Labyrinth of Life

4 min read

Picture of Labyrinth at Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, ON

Several months ago, about three weeks before my dad died, a friend and I walked a small stone labyrinth close to my home.  I’d never walked a labyrinth before but thought I was familiar with the concept.  Slow, contemplative walking around a set circular path.   I thought we would enter the labyrinth at the largest, outside ring and slowly make our way to the centre by walking round and round in ever smaller circles, then exit at the same point we entered.  Pretty simple, except the labyrinth didn’t work how I had thought it would.

I followed my friend into the labyrinth and, after the first few turns, realized that we had completely missed the outer two or three rings.  I couldn’t help thinking we had done it wrong.  Totally missed a large part of it.  I kept trying to put that thought out of my head – there is no right way, just follow the path – but it kept coming back.

My friend had been clear before we started that this was to be a silent walk.  So, I couldn’t point out to her that we had messed up.  Even the walk out after we got to the centre didn’t feel right to me.  We did the largest outside rings at the end and exited at a different spot than where we started.  Totally not how I thought it would be.

After we finished, I realized that I had been so wrapped up in how I thought it should be that I almost ruined my experience of how it actually was.  It occurred to me that the labyrinth was a metaphor for my current life situation.

I’d been struggling more than usual with the whole “trying to control life” thing for a few months; since we had been told that my dad was “actively dying”.  I didn’t make that up.  It’s a thing!  Luckily for all of us he was admitted to our local Hospice, which in my opinion was the most loving and caring place in the world for him to get on with the business of actively dying.

However, in his case, actively dying didn’t appear to be very active.  Nothing much changed in his condition from day to day and after a few weeks I began to worry that he would outlive the three-month maximum that a person can stay at Hospice.  I wasn’t being heartless.  He was physically bedridden and mentally ready to go.  But he was so happy to “have ended up” there and the care was so wonderful that I couldn’t bear the thought of moving him somewhere else for his last days.

The staff at Hospice were wonderful.  When I questioned them, they would gently tell me that “there is no defined pattern to dying.  Everyone does it differently and in their own time and not everyone ‘looks’ like they are dying.  Don’t worry and we’ll work through future arrangements if and when that time comes.”  But, like in the labyrinth, I couldn’t let go of thinking and worrying about what we would do at the end of the three months.

Even though the labyrinth’s life message was clear to me – just keep going, trust the path – I still couldn’t let go of wanting it to be another way.  Even though I could see the whole labyrinth laid out before me, I still didn’t know exactly how it would unfold.  And I wanted to know.  I wanted to know “your dad has X amount of time to live and this is what it will look like and he will be able to stay at Hospice and be lovingly cared for until his last breath.”

I recently looked up the definition of a labyrinth, “A complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way.”  However, unlike a maze, a labyrinth “has only one path to the center and back out … the path twists and turns back on itself many times before reaching the center. Once at the center, there is only one way back out.  In this way, the labyrinth symbolizes a journey to a predetermined destination (such as a pilgrimage to a holy site), or the journey through life from birth to spiritual awakening to death.”  (definitions from Lexico and verywellfit.com)

And that’s how the last leg of my dad’s journey unfolded.  It twisted and turned back on itself.  We were all confused at times.  We let it play out.  No intervention.  No control.  We had time to say what needed to be said.  We did our best to make his life as enjoyable as possible.  And he died peacefully with us by his side two months after his arrival at Hospice.

I went back to the labyrinth recently during a family hike.  Even walking it again just for fun I was still surprised by the twists and turns and how it doubled back on itself several times.  I still got confused and wasn’t sure if I was doing it correctly or if I had missed a turn.  Even when I knew from experience to just follow the path and trust that it will get me where I need to go, I still had trouble accepting it.  Accepting what is.  Letting go of trying to control the situation.  Trusting that life is unfolding just as it is supposed to be.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Allowing

4 min read

Picture of tire prints on a dirt road

I attended a meditation retreat last summer and heard the poem She Let Go by Safire Rose for the first time.  This beautiful poem resonated so deeply with me that I printed it out and put it in my daily journal so I could read it every day as a reminder.  Full disclosure – my daily journal is sometimes weekly and occasionally monthly depending on life at the time.

Recently I’ve seen the poem posted twice on Facebook.  It has such a powerful message that I thought I would share both the poem and my recent experience with letting go.

