Soul Nourishment

As an independent parent, there is limited time for self-care. Much of my day is spent cooking, cleaning, working or driving; but as I have discovered over the years, if I do not make time for the things that nourish me, I cannot fully show up for my child, or anyone else for that matter.

I recently decided to start waking up a few hours earlier each morning, before my day gets started. This time is dedicated to reflection and self-care. I have a rule that I cannot do chores, email or social media. It is solely for activities that fill my heart with joy.

For me, this often includes meditation, reading, writing and movement (yoga or strength-based exercise). After a few weeks of practice, I have noticed a significant improvement in my overall sense of happiness and well-being.

The activities themselves are personal preferences, not the solution. When I show up every morning, it sends a signal to my body and soul that I value them; they deserve love and care. This is the magic. Every day, as I fill my tank before I get started, it not only helps me to sustain myself throughout the day; it prevents me from simply putting one foot in front of the other, and instead, it empowers me to gaze with hope towards the horizon.

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Teens Under Pressure

I recently listened to a great interview by Rich Roll and Dr. Lisa Damour. Dr. Damour is a Yale educated psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author who specializes in education and child development. She writes the monthly adolescence column for the New York Times.

Dr. Damour contributes regularly to CBS News, speaks internationally, and acts as a Senior Advisor to the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University. She serves as the Executive Director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls; she is often referred to as “the teen whisperer.”

In the interview, Dr. Damour reflects her extensive experience working with teenage girls. She provides an overview of her findings, as outlined in her two books: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.

As I found her approach intriguing, I followed up by reading Dr. Damour’s book, Untangled. It is a clearly written and accessible resource. The backbone of her thesis is there are seven distinct stages of teenage development. She provides tips and tactics for navigating each of them:

  1. Parting with Childhood: At age twelve, most tweens feel a sudden, internal pressure to separate from anything childlike. Healthy adolescent development requires parents who can handle rejection.
  2. Joining a New Tribe: Belonging to a friend tribe is of key importance to a teen. The fear of being tribeless – distanced from one’s family yet without a peer group – leads to the idealization of popularity and the social connections that come with it.
  3. Harnessing Emotions: The brain remodels dramatically during teenage years. The intense emotions that your daughter broadcasts are what she actually experiences. Take her feelings seriously regardless of how overblown they may seem.
  4. Contending with Adult Authority: Instead of reflecting on why we have the rules, teens focus on trying not to get caught while breaking them. Help her understand the rationale for the rules and the potential for unintended consequences.
  5. Planning for the Future: Help your daughter to develop a growth mindset by celebrating effort over outcome. Focus on helping her to be her best, not the best.
  6. Entering the Romantic World: The parent has three jobs: to alert your daughter to the fact that she has an inner compass; to support her in asking for what she wants; and to make sure she knows how to express what she does not want.
  7. Caring for Herself: Frame your commentary on nutrition, weight, exercise, sleep, sex and access to substances (alcohol and drugs) in terms of your daughter’s developing ability to care for herself. Empower her to make safe and loving choices.

As the parent of a ten-year old daughter, I find Dr. Damour’s perspective to be very practical and actionable. Even though my child is not quite a teenager, she is entering the realm of pre-teen behaviour; and I have already found Dr. Damour’s advice to be helpful in navigating challenging moments.

If you are interested in learning more, I suggest that you start by listening to the interview with Rich Roll. It provides a high level overview of Dr. Damour’s overall philosophy and approach. If you check it out, let me know what you think!

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Free Solo: Dare to Dream

“You see things as they are and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?'” ~ George Bernard Shaw

I recently listened to a fantastic interview that Rich Roll did with documentary filmmakers, Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin about their Oscar-winning film, Free Solo. It captures the journey of climber, Alex Honnold, to become the first person to free solo climb the 3000 ft granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, without a rope or safety equipment. El Cap is considered by many to be the epicentre of the rock climbing world. It is a vertical expanse stretching more than a half mile up—higher than the world’s tallest building. Jimmy and Chai give a behind the scenes perspective into the unique challenges faced in making this film. It is a great interview and I highly recommend you listen to it.

I am personally petrified of heights. I generally have no interest in watching extreme sports or following rock climbing but this really story captured my imagination. Alex Honnold knew from an early age that climbing is his destiny; and he has spent his entire adult life relentlessly honing his craft. All of this work culminates in his dream to free solo climb El Cap: something which has never been previously achieved by another human being.

The film is particularly compelling as it not only captures the climb itself but it gives you an inside look into the close knit nature of the community, which includes legendary climber Tommy Caldwell, filmmaker and climber Jimmy Chin and Alex’s girlfriend, Sannie McCandless. Although they are each deeply concerned for his safety, they support him wholeheartedly to achieve his seemingly impossible dream: not knowing what the ultimate result will be. Death is a very real possibility for free soloists and Alex fully accepts this as a potential result.

I love this movie as it reminds me of the importance of following your heart and living the life that is most authentic to you. No one else needs to understand your dreams, as they are unique to you alone; but you need to be willing to pursue them with a singular focus and determination. Alex fully embodies this philosophy of life. He lives his life from a place of clarity and driven passion that is very rare. Watching this film stirred something deep in my heart. I was left feeling very inspired about what a human can accomplish if he puts his mind to it. I encourage you to check it out.

Strengths Based Living

This week, I have been exploring the strengths based work of Marcus Buckingham. Marcus is a career coach; and he believes that we are taught to focus on the wrong things from a very young age, which leads to unhappy and unfulfilling careers. Instead of learning to identify our own unique strengths, we are taught to seek external input from teachers and bosses on weaknesses to improve.

A strength is something that only you alone can pin point and a weakness requires external validation. A strength is a specific activity that fills you with joy and energy. It is sustaining and you lose track of time when it is underway. You look forward to the opportunity to do it every time.

This is different than something you excel at. You can be really good at an activity, but if it does not provide you with the things listed above, it is not a strength. This is why only you can truly identify your own strengths, as no one else can tell you how it makes you feel to do it. A weakness, conversely, is something that you will never excel at; with focused effort, it will be improved to mediocre status, at best. 

If you do not learn to identify your own strengths, it will land you in a job that is not well suited, as you will follow a path laid out by others. This can result in feeling drained, dejected and depleted when you show up to work every day. 

Oprah invited Marcus to lead a career intervention with group of professional women on her show. The free, step-by-step workshop is available online. I have done the work and and I found it to be incredibly helpful and insightful. He breaks out all of the steps of how to discover your own unique strengths and demonstrates how to tangibly action them. It is a wonderful resource and I hope you enjoy it too.

https://www.oprah.com/money/marcus-buckinghams-career-intervention

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Head vs. Heart

Rear View Woman And Split Blackboard With Heart And Brain Symbol

I am a sensitive empath with a strong internal fight or flight instinct. I feel and sense the world around me deeply; this can be challenging when you live in a busy, aggressive and loud world.

In order to better navigate this reality, I am working to build upon my inner strength. To create a place of stillness and grounding that I can turn to when things are chaotic: to cultivate more equanimity and peace within. This starts by learning how to shift from living in my head to living from my heart.

Throughout my adult life, I have gained success and praise through building up my analytical skills. The task-orientated, linear part of my brain is highly developed and it is hard for me to switch it off. It writes lists and organizes things. It reflects on what has happened and plans into the future. It is pragmatic and efficient: seeking security and safety through establishing structure.

There are many benefits to possessing these skills, especially in a world that values productivity and efficiency; but the logical part of myself lacks warmth, spontaneity and joy. It is rigid and uncompromising. This part of myself reminds me of a grouchy old lady. She complains and she is dissatisfied; she is always looking for improvement. She points out what is not going right and what she does not like; she worries about things incessantly. She does not live in the moment or start from a place of gratitude. She suffocates creative, playful impulses: considering them to be “silly” and “unpredictable.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I can learn to reconnect with my body: to reclaim the intuitive, emotional part of myself that lives and breathes in the present moment. To do this, I have been investigating embodiment practices. A few of them include:

Internalizing the Positive: In his book, Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson speaks to the negative bias of the brain. The brain preferentially scans for, registers and recalls unpleasant experiences. In order to change this, he suggests actively looking for good news, particularly the little stuff of daily life: the smiling face of your child; the smell of fresh coffee; a pleasant conversation with a friend; a small victory at work.

More importantly, Rick suggests savouring the experience. Be in that moment and really take it in. Do not let you attention move to something else: hold it for up to 20 seconds. The longer something is held in awareness, and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons fire and write together: creating a stronger trace memory. He also suggests focussing on the feelings of your emotions and body sensations since they are the essence of implicit memory. Let the experience fill the body and be as intense as possible. This helps to teach the brain to focus on and remember the positive in any given situation.

Cold Immersion: Throughout history and across cultures, cold bathing has been used to promote multiple beneficial effects for health such as improving the immune system, cardiovascular circulation and lowering inflammation; it is also shown to boost mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. It is counterintuitive but it is actually a really effective way to start the day. As I stand in that cold blast of water each morning, I am forced to be in my physical self. I am aware of how this amazing body has kept me alive over the last twenty-four hours: breathing each breath; pumping my heart; repairing muscles; creating new skin; moving me through the world. There is no where else to be in that moment. The cold does not allow your attention to wander. I am filled with awareness and gratitude. Before I know it, it is over. I turn on the hot water and start the day with fresh slate. The recommended timing of cold immersion varies from minutes to hours. I can only manage thirty seconds but it is enough.

Movement and Sound: When I was little, I loved to express myself through singing, dancing and making music. As I grew older, I became increasingly self-consciousness and they played a smaller and smaller role in my life. Now that I am in mid-life, I am learning to re-embrace these forms of self-expression to foster a stronger connection with my heart. The wonderful thing is there is no one right way to do it. You just find what works for you and go for it. I have personally been enjoying two mindfulness practices: kirtan and 5Rhythms. With roots in the Vedic anukirtana tradition, a kirtan is a call-and-response style song or chant, set to music. There is little distinction between the performers and the audience.  The wallah (leader) sings the mantra, and the audience sings it back.  A single chant can go on for up to forty minutes.  As you sing with each other you experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other audience members and yourself.  All voices merge together to become one voice. And when the music stops, your mind is quiet. 5Rhythms is a movement meditation practice devised by Gabrielle Roth in the late 1970s. It puts the body in motion in order to still the mind. Fundamental to the practice is the idea that everything is energy, and moves in waves, patterns and rhythms. The five rhythms (in order) are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. When danced in sequence, are known as a “Wave.” A typical Wave takes about an hour to dance.

Finding ways to shift from living in my mind to living in my body is an ongoing practice. There is no set destination or mode of arrival; it is simply a process of constant effort and cultivation.  The techniques listed above are just a few of the ways that I am exploring this concept; but they are not all of them. I also enjoy the benefits of meditation, yoga and walking in nature, amongst others. It is less about the form and more about the intention. How can I move into living more in the present moment? How can I come home to my physical self? How can I learn to feel as much as I think?

I am curious to learn how you are learning to live more from your heart. Please share your thoughts and suggestions below.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Clean Cosmetics

josh-rosebrook-3-products.jpg

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!

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