I See You

Lately, I have been taking notice of a habit. As I walk down the street, I tend to look down at the sidewalk, rather than up at the world around me. I focus my gaze five to ten feet ahead, as I move towards my destination. My comfort zone is to keep my eyes lowered and my focus inward.

I recently decided to test out a small experiment. Rather than looking down, I have been intentionally looking up at every person that passes me. If it feels safe, I offer them a smile. This pushes the limits of my comfort, as it brings me into direct contact with strangers.

The vast majority of people do not meet my gaze. Some people look down or straight ahead into the distance. Some are busy talking with their friends. Others are intently focused on their cell phones.

Once and a while, however, I am successful. There is a simple but powerful moment of connection. Our eyes meet and I silently think to myself: “I see you. I acknowledge you. I honour you.” It often results in their face lighting up as we pass one another.

Although it is easy to dismiss the importance of small acts of kindness, you never know their true impact. That moment could offer a glimmer of hope to someone experiencing a difficult day, reminding them that they are not alone. It may inspire them to pass kindness onto the next person they encounter: generating a ripple effect of love. Whatever its impact, I am enjoying the practice of bringing myself into the moment, and taking the opportunity to connect with others along the way.

Boundaries of Love

When I was little, I was taught that love is defined through sacrifice and service. You give everything to others and meet their needs first. You agree to any request that is made of you (unless it is unsafe or dangerous). You do not put yourself first, as tending to your own needs is inherently selfish.

As I lived the first part of my life following these rules, I gave without limits. I said yes when I meant no. I tried to be the “perfect” friend, daughter, wife and colleague by being accommodating, generous and helpful. I gave and I gave and I gave; and it led me to a place of resentment, exhaustion and burn-out. I was an empty shell and I had nothing left.

Over the last few years, I have been exploring the importance of establishing healthy boundaries. A boundary is most simply defined as what is ok and what is not ok for me. It is about understanding where I end and you begin. It is not about building walls or creating separation from other people; it is simply about establishing and maintaining respect.

As Dr. Brené Brown discovered through her decades of research, people with the strongest boundaries are the most compassionate: as true generosity cannot exist without them. When they say yes, it is a true yes. When they say no, it is a true no. In considering a request, Brené asks herself: “What boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my integrity and make the most generous assumptions about you?” Empathy is not feeling for somebody it is feeling with them. Empathy offered, along with boundaries, is infinite and sustaining. If you have done your work, and set clear boundaries, you can tread water forever.

Not sure if you have weak boundaries? Here are a few of the tell-tale signs: sharing too much too soon; feeling responsible for other peoples happiness; possessing an inability to say no for fear of rejection and abandonment; having a weak sense of identity; basing how you feel about yourself on how others treat you; feeling disempowered and allowing others to make decisions for you. This can lead to feeling of total powerless and a victim mentality. A red flag for crossing your boundary is using the word “should”. For example, “I should let my sister borrow my car, as my dad expects me to.”  

There are two kinds of boundaries:

Physical: Protecting your body and your sense of personal space.

Emotional: Protecting your self-esteem and your ability to separate your feelings from another person’s feelings. An emotional boundary allows you to be impacted by other peoples thoughts, feelings, actions, while still maintaining your own unique beliefs, behaviours and sense of responsibility. 

The process of learning to set a boundary is iterative. You do not master it in one day. It takes time, patience and practice. It also requires a lot of courage. It is scary to say no. In our society, we are encouraged to worry about what other people think of us and we generally want everyone to like us. This mind set, however, comes with a hefty price.

To set a boundary, state it clearly, calmly and with with as few words as possible. Do not justify your response or apologize. You do not need to convince anyone of anything. It is important to remember that you are not responsible for how the other person reacts to you setting a boundary. Acknowledge their feelings but do not take them on. Brené Brown suggests choosing a mantra. She personally uses: “Choose discomfort over resentment.” A mantra reminds you that you are making a choice that is critical for you well-being – even if it it not easy. 

As I practice setting boundaries more and more in my own life, I am getting clearer on what I can give, while still remaining in my integrity. This feels really good. Learning to set boundaries is truly an act of love: both for myself and others. It is not easy work but it is important. I am committed to practicing this new skill set so I can continue to give with my whole heart for many years to come.

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Dr. Terri Cole provides guidance for setting personal and emotional boundaries.

The Body Speaks – Are you Listening?

young women in lotus pose

I really enjoy Liz Gilbert’s work. She is a prolific novelist. Her books, Big Magic and The Signature of All Things are two of my favourites; and she is best known for her mammoth best seller, Eat, Pray, Love. Liz is also very active on social media and I like to follow her on Facebook and Instagram. She posts thoughtful, inspiring and deeply personal content. She is the living definition of Bréne Brown’s concept of daring greatly, inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena quote. Standing in the arena of life: she presents herself with honesty, openness and vulnerability.