I really struggle with letting go – especially with what Buddhists call letting go of attachment to outcome.  Sometimes I think I’m doing pretty well with letting go and then realize that I am still really attached to the way I want something to turn out.

My most profound experience with this was last year when my daughter Kathryn was very ill and in a lot of pain.  Not surprisingly, I really wanted her to get better.  Miraculously, spontaneously, just be better – now.  Back to the way she was before she became ill.  Even when she was finally diagnosed and scheduled for surgery I still just wanted her to be better right now – no hospital, no surgery, no more pain, just better.

I was totally holding on to the outcome I wanted even though the doctors had found out what was wrong with her and they were going to correct it.  I was suffering because I didn’t want any of it to be happening.  Fortunately for me the day before Kathryn went into hospital a very spiritual friend came to our house for a short visit.

While she was there she told us that Kathryn’s guardian angel was in the room.  I was pleased to hear that Kathryn had a guardian angel but I was also quite ticked off that the angel wouldn’t just make everything all better – right then and there – like in the movies.  I didn’t voice my thoughts but our friend passed on a message from the angel – I love Kathryn and I’ll be with her, but I can’t change her path.

There it was.  Exactly the message I needed to hear to let go of my attachment to the outcome.  The relief was instantaneous – like a weight being removed.  Just like the poem says.

I can’t say that I was thrilled that Kathryn was going through such a tough experience but I can say that I resigned myself to the fact that for whatever reason, it was her path.  I couldn’t change it but I could be there to love and support her.  And I could do that so much better once I had let go of the way I wanted things to be and allowed “them to unfold in the new ways they’re supposed to.”1

1 quoted from I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life by Maria Shriver

She Let Go

by Safire Rose

She let go.

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.

She let go of the judgments.

She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.

She let go of the committee of indecision within her.

She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.

Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice.

She didn’t read a book on how to let go.

She didn’t search the scriptures.

She just let go.

She let go of all of the memories that held her back.

She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.

She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go.

She didn’t journal about it.

She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.

She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.

She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.

She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.

She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.

She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.

She didn’t call the prayer line.

She didn’t utter one word.

She just let go.

No one was around when it happened.

There was no applause or congratulations.

No one thanked her or praised her.

No one noticed a thing.

Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort.

There was no struggle.

It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.

It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be.

A small smile came over her face.

A light breeze blew through her.

And the sun and the moon shone forevermore…

© 2003 Safire Rose (reprinted here with permission)

Posted in Behaviour, Perspective | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

I Said What?

4 min read

Today is my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday.  Joyce passed away two years ago.  I still miss her no-nonsense, real way of looking at life.  We didn’t always see eye to eye but now that she is gone I realize what a great influence she had on my life.

I woke up one morning this week thinking about one particular incident.  It’s very clear in my memory because I wrote this unpublished article about it in 2003 when my daughter was five.

I listened to the words come out of her mouth and I couldn’t believe a mother could say those things to her own child: “Go away … you’re bugging me … get lost … leave me alone.”  When I became a mother I promised to do everything I could to develop my daughter’s self-esteem.  You wouldn’t hear me saying those words to my daughter – no way!  So why was I listening to my mother-in-law repeat those very words that she had just heard me – yes me – saying to my five-year-old daughter?  What a shock it was to hear those words repeated back to me.

My daughter had been particularly “five” the day before.  We were on holiday at the family cottage and had gone to visit friends.  I believe she had three, maybe four, complete meltdown tantrums.  That’s a lot for one day.  I was still upset with her the next day and thought I deserved a little time to myself to sit on the porch and read.  So acting like a hurt five-year-old myself, I told her to “leave me alone”.  When she didn’t, I got really indignant and told her to “stop bugging me”, escalating to “go away”, and culminating in the very mature “get lost”.  It seemed justified at the time.  It didn’t seem okay hearing it repeated later.  It seemed mean and heartless.  I felt like the worst mother in the world.  I completely agreed with my mother-in-law when she said my daughter was acting like a dejected and neglected little girl trying to get her mother’s attention.  Ouch!  Bad parent moment – you bet!

