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.

Joy & Vulnerability

Freedom woman with open arms silhouette in sunrise against sun f

As I have written about in previous posts, I love the work of Dr. Brené Brown. I recently watched her new special “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and it is a great reflection of the her decades of research on shame and vulnerability and the path to living a whole-hearted life. I highly recommend that you check it out.

In watching the show, I was reintroduced to a concept that I have been thinking about all week. I would like to share with you, as it really resonated with me:

When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.

When experiencing overwhelming feelings of love, we are at our most vulnerable; and it can trigger a dress rehearsal for tragedy. Brené outlines the example of a parent standing over his/her sleeping child. In that moment, the parent is filled with deep joy, followed by feelings of terror that something will happen to take the child away from him/her.

Worrying about things that have not happened does not protect us from pain. These thoughts only prevent us from truly experiencing the beauty of the moment before us. The next time you are worrying about “what ifs”, Brené suggests that you follow it with an acknowledgement that: “I am feeling vulnerable.” This creates space from the worry and brings you back into the present moment: revealing it to be a thought, not reality.

She encourages cultivating a regular practice of gratitude, as the most grateful people are the most joyful. When fear is triggered by joy, she suggests making a conscious effort to remember the things you are grateful for: then speak your gratitude or capture it in a journal.

Lastly, she outlines how to appreciate the ordinary moments. In a culture of scarcity, we are taught to seek the extraordinary; this leads us to miss out on the beauty of the ordinary moments unfolding before us on a regular basis. Take note of the small things that you appreciate about your family, work and friends: the fresh smell of your child’s hair after a bath; laughter at the family dinner table; the enjoyment of a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It is these things that help us to connect with joy on a regular basis, appreciate the present moment, and lean into the discomfort of not knowing the future.

The good news is that joy, collected over time, fuels resilience—ensuring we will have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen; and the remedy for fear is gratitude.

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#JoyBlogging

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“Where some people have a self, most people have a void, because they are too busy in wasting their vital creative energy to project themselves as this or that, dedicating their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like, rather than actualizing their potential as a human being.”  

~ Bruce Lee

The state of the world is pretty overwhelming these days. There is a lot of negativity and fear circulating: both in the news and general talk around the water cooler. There is also so much pain and damage being inflicted daily, on a global scale, by fellow human beings: not only on each other but to animals and the environment. It is heartbreaking and I often feel such a deep sense of helplessness.

I am also barely keeping my head above water in my personal life these days. I work full-time. I am a single mother. I have a student living in my home. I volunteer in my community. I care for my relationships with friends and family members. And…I am trying to make new space for writing and creativity…It is a lot to hold together. My body is currently telling me, through sheer exhaustion, that I cannot sustain this pace – no matter how hard I push myself. As Kate Kerr says: “I can count on my body to know where I am.” And my body is saying: “Slow down baby. Breathe. Simplify.”

In our society, a lot of value is placed on getting things done. There is praise for productivity; and great importance is given to action and the ability to multi-task. As I start to pay closer attention to my own habit of busyness, I am also noticing the discomfort the arises when I am still.  It is a useful and enlightening practice. Speeding up and slowing down – noting the way each feels in the body.

I was talking with a friend about this recently. She put forward a perspective that made me think. She believes in the deep importance (and pervasive undervaluing) of self-care; and she contends that self-regulation and core awareness are radical acts in themselves. With many of us living disembodied and fragmented lives, it disconnects us from knowing our true selves. This ultimately leads to living our lives half asleep, which is of no use to anyone.

The things that most of us aspire for and work so hard to achieve are a reflection the collective values of our society, rather than the authentic calling of our own hearts. The truth is that we are all here, not to fit in and to be like everyone else, but to discover our own unique gifts to share with the world. When you slow down and become still, it is hard to ignore this calling: one that most of us have known clearly since we were very young.

For me, part of reconnecting with my core self is to start paying attention to what gives me joy. What are the things that light my inner fire? What makes me feel alive and connected? I recently started a visual journal on my social media channels to capture these things, under the hashtag #JoyBlogging. I am enjoying this exercise immensely so far. It is a positive daily practice and it is wonderful to see a beautiful tapestry unfolding: one that reflects my true and most authentic self.

As I become clearer on the things that I value and love, I can see what I need to make more space for in my life: the things that make my heart sing. My hope is that by regularly sending out these love notes into the universe, I am not only serving my own internal journey, but I am also doing my own small part to be a force of love and positive energy in the world at large. I would love for you to join me. #JoyBlogging

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There is no way out but through

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“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~Leonard Cohen

Over the past ten months, I have become intimate with heartbreak and familiar with loss. My twenty-one year relationship abruptly ended. My beloved dog Maggie died; and two of my close family members are very unwell. It has been both an exceptionally difficult and a transformative time.

Heartbreak is a visceral experience. Your heart literally feels like it is breaking inside of your chest. It clenches. It aches. Pain manifests itself as tightness in your throat and tension in your shoulders. It pulls down heavily on your ankles and arms. It whispers seductively in your ear: “Lie down. Rest here. Don’t move. Stay still.” It is in these moments that I cling onto the mantra: there is no way out but through.

Through the experience of loss, I have been given the gift of seeing the people and world around me, with new lens. I have experienced the incredible kindness, love and compassion of those around me: my friends, family, work colleagues and community. I have realized that I am not alone. People want to help. They walk the path alongside of me. They will hold me up, when I cannot walk by myself. My biggest challenge is to accept this help and to receive this love: something that is difficult to do when you are used to giving it all away.

I have learned that when a heart breaks, it not only cracks open, it expands. Grief reveals the depth of sadness and it reveals the breadth of love. It will show you the sphere of life, if you let it: birth. death. love. loss. light. dark. All of it interconnected sides of one perfect whole.

Someone once told me: “You cannot selectively numb yourself. When you numb pain you numb joy.” This is so true. I have learned that it is essential to allow space for sadness, grief and anger to come through. It is not only key to healing; it will give you a deeper appreciation of joy and love. I now understand that, despite my deepest fear, allowing these emotions to just be will not swallow me. Feeling these emotions deeply will not cause lasting harm. They will come and then they will go. It is all temporal and transitory. Less resistance equals less suffering.

In and amongst all of the changes in my life, I have gained clarity on what I deeply care about: the things that creates inner peace; the actions that offers me joy. I have defined where my boundaries start and where they end; and the more that I clearly understand these things, the brighter my inner fire burns. The easier it is to stay rooted yet pliable while the ground around me shakes.

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