A few years ago, Liz posted about her journey to recover from a knee injury (click link below to read the full post). In it, she shares how her pain started around the time of her divorce. It was relentless, real and debilitating. After seeking every medical option, one day Liz finally just asks her knee what it needs from her:

I literally spoke to it. I got very quiet, and very sleepy, and I said, “Tell me what you need from me, dear knee. I’m listening. I’ll do whatever you say. Surgery? A replacement? More gentle care? More acupuncture? A change of diet? Reiki? Just give me the word.”

Then I got very quiet, and my knee told me what it wanted. I heard the answer in the depths of my mind, as clear as day. It said, “GO FASTER.”

Go faster, said my knee. Go running. Go climbing. Go dancing. Use me. Jump up and down on me. I am a KNEE. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am wondrously designed, said my knee. I am not a weak point, but a strong one. I am part of your body, and I want to be used. I am not a symbol of your divorce. I am not a sign of aging. I am not a problem. Don’t baby me. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being treated like a Victorian invalid lady who has to take to her bed because of her fainting spells. I am not weak. Stop this. Please, please, please — said my “bad” knee to me — please stop using me as an expression of your weakness, fear, and emotional fragility. Please talk to your therapist about whatever troubles are ongoing in your mind, but don’t blame for everything. Please just trust me. Please just use me as I was designed. Use me as a freaking KNEE.

This post has stayed with me over the years. I find it fascinating how the body often manifests mental pain through physical expression, such as a knee; and how the body will heal itself completely, if it is given a chance.

For many years, I have experienced my own digestion and low energy issues, with a slow and sluggish system. This resulted in my carrying around extra weight and living with a feeling of general exhaustion, which I have spoken to in previous posts.

A year and a half ago, I went to see a naturopath to try to find some answers. I tried the traditional medical route, with no luck, so it seemed like a reasonable next step. After a thorough analysis of my history, he asked me to consider trying an anti-inflammatory diet.

Many major diseases that plague us today — including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s — have been linked to chronic inflammation. One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the grocery store.

He asked me to cut out caffeine, sugar, grains and dairy; and although it seemed extreme, I decided to give it a go. I was at the end of my rope and ready to try anything. This left me with planning my meals around:

  • non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli and dark leafy greens
  • high-fiber foods, including beans and lentils
  • some whole grains, such as quinoa (a seed)
  • protein-rich foods, including lean meats, fish, soy, legumes, and nuts
  • fish with a high omega-3 fatty acid content, such as salmon, sardines, and herring
  • foods that contain antioxidants, such as berries
  • sweet potatoes, which have a lower GI than regular potatoes
  • water, especially as a substitute for sweetened drinks
  • unsweetened herbal teas

After following this regime for the last year and a half, I have lost over thirty pounds and my energy levels are significantly better. I am not always perfect at following it but I am pretty consistent (85-90%). In addition to changing what I eat, I have a consistent exercise routine that includes regular yoga, meditation, walking and boot-camp classes. All of this has contributed to an immensely improved sense of well-being.

Aside from the physical transformation, I have learned to listen to my body. I realize now that it was previously communicating with me; but I was unable to hear it. The weight and sluggish system were crying: “Hey! Something is not right. Please help me. Something needs to change.” As I was feeling sad, stuck and trying to hide from the world after my divorce, it was telling me: “I need nourishment. Move, laugh and love more. Allow yourself to be seen.”

As many western women, I have struggled with food and body image issues for most of my life. For me, it started when I was twelve years old and beginning puberty; my changing shape was petrifying and I felt very out of control. Food became synonymous with comfort and it acted as an emotional band-aid. I became disconnected from my body and it was an enemy.

This slowly began to change for me when I became a mother. I was amazed at how my body intuitively knew how to knit together a little human being: from a few cells to a fully formed baby. It led me patiently through each an every step, from birthing her to nursing her: even creating milk perfectly formulated for my daughter’s needs in our climate. It was absolutely miraculous and I was humbled by the experience.

Learning how to be thoughtful and loving with my body is still new territory. I now try to approach each day and choice by asking myself: “Will this feed disease or fuel health?” Rather than treating my body as a separate entity, I bring it in close, act as a friend, and make choices that will build strength and enhance wellness.

I am motivated by a few things that I know to be true. I want to age well and to feel strong when I wake up each morning. I want to feel comfortable and connected to my core self: to be a good mother and role model for my daughter. I want to love myself so I can love others. These are important factors for negotiating a new relationship with my body going forward: one that is built on respect, love, connection and trust. It is a day by day practice but I am committed to the process and the journey ahead.

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Something to Inspire

Letters

The World Needs More Love Letters is a not-for-profit organization that uses the power of social media to write and mail letters to strangers all over the world.  They let anyone nominate someone in need of a love letter bundle.  In a world fueled by technology and isolation, this is a beautiful and meaningful exercise in human love and connection.  I am going to go out and buy some lovely stationary today.

http://www.moreloveletters.com/the-letter-requests/