Several weeks later we decided to ride our bikes to a local restaurant for dinner.  We sat outside on the patio and had a really enjoyable dinner, which was not always the case with our active five-year-old.  We were calm and relaxed – the very picture of a happy family.  While our daughter was taking our credit card inside the restaurant to pay, a lady at the next table remarked what great parents we were and what an independent daughter we had.  Good parent moment – oh yeah!

Sometimes I have good and bad parent moments in the same day – in the same hour!  One day my daughter and I were enjoying ourselves on a bus ride to the mall when a man on the bus commented that he could see how much I loved my child by how happy she was.  I felt great after hearing that.  Had he heard me fifteen minutes later yelling at my then not-so-happy child to hurry up and get off the mall rides, he probably would have shaken his head and thought that some people just shouldn’t have children!

That incident reminded me of an article I read explaining that we are the same caring, intelligent, loving person during our good moments that we are during our bad moments.  So, when I start beating myself up because of a bad parent moment, I try and remember my good parent moments – the days when I said the right thing and dealt with the tantrum without melting down myself.  And then there is always damage control.  Once my mother-in-law brought me back to reality, I apologized to my daughter for telling her to get lost.

Someone recently laughed at me as I was trying to apply a new parenting technique that I had read about saying, “You’re funny, you are trying to be such a good mother.”  He’s right.  I am trying to be a good mother.  I may not always succeed but I try to remember that everyone has bad parent moments and good parent moments.  Hopefully, by the time Kathryn leaves home my good moments will have outnumbered my bad moments.

Thank you Joyce for speaking your truth, even if I didn’t always want to hear it.  Thank you for holding the mirror up so I could see my actions from a different perspective.  I am grateful you were part of my life.

Posted in Perspective | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Listen

4 min read

paint-268221_640Sometimes innocuous things scare me.  Poetry was one of those things.  My fear dates back to high school when we had to read poems I didn’t understand, composed of elements I didn’t understand.  Iambic pentameter comes to mind.

Even though poetry scared me, I was still drawn to it.  So to overcome this fear I went to a poetry workshop put on by the public library – Mindfulness and Poetry with Melinda Burns.

I loved how Melinda explained that mindfulness is “moment to moment non-judgmental awareness” and that poetry “puts that into words”.  Basically, a poem is “someone really paying attention to life experience.”

Melinda introduced me to free verse poetry.  It didn’t have to rhyme and I didn’t have to know the meaning of iambic pentameter.  All of a sudden a form of expression with a large number of unknowable rules had no rules at all!   A poem didn’t even need punctuation.  How wonderful!

In her poem, How to Write a Poem, Melinda says to:

Forget everything you know about poetry

and remember this:

the poem is inside you …

Listen for the words that

lift the veil to the other world

where you know what you know …

I wrote my first poems that evening and they lifted that veil for me.  I’d been feeling really down for a few days and not sure why.  Before we started writing our poems, Melinda asked us to do an exercise where we wrote down things we had noticed in the last few days – ordinary things we had seen or heard or smelled.  The one that stood out for me was the pastel colours on the cover of a book I had been reading for several days.  I chose that book cover for the subject of my first poem and that poem shed some light on why I was feeling so down.

The book was filled with stories about the author’s life and recent losses.  It was well written and I was quickly immersed in her world.  Her personality and sense of humour were similar to mine so it was easy for me to take on the heavy energy in the book.  The author’s world had become mine.  I was carrying her grief and her frustrations.  And from that low place I seemed to have no trouble finding examples from my own life to fuel my sadness.  Misery loves company and I was able to find lots of company for my literary induced misery.

Writing those poems helped me access the inner knowledge of where my sadness was coming from – someone else’s life – someone else’s losses.  Even though it felt like mine, it wasn’t my sadness at all.  However, just knowing the heavy energy wasn’t mine didn’t release it.

Fortunately, I have been working with a gifted teacher, Kelly Pritchard, and she led me through a guided meditation to release the energy.  She guided me to ask myself “What is standing between me and feeling fine?”  It felt like something heavy and sad weighing down on me like a heavy, grey, wet blanket.  She asked me to get quiet and first ask myself “Is this my energy?” and see how that made me feel and then ask “Is this someone else’s energy?” and see how that felt.  The heavy feeling went away in response to the first question and came back in response to the latter.  It was clearly someone else’s energy.  With Kelly’s help, I pictured myself connected and rooted to the earth and sent the heavy energy that wasn’t mine permanently back to the earth.  I felt lighter almost instantly.

