subjected to beatings, sexual abuse and ritualized humiliation. The school is not designed to teach them to thrive in a new world but to break their spirits and erase their traditional ways of life. Although exceptionally difficult to read, Wagamese truthfully reflects the dire reality experienced by thousands of children across Canada: chronicling a dark chapter in history that should never be forgotten.

A form of hope arrives for Saul when an idealistic young priest introduces the older boys to ice hockey. The priest takes Saul under his wing, and allows him to play, even though he is younger than the other players on the team. The reader observes eight-year-old Saul exuberantly clearing the snow off the ice for the school team and practicing stick handling in the pre-dawn hours using frozen horse turds for pucks. Saul has a natural talent for the game and, like all great players, he visualizes complex plays before they unfold on the ice. He is soon outplaying the older boys, and he is eventually given permission to board with a family in Manitouwadge, so he can join the Native Tournament Circuit.

Saul finds love and acceptance in his new home: both with the Kelly family and his team, “The Moose”. He enjoys camaraderie with his fellow players both on an off the ice. But as Saul’s opportunities increase, so does his exposure to the overt racism and discrimination of the 1960s hockey world, and Canadian society. Saul’s rise up through the ranks of the minor-league is swift but it is also fleeting. He is stripped of his passion for the game and he ultimately walks away from his dream: adopting the nomadic life of a drifter. After many lost years, he hits rock bottom. With some support, he eventually finds his way home, rediscovering his connection to the land, his people, and himself.

Wagamese’s use of language throughout this novel is masterful. He is an incredibly skilled storyteller, with an uncanny descriptive power. I especially appreciated the visceral way that he captured Saul’s experience playing hockey; it helped me to understand the joy of the game. Throughout the book, I found myself stopping and rereading sections, just to take in its richness. Indian Horse is one of the most heart breaking and heart opening books that I have ever read. It is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and a stunningly beautiful piece of literature that everyone should experience.

New Year’s Nourishment

My thoughtful friend Elise gifted me a five-day, self-led virtual retreat for Christmas. It is offered by Jennifer Doheney of Welloga. I am already on day three of the course and I am enjoying it a lot. It includes a range of high quality videos and educational handouts on topics such as meditation, healthy cooking, mindfulness and yoga. Each day of the retreat is broken into small learning units, with a total time commitment of approximately 1.5 hrs, so it is very manageable.

As many of us are stuck inside at the moment, due to the pandemic, it is a great opportunity to do something nourishing for yourself. The retreat is also currently on sale, so it is financially accessible. Jennifer is offering it a very affordable price of $37 (USD). Please note: I am not affiliated with Welloga or receiving any financial benefit from this post. I am just loving the experience and I want to share it with you, as I think it is a valuable resource. I hope that you enjoy it!

Click here for more info: https://offers.welloga.space/finding-your-middle-ground-offer

A season for giving and receiving

For the past ten years or so, instead of purchasing gifts for the adult members of my family, I have chosen to donate to charities over the holidays. I also love to pick out special books for everyone, from a locally owned independent bookstore, but the main gift remains the donation.

This year, I am targeting funds to support a family in my community through the Giving of Good Food holiday fundraiser. It provides them with a fresh fruit and vegetable box, on a bi-weekly basis, for a year. Food security is a chronic issue, but it is particularly difficult during a global pandemic, and especially challenging for children.

For me, this act of giving is in keeping with the spirit of the season; it promotes connection and love. It chooses to consciously step away from consumerism and towards gratitude. It is bigger than me and you. It is about us.

If you are able to give this year, please consider donating to a cause that is meaningful to you, or shop locally to help keep businesses open. If you do not have money to give, but you are emotionally available, take a moment to open the door for a stranger, offer up a smile, listen to a friend, or provide words of encouragement. These small and consistent gestures of kindness can be equally as powerful.

“The most treasured gifts in the world are kind words, spontaneously given.” Dean Fred Hargadon

If you are in a place of needing support over the holidays, please allow yourself to ask for it, and to receive what is offered. I hope that your community wraps around you like a warm blanket and keeps you close in its embrace. It is important to remember that we belong to one another.

“Son of a Trickster” by Eden Robinson

Son of a Trickster is a 2017 coming of age novel by Eden Robinson. The first book in Robinson’s Trickster trilogy, Son of a Trickster, was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and Canada Reads 2020. The second title, Trickster Drift, was also a bestseller; and the third volume, Return of the Trickster, is set to be released in March 2021.

Robinson is a member of British Columbia’s Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. She weaves together traditional Indigenous narratives, with contemporary tales of violence and survival. This unique, genuinely surprising novel is a blend of difficult coming-of-age story, with mythic fiction, and it is powerfully subversive.