I’ve spent the last several months cultivating getting quiet and listening.  Opening space to hear what my body and spirit are trying to tell me.  Now I have poetry to use as another way to get quiet and listen and a powerful meditation practice to use when I’m feeling out of sorts.  Thank you Melinda and Kelly!

The Book Cover by Lisa Ivaldi

Which book to read next?

I love this moment

Full of promise

New ideas, new perspectives

 

I love the colours on this one!

Beautiful pastel lines on the cover

Such a joy to behold 

 

So glad to be finished

the beautiful book filled with sad stories

Posted in energy, mindfulness | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Pause

3 min read

Photo of sky

If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything in several months.  I’ve been trying to write posts but I haven’t been feeling inspired.  So instead of forcing myself to decide whether or not I should continue with the blog; I am choosing to take my own advice and give myself some space and the permission to do nothing right now.  No decisions.  Pause.  See what feels right in the moment and where that leads me.

So here’s a reprint of my April 2016 post – No More Decisions:

How many times have you stressed over a decision – unsure of the right course of action to bring about the outcome you want?  Decisions can feel big, life altering, permanent!  A lot of thought and planning goes into them – a lot of agonizing over making the right decision.  That’s why I am no longer making decisions.  It’s too stressful.

I was at a talk by Sharon Lewis where she encouraged us to stop making decisions.  Instead she suggested we make choices and that we change them every 10 seconds if need be.  Choices are lighter, smaller, and easier.  If you don’t like the direction your choice is taking you, make another choice.  How freeing is that?

I’m a bit of a control freak, so I like to plan things out.  Many times I’ll get stressed trying to decide things that really don’t need to be decided at all, or sometimes can’t be decided.  For instance, my husband and I have been in a bit of a transition.  He was transitioning to autonomy from a 30 year career in government.  His transition prompted me to start thinking about my career future and what that would look like.  I thought I needed to make decisions, finalize my plan, and announce it to the world.

However, forcing myself to make decisions about my future was causing me stress.  It felt like I had to decide NOW, even though I didn’t know the best course of action.  I finally realized that I didn’t have to make any big decisions.  No one was pressuring me, except me!  I didn’t have to decide to wind down my business on a certain date.  I didn’t have to make a proclamation and set my plan in stone.  It could just evolve naturally, one right choice at a time.  I could focus on doing what I want, what I have energy for, without ever having to stress over a big decision.  The pressure to decide was causing me grief rather than the contentment I thought it would bring.

I don’t need to make a firm decision about my career future right now.  Decisions are big.  Choices are smaller.  So, rather than forcing myself to decide – NOW – life or death; I am stepping back and making it smaller – what is the next right choice?  Not a forever decision, but a present moment choice.  If that choice doesn’t work out the way I hoped it would, I will choose again in 10 seconds, or tomorrow, or next year.

Enjoy the summer!

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Take it Personally

3 min read

How much time have you wasted worrying about why someone was seemingly curt or rude to you?  Ruminating about what you might have said or done that offended them?  If you are like me, probably too much!

I recently ran into an acquaintance who I hadn’t seen in several years.  My husband and I were leaving a movie theatre and she was waiting in the lobby for her friend.  I tapped her on the shoulder to say ‘Hello’.  I asked her how she was doing and if she was still working at the same company.  We chatted for a minute or two and she asked what I was doing.  I said I was still doing some administration work and trying to do more writing.  She said something about me being a good writer and I asked if she still followed my blog.  She said she used to but not anymore – change of email or something.  I paused to think where my business cards were so I could give her one.  But before I could say anything she curtly cut off our chat by saying, “Well it was really good seeing you again”.  I agreed and we parted ways.  It felt weird.

The incident kept popping into my head and nagging at me.  I felt like I had done or said something wrong to make her want to stop talking to me so abruptly.  I was so wrapped up in trying to figure out what I had done that I actually thought she cut me off so that I wouldn’t give her a card and encourage her to follow my blog.  In reality, unless she was a mind reader, she didn’t know I was about to do either of those things.  It didn’t occur to me that maybe the reason she ended our interaction so abruptly had nothing to do with me.

In The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests the reader think about the last time they had a conversation with a group of people.  She asks, “Would you be surprised to learn that the different members of your group were focusing on entirely different things?  One may have been so distraught by recent heart-breaking news that it was all she could think about.  Another’s heart was racing because his crush had just walked in.  A third may have had difficulty focusing on anything but the fact that his shoulder was in tremendous pain.  And another person may have been having intrusive thoughts about her next day’s appointment.”  Lyubomirsky points out that even though these individuals were “essentially in the same situation at that moment, each of them was residing in a separate subjective social world.”

Fortunately for me, my acquaintance took the time to drop me a note later the next day that put an end to my ruminating:

Hi Lisa, I feel bad about my quick exit from our conversation at the movie.  My most sincere apologies as it was great to see you. But, I had sobbed at the end of the movie and had not yet come back to reality, so to speak. I couldn’t be myself for some reason. Hope to run into you again.

Her illuminating note reminded me that I had forgotten the second of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements – Don’t Take Anything Personally – “Nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.”  I was taking it personally.

I hope I remember this incident the next time I start wasting time and energy fretting over what I may have said or done to offend someone.  Instead of blaming myself for some imagined slight, perhaps I will stop and consider that other people have stuff going on in their worlds that I am not privy to and that their behaviour may have nothing at all to do with me.

(I will be speaking on my blog Are You Holding Back? at the Business Professional Women Kitchener Waterloo dinner meeting on Monday, May 15 in St. Jacobs.  Hope to see you there.)

Posted in Perspective | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Authentic Communication

3 min read

I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty good communicator.  I’m a good listener and usually fairly competent at getting my point across.  However, after listening to an online talk by the late Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on communication, I realized that I may be a pretty good conversationalist, but I have much to learn about being a really good communicator.

According to Dr. Rosenberg, we all have needs to be met.  Authentic communication requires understanding both our own human needs and those of the other person, and satisfying them without criticism or judgment or putting your own perception on them.

This idea of authentic communication became clearer to me one night when my daughter texted while I was reading a really good book.  She is living away from home and we communicate a lot by text.  I was enjoying my book, but happy to take a short break to see what she was up to.  We texted back and forth for awhile, but sometimes she would take so long to respond that I would stop staring at the blank phone screen and start reading my book again.

I like to text the same way I speak on the telephone – say hello, chat for awhile, and end by saying goodbye.  I didn’t realize it at the time but I was getting progressively more frustrated going back and forth between my book and our interrupted conversation.  Finally, after several bouts of waiting and texting, she disappeared.  No response to my last text.

About an hour later when she did finally text back, I asked where she was and why she stopped talking to me.  She said she was getting food and reminded me that I always tell her to put her phone down while she is eating.  She said there was no pleasing me – I get angry when she is on her phone and when she is not.

When I thought about it later, Dr. Rosenberg’s simple questions to help people understand their needs came back to me:

  • What is alive in you? What are you feeling?

I realized that she was frustrated because she thought I didn’t like her stopping to get food.  In reality, I was feeling frustrated because I thought we were in the middle of a conversation and I kept having to wait for a response.

  • What would make life more wonderful? What do you need?

Not having an interrupted conversation, that’s what!.  I need to know when our text conversations are over so I’m not waiting and getting frustrated.

  • What requests do you have?

The next day I texted her to let her know that I really wasn’t angry and what I had figured out – my request: “I realized I would just like you tell me when you are leaving our conversation.  Like when I say I’m going to bed now you know I won’t be texting again so you don’t wait.  Does that make sense?”

This wasn’t about one of us being or doing something wrong.  There was no blame, no judgment, no getting angry.  It was about taking the time to figure out what we were both feeling, what I needed, and then clearly communicating that need.  And because there was no blame or judgement, my daughter actually heard me, “Okay lol sounds good”.

That simple request has changed the way we text.  She now understands what I need and we say “going now” or “talk later” when one of us is leaving the conversation.   And yes, that small change has made life more wonderful!

Posted in Communication | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Are You Holding Back?

4 min read

Picture of Devil's Bridge, Antigua

My daughter has been applying for summer camp counsellor jobs.  She’s been a camp counsellor the last three summers, in addition to being a lifeguard and swim instructor during the school year.  Pretty darn qualified!  So why did she phone me to ask whether she should apply for a senior counsellor position or a lower intermediate position?  And why did I hesitate before encouraging her to go for the senior job?