The story’s protagonist, Jared, lives in the basement of his mom’s house and gets by selling drugs to other kids at school. His northern town, Kitimat, is being torn apart by a pipeline debate, with one side for jobs, and the other fighting to protect the land. Jared’s parents are divorced. He financially supports his unemployed father; and his mother’s addiction, erratic behaviour, and love life, are a constant source of stress.

Robinson’s writing leads readers down a path in which Indigenous spiritual and supernatural worlds collide with the everyday world of pop culture and high school coming-of-age narrative. Son of a Trickster is exactly as slippery as a trickster tale should be, changing direction and shape, even as you convince yourself you know what is going on, and what will happen next.

Jared is followed by a chatty raven, who later claims to be his real father, and an old woman who appears to have a creature moving beneath her skin. When he starts to see animal spirits and strange ape-men everywhere, his mother admits that his father is a trickster named Wee’git.

“Wee’git is a transforming raven and he has a very specific role in our culture. We tell our children Wee’git stories to teach them about protocol, or nuyum. But he teaches people this protocol by breaking all the rules. He is the bad example, the example of what not to do. So his stories are always funny and he’s a very lively character.”

~ Eden Robinson

Son of a Trickster was recently adapted into a six-part television series by CBC, called Trickster. Robinson worked with filmmakers Michelle Latimer (RiseThe Inconvenient Indian) and Tony Elliott (12 MonkeysOrphan Black). It features Indigenous actors such as Joel Oulette, Crystle Lightning, and Kalani Quepo. The creative team includes notable Indigenous writer-directors Jesse Wente, Marie Clements, and Adam Garnet Jones; and the soundtrack features Indigenous musicians, such as the Snotty Nose Res Kids.

Although the series diverges from the novel in places, it is a strong interpretation. I highly recommend that you watch it, once you read the book. It can be accessed, for free, on CBC Gem.

“Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad

As a part of my anti-racism journey, I am committed to reading more works written by Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC). There are some amazing resources available and I am grateful to these creators for sharing their time, expertise, and emotional labour. I will be featuring the books that have made a big impact on me through a BIPOC Authors’ Book Club. I hope that you will read them and tell me what you think. The more we read and share these resources, the farther the message spreads, and the more likely we can influence meaningful change. This starts by using our financial resources to support this important work.

The first book that I am featuring is Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. She starts the book by defining what she means by “white supremacy” and presenting an invitation to the reader:

White supremacy is a system you have been born into. Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection and power. It is also a system that has been designed to keep you asleep and unaware of what having that privilege, protection and power has meant for people who do not look like you. What you receive for your whiteness comes at a steep cost for those who are not white. This may sicken you and cause you to feel guilt, anger and frustration. But you cannot change your white skin colour to stop receiving these privileges just like BIPOC cannot change their skin colour to stop receiving racism. But what you can do is wake up to what is really going on. I invite you to challenge your complicity in this system and work to dismantle it within yourself and the world.

Saad has structured her book around a 28-day challenge, which she first introduced on Instagram after writing a post entitled I Need to Talk to White, Spiritual Women about White Supremacy. After it went viral, she was left fielding questions from white women about what to do next. This book is the result and it is structured to be an active and engaged process. She asks the reader to not only to think about the intellectual concepts that she presents, but to journal and self-reflect upon how these ideas show up in our daily lives. The doing element is very important. Each day Saad presents a new concept and then asks you to closely examine it (e.g. Day 1: You and White Privilege; Day 2: You and White Fragility; Day 3: You and Tone Policing).

White people are not used to seeing themselves as a race. From my own experience, I’ve been very aware of being a black person from a very young age because, when you’re not part of the dominant culture, you’re always the other. And so you’re aware of the thing that separates you from being seen as ‘normal’ like everyone else. White privilege means you don’t have to think of yourself as white. You just think of yourself as a person.

~ Layla F. Saad

I appreciate how clearly Saad presents each concept and then lays out a series of reflective journalling prompts to work through. Rarely do white people, including myself, analyze their own complicity and participation in the racist system that we all inhabit. The emotional burden of fighting for equality is predominantly left to those already disenfranchised by the system. This cannot continue. We cannot keep looking away. I was personally humbled by some of the things I discovered through doing the work. When I investigated the questions that she asked, I began to recognize the invisible and pervasive nature of racism. My failure to previously see it does not make me a “bad” person. It simply reveals the inequity of a deeply rooted system designed to benefit white people; once it is revealed, however, the challenge is for us to do something about it.

It is not comfortable to admit that you are safe because someone else is unsafe or that white people benefit from structural oppression in a very real way. Anti-racism work is uncomfortable. This discomfort is insignificant, however, compared to the harm that comes from doing nothing. These conversations among white people are long overdue; and they have never been more urgent. We need to ensure that the attention raised during the recent riots, marches and #BlackLivesMatters movement are not lost with the next sensational news headline. This is lifelong work. A commitment is needed from each of us to keep actively listening, learning, speaking out and examining our actions on a daily basis.

And what I really want people to understand is that this is not a one-and-done thing, this is lifelong work. White supremacy is a system and it’s impacted people of colour for forever. And so it’s not going to be dismantled or overcome by people saying it as just a one-time thing or just a simple set of actions that they do, rather it’s seeing themselves in the practice of anti-racism every day.

~ Layla F. Saad

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, 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.

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.

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.

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.

A Season of Giving

The holiday season is upon us. From the end of October onward, the stores are packed with merchandise, and we are bombarded with the message to buy more, more, more. Expressing love has become synonymous with gift giving.

A few years ago, I stopped to think about how I wanted to intentionally cultivate my own family traditions; and I spent some time reflecting on some important questions. What values do I want share with my child at this time of year? How can we meaningfully experience this season together? How can we give back to our community?

For me, quality time is very important. I want to fill my child with love and lasting memories. This is a gift that she can carry with her forever and it does not end up in the landfill. I also want her to learn the value of community and the importance giving over receiving.

To try to achieve these goals, we have established some traditions that we look forward to sharing.

Giving:

  • Santa’s Anonymous: There are so many families who need help during the holiday season. If you visit a local mall, such as Hillside or Mayfair, between November 25 – December 6, 2019 you will find a Tree of Wishes. Low income children from across the CRD have requested a special gift to make their holiday season bright. Food hampers are also provided to their families.
  • Donations instead of gifts: Instead of giving large gifts to the adults in our family, I make donations in their honour to charities close to my heart; and I ask them to do the same for me. I also like to choose special books for each person, purchased from independent booksellers, like Munros, Bolen Books or Ivy’s Books. This not only supports authors and publishers but also local businesses.
  • Volunteering: There are many local not-for-profits looking for help at this time of year. In our family, we volunteer with a local chocolate maker. She raises money for Connections Place, a supportive drop-in centre for people facing mental health issues, through her annual fundraiser. My daughter and I help with the packaging and assembly. I also order her delicious chocolate for stocking stuffers.

Home Activities:

  • Baking: It is really fun to spend time together in the kitchen. There are so many delicious treats that you can bake at this time of year. We enjoy shortbread and sugar cookies. Decorating them together is the best part! You can gift your goodies to friends and family.
  • Host a Gingerbread Party: Invite a few of your child’s friends over to the house and decorate gingerbread houses. If you do not want to make them yourself, there are simple prepackaged options available at the grocery store.
  • Trim the Tree: We love to pick our tree together and spending an afternoon decorating it, while enjoying festive music and hot chocolate. My daughter loves putting the star on top at the end.

Community Events: There are so many great events taking place across the city and many of them are low cost or free. Here are a few events coming up this year:

  • Christmas Lights Across Canada: Celebrate the lighting of the provincial Christmas tree and the Parliament Buildings. Enjoy festive performances, music and seasonal treats. December 5, 2019.
  • Gingerbread Showcase: The Parkside Hotel & Spa hosts an annual Gingerbread Showcase in support of Habitat for Humanity. It is free to visit and you can enjoy exploring a wide range of creative and festive entries, in support of a good cause. You can vote for your favourite one. It runs November 16, 2019 – January 5, 2020.
  • Light Village: The Downtown Victoria Business Association is hosting a light maze in Centennial Square this holiday season. It will run from December 13, 2019 until the end of the month.
  • Christmas Movie Nights: Oak Bay Beach Hotel is hosting screenings throughout December. Holiday films are accompanied by light dinner, popcorn and house-made sweet-treats. Partial proceeds of all sales go to the David Foster Foundation. Films include: Love Actually; Elf; Home Alone; and the Polar Express.
  • Christmas at Butchart Gardens: Colourful lights and festivities are on offer at the world-famous gardens. It is hosted from December 1, 2019 – January 6, 2020. I like to take my daughter in the days following Christmas, as it is quieter, and it is nice to have something seasonal and bright to look forward to after all of the holiday fanfare is over.
  • The Peak of Christmas: Every year, we make a special trip to Vancouver to visit Santa at Grouse Mountain. It is a lot of fun to take the gondola up to the top. Grouse does an amazing job create a winter wonderland, with ice skating, a light maze, live reindeer, crafts, movies. Santa Claus has his own cottage in the snow. It is at truly magical experience.

Celebrate Diversity

  • Learn and Grow: There are so many wonderful celebrations taking place throughout December in addition to Christmas. In our family, we enjoy learning about how this season is celebrated by cultures across the world. A few of them include: Hanukkah; Winter Solstice; St. Lucia Day; Kwanzaa; and Ōmisoka. You can do this by taking books out from the library, researching information online, and/or speaking with friends in your community who celebrate these special holidays.

Every year we add new traditions to our list. It is fun to try out new things, spend quality time together, and explore this beautiful season in our own special way. It is the greatest gift we can give to one another.