Both good questions with one very revealing answer – because she didn’t fully meet 100% of the requirements for the senior position.  She met all the requirements except the first one, which she only partially met, and that’s what made me hesitate.  I got stuck on that first requirement and was leaning toward encouraging her to apply for the lesser job.  Fortunately, I had been reading The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman that morning and their words popped into my head.

I caught myself mid ‘hem’ (or perhaps it was mid ‘haw’) and told her that I was reading about a 1995 study conducted at Hewlett-Packard which found “…that the women working at H-P applied for promotions only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications necessary for the job.  The men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.”

I let all my doubt go.  She was probably 90% qualified for the senior job, maybe more.  I told her to apply for both positions and let the camp decide.  Why limit herself?  I told her that, based on what I had been reading, if she were a man in the same circumstances, she would probably apply for Camp Director!  She laughed and agreed and then applied for both positions.

The point here isn’t that men will apply for jobs that they aren’t fully qualified for.  The point is that most women don’t!  Studies have shown that women will hold back when they doubt themselves.  Men are generally more bold and will forge ahead, confident that they have the ability to learn the required skills to do the job well.

I haven’t yet finished reading The Confidence Code, but what I have learned so far has been enlightening.  The research and statistics show that in general, “It isn’t that women don’t have the ability to succeed; it’s that we don’t seem to believe we can succeed, and that stops us from even trying.  Women are so keen to get everything just right that we are terrified of getting something wrong.”

My daughter and I both hesitated about her applying for the senior position because we didn’t want to get it ‘wrong’.  We didn’t want her to apply for a position that she wasn’t qualified for or to waste the employer’s time.  By doing that, not only did we set unrealistic limits on her chances of excelling, we limited her chance of gaining more confidence in the future.

According to The Confidence Code, making mistakes and taking risks is behaviour “critical for confidence building”.  And it’s also a behavior that girls try to avoid.  Research shows that “when a boy fails, he takes it in stride, believing it’s due to a lack of effort.  When a girl makes a similar mistake she sees herself as sloppy, and comes to believe that it reflects a lack of skill.”

Fortunately, we can “… change our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behavior at any age” and “… with diligent effort, we can all choose to expand our confidence.  But we will get there only if we stop trying to be perfect and start being prepared to fail.”

Will my daughter get the senior job?  I don’t know.  But she did get an interview with the camp.  They didn’t throw out her application because she was only 90% qualified for the position!  And even if they had, that would be okay, because now we both realize how limiting it would have been not to apply.

Hopefully, this will be a beginning step in changing the way we both think and in expanding our confidence in the future.  No more waiting until we are perfect or 100% up to the challenge, “what we need to do is start acting and risking and failing … if we don’t take risks, we’ll never reach the next level.”

Posted in Behaviour, Fearlessness | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

Fearlessness

4 min read

Picture of handmade soap

Like most people, I have experienced profound, life-threatening fear over the years – meeting a grizzly bear on a walking trail at Lake Louise, spinning out on ice on Highway 401, a bomb threat on a commercial airplane.  So I get that fear – the “unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm” – is a warning signal to put your brain and body on hyperalert so that you can more effectively deal with the threat.

It’s a great system designed to keep us safe.  But what if fear is taking over your life?  What if you (and by you, I mean me) are so firmly rooted in your comfort zone that you are missing out on a larger life?  How do you know if you are keeping yourself away from actual threats or if you are just playing it too safe?

These questions all came up for me during a soap making workshop.  Yes, you read that right, a soap making workshop!  Making soap is a combination of science and cooking – two areas in which I do not naturally excel.  The instructor, Linda Boyle, explained the process and it sounded so complicated that I was ready to say forget it – too hard.  Then she talked about how the lye* we would use is a caustic and poisonous chemical that can badly burn skin, and I was ready to leave – too scary.

All of a sudden lye was up there on my fear list with grizzly bears and bomb threats.  Why did I sign myself up for a workshop that used materials so hazardous they could maim me?  If I had known any of this beforehand, I would not have registered.

Fortunately, the instructor was a friend and it was a small class, so my fear of leaving and looking stupid overcame my fear of lye.  As it turned out, the process wasn’t that complicated.  It was a beginner workshop and Linda walked us through it step-by-step.  The lye part was no problem as Linda had premixed it with water and we just had to stir it into the oils.  The light went on for me when Linda likened working with lye to making French fries with hot oil – I know hot oil can be dangerous and can cause nasty burns so I am careful!

After I got home with my beautiful handmade soap I started wondering, how much of life am I missing out on because I think things may be too hard or too dangerous?  This prompted me to take the advanced soap making workshop – the scarier one where you have to work with raw lye.

I know it sounds silly, but I really had to push myself to sign up for that second workshop.  I’m glad I did because although I enjoyed the classes, I realized that while soap making was no longer scary, it really wasn’t something I want to take up as a hobby or creative outlet.

Now it’s a matter of figuring out when I am avoiding something due to fear or if it is something that is truly not of interest to me.  I found a method I like from Dr. Valerie Young, author of Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, “One way to tell the difference is to imagine yourself as the confident, fully capable person you would like to be.  If the supremely competent you was faced with the exact same decision, how would she feel?  If you’re still averse, then you know something other than confidence or lack thereof is at play, and you have an opportunity to explore what it is.”

So thanks to Soap Making 101, I am now more able to tell the difference between something I might enjoy, if only fear wasn’t holding me back, and something I just don’t want to do.  In my mind that’s a key difference between living a small life and living an authentic life.  I don’t want to do everything, but I don’t want to miss out on doing cool things just because I am afraid.

(*The lye or sodium hydroxide combines with the oils to make soap – there is no lye left once this chemical reaction takes place.)

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The Blame Game

3 min read

Picture of a turtle on a log

My daughter recently caused an unfortunate incident at her work place.  She is a lifeguard at a pool and without thinking she packed her glass water bottle when she went to work.  The bottle fell off the guard chair and smashed into a thousand pieces causing the pool to be completely drained and closed for several days to make sure it was glass-free.

Because she broke the “no glass” rule she was given a two week suspension from work.  Even though the incident was unintentional, the implications were severe and they considered terminating her employment.  If it weren’t for the fact that she was a responsible and dependable employee, she likely would have been fired.

Needless to say, this was a pretty traumatic experience for my teenage daughter and she went through a whole range of emotions, including getting angry at her bosses for suspending her.  It took her a while to settle down and realize how her mistake had affected many people.  Other employees were not able to work and make money, public swimming and swim classes were cancelled, and some students were not able to have the in-pool classes they need for their coursework.  She finally progressed from a “not my fault, poor me” mindset to fully owning the responsibility of her mistake and the effect it had on others.

I didn’t fully understand how difficult taking ownership was for her to do until I had my own incident while rushing to get to an evening yoga class on time.  It was the only thing on my mind – not being late again.  I missed the turn into the parking lot and ended up in the next driveway where I thought I could just turn around.  Unfortunately, it was the entrance into a large park with a one way road system that only exits at the back end.

The unfamiliar road through the deserted park was pitch-black and I panicked a bit.  I put on my high beams, locked the car doors, and hurried to get out of there.  Now, I was even more worried about being late!

Still hurrying as I neared the end of the park, I stopped abruptly at a stop sign and waited impatiently for a family who were approaching the intersection to cross.  They waved me on ahead of them, but as I turned out of the park the dad called after me, “and please slow down”.

He didn’t say it in an attacking way, but him confronting me, even so subtly, was still very upsetting and brought up several painful emotions.  Even though I knew he was right, my initial reaction was to get angry and blame him for yelling at me.  That felt much better than sitting with the rising embarrassment of being so wrapped up in myself that I had just driven too quickly through a dark park.

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön describes painful emotions “like flags going up . . . uncomfortable feelings are messages that tell us to perk up and lean into a situation . . . stay with our painful emotion instead of spinning out . . . into blame, righteousness, or alienation.”

I desperately wanted “a way to discharge pain and discomfort”, which is how Brené Brown aptly describes blame.  I felt very uncomfortable admitting to myself that I was in the wrong and had been fairly challenged on it.  I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had been so caught up in my own head that I was oblivious to others around me – and when I did consider them, it was only as obstacles getting in my way.

I get it now.  Although it was very uncomfortable for me to honestly “lean into the situation”, doing so allowed me to fully explore my actions, forgive myself for making a mistake, and most importantly, learn from the experience.  Spinning into blame, although it would have felt better, wouldn’t have afforded me the same learning opportunity.

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments