My home refresh project has brought me to the entryway of my house. I am having a surprisingly emotional experience as I prep the area for painting.
There are threads that have been woven from the third floor hallway, down a stairwell to the main floor, with the next stage down to the bottom stairwell to the front door. It is part of the magical energy I have been building in my home for years now.
These hallways and stairwells pass by rooms, some of which have already been refreshed, reordered and refocused with the remainder on the summer 2020 to-do list. As each room is taken apart, it is put back together, somewhat to significantly differently. The entire energy – and dare I say identity – of the house is shifting.
Doorways. Thresholds. Portals. Who and what passes through. Who and what is invited. Who and what is discouraged or even barred from passing through. Because it is my home and boundaries are important. Coherence is essential.
Doors opened and closed. Literally, figuratively and metaphorically.
Thresholds crossed daily with little thought about them. Other thresholds requiring intentionality.
Portals that open vast new worlds of transformation or that open the threshold between the visible and the invisible, known and unknown, seen and unseen worlds.
Practical magic. Being a conscious, active participant in my own life and my future. Allowing myself to want what I want without self-judgment, self-recrimination or self-censorship. Relying on my own moral authority and my ancestors, guides and guardians for guidance.
It’s been a full 10 years. I had planned to paint this year anyway. Started last summer with two rooms. With the disorientation and disruption of being grounded due to the Coronavirus, there is a different sense of urgency and compulsion attached to this refresh. To my sense of who I am. To how I want to engage life. My life. Now and in the future.
Many people have passed through my front door. I have passed through that door too many times to count. An abundance of experiences of the ins and outs of life, relationships, phases and stages. Ups and downs on the stairwells of my house and of life. Joy. Grief. Happiness. Disappointments. Struggle. Regrets. Yearning. Development. Spiritual growth. It is all here. Right in front of me. Behind me. Ahead of me.
Collectively, we are still in a period of not knowing. Not knowing what is next. Not knowing when it will be wise to travel. Not knowing when or if there will be a second wave. Not knowing what my business will look like or how I will support myself. Not knowing when I will be with my sweetie in person again. Not knowing what is ahead. Ready and not ready at the same time.
Living through grief, sorrow, regret and yearning. Some days pushing through inertia. Knowing reflection, connection, meditation, practices and ritual connect me to the vastness beyond myself in ways that are grounding, supportive and orienting to me. This changes my imaginings about what is possible. It opens me to love and LOVE. One more day. One more practice. One more dream. One more enchantment. One more action. One more coat of paint. One more phase of transformation.
What are the next doors that will open, thresholds I will cross or portals I will travel? Discovering as I go?
Who are you? Who are you really? Who do you aspire to be? How are you creating your life? How much thought have you given to these questions? For me, they are a guiding inquiry providing ample fodder for deep reflection.
I have been actively engaged in identity work for the last couple of years, becoming more of an active conscious participant in my own future, in creating my own destiny. I am doing this by becoming a magician (yes, you read that right) and living into being a powerful creator. Not a show magician full of dazzling tricks or someone who engages magical thinking, but a person who recognizes the power of combining deep spiritual work with practical mundane steps to advance a vision, intent or desire for my life. Learning how to do magic, be magic, live life magically.
I have found amazing teachers and tuned into a whole new world that has been waitingfor me for decades. A world that has attempted to reveal itself through my spiritual journey but which often left me wondering what to do with what was revealed, with the spirit guides, guardians and supporters I knew to be available to me. Now I am learning how to build relationship, how to open the lines of communication more fully. And, I feel like my father through his death has opened a portal of greater access. Through this work, I am learning much more about identity, about myidentity.
I recognize over the decades I have inhabited several identities – some more fully than others and none with the degree of consciousness I am bringing to this next evolution of who I am, who I am growing into.
Like everyone, I have a number of roles that shape who I am and contribute to my identity. Mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, lover, partner, friend, neighbour, consultant, trainer, teacher, coach, author, co-author, traveler, cat parent, caregiver. And these many roles are not the consummate of my identity.
My identity is more than my roles. Although all of my parents and grandparents are now departed, I am still a daughter and a granddaughter but these roles are different now. Since my father’s death, I am no longer a caregiver for my elder(s), which was a consuming role. I am no longer part of the sandwich generation – sandwiched between parents and children. I am now the elder in my family.
Since putting a period on 70 Dufferin Street, clearing out my parent’s house where my dad had lived for 45 years, a house my brother and I also grew up in, I have turned my attention to my own house of 10 years. There are a few items from my parents’ house that have made their way into my house and they needed to be made way for. They have sparked a transformative effort in my living space. And, it’s more than that.
In the painting of each room in my house, a transformation takes place. When I painted my bedroom, I took everything out of my closets and cupboards and only about a third of things went back. Clothes that had been in the closet for a decade, brought here from another life, another identity, were shed. A wedding dress and shoes. Clothes given to me by other people that I did not wear but had a hard time letting go of. Gowns I would never wear again. Clothes I bought because I liked them but every time I put them on I took them off again because I didn’t like how they looked. Shoes I had barely worn. All gone. And as I caught sight of a few sweaters that had been much loved and enjoyed a few years ago, I recognized that the clothes we wear are all part of the identity we inhabit at any given time and it is hard to fully inhabit a new and evolving identity when the ghosts of past identities clutter our spaces.
I am on a mission. As I turn my attention to the next space(s) in my house, things are removed, new order is brought in. By summer’s end, all of my living spaces will have been refreshed and transformed. My sense of my identity will continue to deepen and I will walk in the world with more confidence and hopefully more grace than in all of the decades before.
For those curious about who I have been learning from, my main teacher is Fabeku Fatumise. Through him I have discovered Dan Carroll and chaos magic, Jason Miller and Aidan Wachter among others. Buy any of their books and prepare to immerse yourself in a new journey. For me, it is a healing journey full of new awareness. It is a journey that has kept me sane through difficult times and it offers me practical things to do and focus on in times when it feels like there is little that can be done. And, as I said at the beginning, it has given me practices that enable me to be an active conscious participant in my own life.
I moved into my house in Bedford, Nova Scotia 10 years ago. A decade. 2010 to 2020. I realized it is the longest I have ever lived in one home in my entire life. It’s been a decade full of life and death, transition, rebirth, renewal, magic, evolution, transformation and increasing coherence. There is a lot to reflect on and a lot to celebrate.
My boys were 7, 17 and 19 when we moved. They have, for various times and for varying lengths of time, lived with me in this house. Now the older two are married and one is a father. They have lovely families and all of them (sons and daughters-in-law) are on good career paths. The youngest is forging a path which is his to walk, the outcome of which is not clear yet nor will be for some time. But he and his path, like with the others, is held in love and light.
I am privileged to be able to spend a lot of time with my grandson developing a relationship that I dream will be close and connected over the rest of my life. I wait with delight the arrival of his sister with the same anticipation of relationship.
My Partner and Work
Not only were there literal births of children, there was the birth of an unexpected relationship and new business in my life. When Jerry Nagel and I met just before I moved into this house, a deep friendship immediately blossomed. We hosted together in powerful work – each better because of the other – and we created a new business, Worldview Intelligence, born out of what we could see and discover together which we are still building. We also birthed a book about our work: Building Trust and Relationship at the Speed of Change.
Our deep friendship became intimate relationship although “unconventional” in that we live in two different countries. The relationship has not been without its challenges as we each work to step out of habitual and dysfunctional patterns created in previous relationships. We do this because we each recognize we are building on a foundation of mutual love, respect and strength. Because of this relationship and our work I have traveled more in the last decade than ever before. Now we face a new challenge with travel restrictions and the not knowing of when we will be able to be together in person, taking it one day at a time. We know the foundation of our relationship will carry us through.
The Loss of My Parents
While in this house I lost both my mother in 2012 and this year my father. I feel my mother’s loss more keenly since my father departed. While my father was alive and a significant presence in my life it partially filled the void left both by mother’s dementia and entry into long-term care and her subsequent death.
Now there is a nothing. But it is not really nothing. It is more of a quiet in which memories leap into view through photographs and through the bits and pieces of my parents’ belongings that have found a new home in mine.
A Slowing Down and Chaos
In this time of the great slowing down caused by the responses to Covid-19 and the great disturbances and chaos created by one more Black death too many and protests co-opted in the US by the Boogaloo Bois intent on violence and creating a civil war, other things are amplified.
During this time I cleared out and sold my parents’ home. 45 years of living in one place. Hardly anything ever thrown out. A 3 story house and full garage. Of memories. Of identity. Of stuff. Three truckloads of stuff not useful to anyone taken away. A houseful of furniture given away. Boxes of kitchen and other small items given away. Tools and machinery accumulated over a lifetime sold or given away as gifts. A house washed down, ready for a new owner, new memories, new identity.
Chaos, Order and Flow
Chaos in my house as it stores the things waiting for their new home – either with my brother or through a charity. Chaos which is being turned into order. And newness.
This house and land were waiting for me when my youngest son’s father and I finally sold the house we had lived in together to move into separate homes. It was a time of flow when things moved quickly – very similar to the sale of my father’s house. Once we put our old house on the market it sold remarkably within 24 hours. My house had just gone on the market. Within 3 weeks I was here.
Other than building an office in what had been a very large storage space on the first floor, nothing much has changed. The colour schemes were perfect in the moment. The house is big enough to accommodate everyone here at the same time and small enough that I don’t rattle around in it when it is just me and the cats. The cats are new-ish too. We arrived in the house with two older cats. They are buried in the back yard. The “new” cats have made it their home these last five years with their unique personalities.
My House Demanding a Refresh
Last year, something started to stir. The kitchen and the main living room seemed to be calling out to be painted. And you know once you start….. This year, the rest of the house is calling out to be painted. And I am on a mission, putting in 8, 9 and 10 hour days painting. I have the summer to complete the mission since it appears I may not be traveling anywhere. Hallways, stairwells and 9 rooms to be refreshed. The house is demanding a reboot. It may sound strange to describe it this way, but it is how it feels to me.
Deepening Spiritual Journey
The last decade has invited a deepening of my spiritual journey. For anyone who has read Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, you know how my spiritual journey has been guided in ways I could not have anticipated. In the 2000’s this journey began with developing a much greater sense of my guardians, guides and allies and still left me with a dissatisfaction and unrest of not quite knowing what to do with that information. (By the way, I will be publishing a follow up to my memoir later this year. It will be more of a how to guide of spiritual journey and practice.)
In the mid 2010’s the answer showed up. I found a teacher and a deep community of practitioners and learners of “practical magic”, divination and enchantments. I heard clear yeses in my animal knowing to step into the offerings that were available. And, that has made all the difference.
I have learned how to be in relationship with spirit in a myriad of ways – through divination, prayers, offerings, talismans, blessing work and more. It feels to me that my father’s death has opened a wider portal to the world of spirit and a closer connection to the allies, guides and guardians who support me and my loved ones. I walk in a different space now than before he died. I have artefacts from his house that strengthen that connection including his rosary and a statue of the Mother Mary who he felt a deep connection to. I feel his presence on a daily basis. I know he – and my mother and other ancestors – are actively watching out for me and my family and working on our behalf. It brings me joy and delight, even as I miss him on the physical plane.
Shifting Identity and Relationships
I have been shifting my sense of identity. I am learning to acknowledge that I am a powerful creator. I am changing my relationship with money, work and power. Through this network I have discovered a cadre of other teachers. In the times when it seems there is nothing I can do to change the state of the world – like now – I can turn to ritual, practice and meditation to transport myself to a different place to continue to imagine the future that is shaped by my conscious participation in it.
We talk a lot about coherence in these spaces – being coherent with what you want in your life, being internally and externally coherent. With each new level of coherence it is like there is a levelling-up in identity, in confidence and in walking in the world, sensing the sentience in everything.
So when I say the house is demanding a refresh, it is completely consistent with a levelling-up of my identity. It is part of the external coherence and it is bringing order to my spaces and a new kind of order to my life. Before the walls are painted they are covered in symbols representing what I want to draw into my life and my home. There is power in the symbols and you can feel it in the house. I am focused and I get more done that I want to do even as the world has slowed down. Even as the world has turned to greater chaotic upheaval than I ever expected to see in my lifetime.
I would not have wished this time on me or the world I live in. However, since I’m here, I’m grateful for the practice of magic, ritual and deepening relationships with Allies. I am soothed by family connections. And, putting energy into transforming my house through painting highlights the other transformations which are changing the ground I walk on.
Here is to the next decade. To more births, inevitably more deaths and to an enduring spiritual journey that gives power and agency to my life.
My radical thought about healing is that we can release ourselves from the hold and from the impact of the harm others have done to us without necessarily having to forgive them. This is an evolution of my thinking about forgiveness and counter to much of the prevailing thought about it. Hear me out.
In the new book I am writing, Accessing Your Healing Power Within, there is a chapter dedicated to forgiveness. I start the chapter with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
I completely agree with this quote. I would say it is about touching into our humanity to see the humanity in someone else and to not get lost in our own hate of another. I have thought about the topic of forgiveness a lot over the years, having experienced intense, sustained emotional and psychological trauma by someone who was in my life for quite awhile.
In psychology, forgiveness is generally defined as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” This is followed by the caveat that forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences.
In thinking about the person who did harm to me, who had power over me and some of my emotional experiences for far too long for reasons I will not get into here, recently I have been asking myself, “Have I forgiven them?” This person no longer has a hold on me, no longer impacts my emotional experience, no longer has the ability to take power from me and I no longer give away my power to them. I don’t hate them, I don’t feel resentment nor do I feel a need for vengeance. But, when I sense into the question, “Have I forgiven them?” the answer keeps coming back as no. Which I find fascinating and which has sparked this deeper inquiry. Will I forgive them eventually? It is doubtful and I am realizing it is okay. That person not only harmed me, they harmed other people I love and continue to do harm to others. This will likely until the day they die.
New growth comes out of the hardest spots.
A person I love deeply is currently in the grips of someone who is doing my person harm. Eventually, I trust that my loved one will find it in themselves to become free from this situation. I choose to believe this and that is another story. Will I forgive the person who is doing the harm? I understand where they are coming from. I understand the background. I can have empathy for why they act the way they do. But will I forgive them for the harm they are doing to my loved one and, by extension, to a network of loved ones? What about the harm they are likely to inflict on others over time, even once my loved one finds a different path? I am doubtful I will forgive that person for the havoc they have wreaked. Unless they are able to change their ways, how they treat others is unforgivable.
There are many people, acts and behaviours I can, have and will forgive. I get that true forgiveness does not condone behaviour. I get that we forgive for ourselves, not the other person. But really what we are striving for is to be released from the emotional hold that another person, their actions or behaviours has or has had on us. My radical thought is, we can release ourselves from that hold and from the impact of the hurt without necessarily forgiving. And I think that might be okay. Maybe this is what people mean when they talk about forgiveness. Maybe we need another word for this.
In the book I write, “You cannot wear your forgiveness for someone else as a badge of honour. Forgiveness is an act of humility. And, in my experience, especially in the most challenging of situations, it is one of the most difficult things to do and also one of the most freeing.” I still think this is true in many ways. And, I am now expanding and reframing my thinking. We can heal without forgiving the most atrocious things that have been done to us. We can become free through healing that does not have to include, or preclude, forgiveness of others.
Which leaves me with another question. Can we heal without self-forgiveness? And my initial response is that we need self-forgiveness, like self-compassion and self-love to truly access our healing power within
My father, Hector Jourdain, was a complex man. He grew up in challenging circumstances, the full extent of which I will never know. He was the youngest of six children of entrepreneurial and demanding parents. He grew up in Cap Chat on the Gaspe coast in the 1930s and 40s. He worked hard but never quite felt like he measured up to the expectations laid out for him. It shaped him, like we are all shaped by our upbringing.
For people who knew my dad, they know he was not always the easiest person to get along with. He was very particular, which is likely why he was known as Hector the Corrector as I wrote in my last post about him.
He lacked some social sensitivity, particularly for today’s age. He didn’t always listen well. Perhaps because he couldn’t hear well. Perhaps because his mind was going a mile a minute all the time. He was known to express his frustration to friends he hadn’t seen in awhile, “You drive right past my house but you don’t stop in to see me.”
Dad and my brother Robert in Perce, Quebec
And, he had a quirky sense of humour and an impish grin. He could as easily light up a room as darken it. He drew people to him in unexpected ways. New neighbours, others he met along the way, who became good friends, some of whom saw the charming side of him and some of whom learned how to put up with the ornery side and show up for him anyway. And many people could see the multi-dimensionality of who he was.
Looking like a celebrity at Jacob and Nellie’s wedding in 2017
He had trouble understanding the fluctuating nature of friendship or what we might now refer to as the “reason, season, lifetime” that explains why someone is in your life. He wanted all his friends to be lifetime. He wanted the camaraderie of the Bluefin days to exist in perpetuity. That people’s lives changed and families expanded from children to grandchildren and different interests, even as his own did, challenged him and his memories. My brother Robert reminded me the other day that when and where my dad grew up, people lived in the same houses for lifetimes and families lived within walking distance of each other much of the time.
Our memories are fuelled by the stories we tell of our past and our experiences. My father loved my mother. A love that was enduring up until the day he died. There was never anyone else for my father, not even the entertainment of the idea of someone else, even though he outlived mom by 8 years – 12 if you count when she went to live at Harbourview Haven.
I didn’t always see or understand that love because not all the days of their marriage were calm – to put it mildly. So, in his latter years when he described my mother as his best friend, saying they never went to bed angry any night during their marriage, I only raised my eyebrows but never commented. It is not quite how I remember things. But, he was entitled to the stories that were true for him. Especially because it was his love for my mother that guided his care for her as she was overtaken by dementia. He went above and beyond for years. Even after she went into long-term care, he visited almost every day and, with my brother and me, was there with her when she passed in 2012.
Dad defied medical odds. He tiptoed up to the edge of death on many occasions, looked over and said, “No, not yet.” Doctors would look for the medical reasons why my dad recovered – from being in a wheelchair because he had no strength in his legs to walking again, from being diagnosed with chronic lung disease to having his home oxygen removed because his lungs improved to other inexplicable recoveries. There were no medical reasons. There was a strong will to live.
One such time of defying medical odds was during his second open-heart surgery in 2006. His first open-heart surgery was in the 1970s. This time, he was on the wait list for the surgery – waiting for the call. Instead, I got the call in the middle of the night that he was in the hospital. He had driven himself to emergency with my mother who later drove the car home – which was all she could talk about since getting out of the parking lot was perplexing to her. Dad was being sent to Halifax via ambulance. I had to drive to Lunenburg to pick up my mother. Driving down the 103 at dawn, as I got near to Mahone Bay, there is a stretch of road where you can see a long distance ahead. There came the ambulance as the sun was rising, lights flashing. Driving past that ambulance, knowing my father was in it and I was going in the opposite direction, was one of the most surreal moments of my life.
Dad was exhausted because his heart was in bad shape, because he had been taking care of my mother and who knows why else. He was afraid they would send him home too soon. He fixed that. He didn’t wake up from the surgery for 10 days. When he did wake up he was, naturally, disoriented. It took him a long time to understand how many days he had been out. He chastised me for keeping him on life support when I knew his wishes. I told him, there was never any question about his recovery.
Years later, he shared a story with me. He said, during that time when he was not fully conscious, he went “up above”. He was in a corridor with a lot of doors. He was knocking on the doors and trying to open them but was not successful. Finally, one of the doors opened. It was Arch-Angel Michael and he said to dad, “It is not your time, you need to go back.” My dad believed he had not yet atoned for his sins. He told me he knew what it was he needed to do. Apparently he has either completed that mission or come to terms with it.
Dad had confided that story in someone who told him that it could not be true because “once you go there you do not come back.” It took him years to share the story with me. “Do you think I’m crazy?” he asked me. I told him, “You’ve read my memoir – several times. Of course I don’t think you are crazy.”
I made my peace with my father a long time ago, as part of my own journey. I was his patient advocate and his chauffeur. I will miss our jaunts to Busy Bee, Princess Auto and other spots where he would pick up tools and other supplies. I won’t miss the numerous doctors’ appointments so much. I will miss our lunches – just the two of us usually but sometimes with a guest or two – my children or my friends. His favourite joke to the wait staff was, “She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my daughter.” I will miss our trips to Quebec of which we were fortunate to have a few in the last few years. We had plans to go again this summer. Life is quiet without him in it.
Surrounded by nieces and nephews in Rimouski at his sister-in-law’s funeral
On the board walk at St. Luce – summer 2019
We often say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to care for our elders. And my dad, grumpy as he could be, as difficult as he could be, had a village of love and support beyond which he fully knew or always appreciated. My brother and I are grateful for the enduring friends and the more recent friends without whom life – and care for my dad – would have been a lot harder.
So, my dad, Raoul Hector Jourdain, died recently at the age of 86 and 3/4, as he liked to say. His goal was 90 and another more important goal was to live out his days in his own home. I had the good fortune and grace to be there when he passed on January 16, 2020.
He went into the hospital – again – just after Christmas – for an issue with his bladder, which was going to be a forever reoccurring issue due to damage from prostate cancer and radiation therapy a decade ago. He also had congestive heart failure and diseased lungs. He was on home oxygen, had a permanent catheter and walked with a cane. Managing a cane, oxygen tank and urine bag all at the same time when your mobility is increasingly limited is not for the feint of heart.
He had already walked up to the edge of death many times in his life, looked over and said, “Nah, not yet.” More of those stories to come. Three years ago when I was sure he was not going to live after two stints in hospital for bleeding, I started a blog post about him. A couple of days ago, I took it out and brushed it off, because, well, this time he decided to fly over the edge.
I had a good laugh when I read about boiling eggs. He had been in the hospital just before Christmas and I sprung him loose in time for the holidays. The first morning home, he wanted boiled eggs. So, he instructed me on how to boil them. Then he instructed me on how to peel them after he tried but didn’t have the strength to stand and do it himself. I did what he asked and at some point he shook his head and acknowledged that I probably did know how to boil eggs and had probably done it many times. Yup. And, he had also instructed me in this task just three years before. He was particular in his ways and his approach.
When we drove around Lunenburg, he often gave me directions. For those who don’t know, Lunenburg is a small town, emphasis on small. I grew up there. Pretty easy to find your way around. But it made him happy to give directions.
My dad had his ways of doing things. He had two workshops – one for woodworking and one for metal working or machining. Each workshop had a place for everything and everything was in its place. He was a gifted diesel mechanic and machinist. When he left National Sea Products in the early 1990s he set up shop in his garage, calling his company Lunenburg Marine Diesel. He was in demand because his skill in engine repair and rebuilding was unsurpassed. If he couldn’t find a part or didn’t want to pay the price for it, he made it.
Raoul Hector Jourdain doing what he was extraordinarily gifted at.
It is only very recently that I became aware that my dad had a nickname: Hector the Corrector. I think he was kind of proud of that. I totally get where it comes from although I hadn’t heard it before. Dad’s specificity of instruction made me believe he was not such a good teacher or coach. He never taught me how to Captain the Bluefin for instance, but that could be as much about my own desire to just be a passenger as his to have it done in a certain way.
Receiving this story from dad’s friend and one time neighbour, John Pollack, expanded my own worldview about my dad in a beautiful and generous way.
“When word got out that we were planning to spend a year on our boat (1996) and to sail towards the Caribbean, your dad became worried about our safety and ability to look after ourselves. He didn’t say anything, but I guess he gave it some thought. One day there was knock on our back door. It was Hector. He had a plan. I was to attend his garage every morning at 9:00am for the foreseeable future to watch and learn as he rebuilt one of many diesel engines.
“Hector’s ‘College of Diesel Knowledge” was born.
“We had a pretty good time. He teased me about having “school-teacher” fingers. (His thumbs looked like spatulas!) He taught me how to take engines apart and mostly put them back together — I usually wound up with a few extra bits. He was patient and funny. I suspect we made a pretty odd pair to anyone observing, but we became good friends.
“When we were finally ready to leave for the boat trip, Hector delivered a few small boxes of parts and spares he knew we’d need. This was all stuff he had made. Everything was machined and custom ready for our needs. He had made spare zinc anodes for all the places he knew I’d need replacement parts.”
I knew the friendship between John and Cathy Pollack and my dad had been enduring and this story gave me insight into why as well as making me smile. Maybe he was Hector the Corrector. But he wanted things done right and he cared deeply for quality and for friends. Sometimes it just wasn’t worth arguing with him.
I have been thinking a lot about grief lately. How we each carry grief. How we experience it differently. How it is sparked in different ways. It could be the loss of a loved one who has died. This is the way we often think of grief. Yet, there are so many other sources of grief.
Grief for one’s own journey. Grief for the journey that someone you love must experience although it is heart wrenching and heart breaking to observe.
It starts with allowing yourself to feel. This can feel risky, even dangerous. There may be fear that allowing yourself to feel will result in becoming more deeply lost, though it is in the feeling you can move through the faces and phases of grief and any other emotional state you may be experiencing.
Sometimes it is head down, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other – literally or figuratively. Remembering to breathe. Breathe deeply. Breathe into the pain. Breathe into the love. Breathe into the heart and the soul.
Other times it is head up, looking around at the wonders of the world that still exist despite the desperation of the times.
The rising and setting of the sun. The phases of the moon. The rising and ebbing of the tides. The stars. The light drizzle. The pounding rain. Snowflakes and snowstorms. The fresh morning air, the high heat of a noon sun on a summer day, the cooling temperatures at dusk.
Look within. Look to nature. Look to love. For what is underneath the grief but the sense of loss. For people. For relationships. For other things held dear.
And if there is grief, there is also love. Love that lives on that, when you touch it, you can touch beyond your grief and find your way into another day.
Holding yourself responsible for someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. While this is true of many emotional experiences, it is particularly true of anger. Has anyone tried to hold you responsible for their anger? “Your actions made me mad,” is a prime example of projecting responsibility for their emotional state and lack of control onto someone else.
Anger is a perfectly legitimate emotion, although there are good reasons why we assign negative attributes to it. Everyone experiences anger at some point – even people who say they don’t. I used to believe I never got angry as I wrote about in this post on Emotions Are Your Guidance System. I grew up in a household where a lot of anger was expressed in unhealthy ways. Avoidance – internally and externally – was my strategy. It took me years to discover my own experiences of anger and to learn how to work with it in healthy ways.
However, there are many unhealthy and even dangerous ways that anger is expressed. If you have ever found yourself modifying your regular day-to-day actions or behaviours, self censoring, being guarded or strategizing how to bring up an unavoidable topic no matter how simple it would be under ordinary circumstances, to try to not make someone else angry – or to try to reduce their anger – you are likely bearing a burden that is not yours to carry.
Bearing the burden of someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. It does not work. You are not and cannot be responsible for someone else’s anger – or their enduring emotional experience. Yet people who are perpetually angry are remarkably good at having the people around them bear that burden. And the people around them are remarkably good at assuming that burden, without even realizing that is what is happening.
Even when you know logically that you are not responsible for someone else’s anger, the fear that ensues as someone repeatedly projects their anger at you is palpable and sometimes breathtaking. The desire to mitigate the fear to stop being a target of the anger, generates a protective response that, surprisingly for most of us, doesn’t often or soon enough include removing ourselves from the situation.
Someone who is unpredictable about where, when or what will trigger their anger causes uncertainty in the people around them. This uncertainty inevitably turns to fear. It is this fear that directs and influences your own desire to mitigate the situation, for yourself or for people around you, like children. And it is through fear of the other person’s anger that you take on the burden of responsibility for their emotional experience. They will have you jumping in hoops over and over again but there is nothing you can do that will make that experience any better or more satisfactory for them.
People who use anger regularly also use disgust and contempt. They express how they are offended, hurt or dismayed by your actions. They tell you that you are being so unfair to them. A person who lives with anger or rage feels powerful in the outburst of the moment. But that feeling of power also doesn’t last so more fuel is needed. That fuel comes from the next spark of anger, rage or outrage.
You are held hostage to the unpredictability of this person’s rage until you find a way to release that burden.
I carried such a burden for almost two decades. I tried to mediate the anger. I tried to protect other people from the anger. I failed. Over and over and over again. And yet, still I tried. I took on the responsibility, the other person tried to make me responsible and others around us also tried to make me or other people responsible. The only place responsibility and accountability did not fall was on the person who was generating all of the chaos and dysfunction to begin with.
If you have tried to bear this emotional burden for someone else, you may have noticed a few things about yourself, the situation or the angry antagonist.
What sets them off is unpredictable. It can even be a perfectly innocent comment or observation that gets picked up and spun out of context and out of control. The effect is that you start to watch everything you say even though it is impossible to predict what will set them off. You second guess yourself and your confidence suffers. And perpetually angry people can take one incident or wrong word and spin it for days, increasing the intensity of their anger even to the point of rage.
The angry person does not take responsibility for their anger or their own circumstances – it is someone else’s actions or behaviours that are at fault, that caused the anger. In this way, in their logic and rationale, it is someone else’s responsibility.
They use scorn, condemnation and disgust regularly. It is hard not to take that on when you are the recipient of it. They cannot believe that you did or said whatever you did or said –as if you are the person acting inappropriately. But it stops mattering when their opinion of you stops mattering.
Everyone around the angry person tries in one way or another to appease them – modifying behaviour, apologizing or finding a way to get out of the way. There may be short-term improvement, but until the person who exhibits this anger takes responsibility for their own emotional experience, there will be no long term solution. And addressing this requires insight, courage and the willingness to truly engage healing that they often are not ready or able to embrace.
Anger is projected not just in words but in the entire non-verbal, kinaesthetic and energetic field of the person – even when they say they are not angry, even when they truly think they aren’t, everything else about them says they are. And you get blasted with an invisible wave that knocks you off your own center.
People around the angry person get upset or angry with each other because no one has successfully deflected the anger or scorn. In this way, not only do they disrupt the field between them and you, the wreak havoc on the entire relational field. And the angry person takes up a disproportionate amount of time, thought, discussion and preparedness – individually and collectively – as we try to strategize how to deal with them.
If you are a target of the angry person, it is emotional and/or psychological abuse and it is traumatizing. Over time, you will be aware that your anxiety is increasing, you may have panic attacks, you are constantly on edge and you are a different version of yourself, which can be saddening and depressing. You may experience a physical “hit” with a rush of adrenaline or amygdala hijack even in the anticipation of that person’s anger or actions. It is destabilizing and demoralizing and feels like ever present danger.
There is an interesting discernment between running away and standing up for yourself by developing strong, healthy boundaries for your own health and wellbeing. The angry person will accuse you of running away as they seek confrontation as fuel. You will know you have done everything within your power to evoke a change in that person that was never yours to make and, when you are ready, you will release that burden by refusing to engage. When you truly make the shift, everything changes. You heal something inside of you and have new insight, strength and wisdom as you disengage from that energetic vortex and fuel your boundaries, deepening your own authentic journey. In my experience, this can seem to happen overnight, but that overnight shift is likely the result of years of journey to make it possible. It is possible. And you can do it. Be patient and gentle with yourself in the midst of the journey.
We use stories to make sense of our experiences. These stories shift and change over the course of our relationship with them. The way we speak of an experience that just happened is different than the way we speak of that same experience a few weeks, months or many years later.
Some of these stories are truly defining moments of our lives. Some of them offer moments of journey we visit over and over again, looking for lessons learned, looking for healing, looking for moving on. When I wrote Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I described it as a process of peeling back the layers of the onion, only the onion seems to grow new layers even as we are shedding the outer ones. It can be annoying, frustrating and downright disheartening when we discover the story we thought we had outgrown still has life within us.
These story themes are rooted deep within us. Depending on your beliefs, some of these patterns may have been carried into this life time from past lives (or future lives perhaps) and some of them may be within us as a result of being passed from one generation to another. We might not know or discover the root of the patterns we live out in life, relationship or typical conflicts we may find ourselves in.
So, when do you know the story is healed – finally, perhaps forever? I am sure there are many possible barometers but one of them (newly discovered in my awareness) is when the story begins to feel hollow. It has no substance, no catch, no grab, no hijack anymore. Like a quantum resonance you can see or sense it just within your field of awareness – like a ghost image asking to be let go. You could possibly put it on and wear it again, but like that comfortable old coat you use to wear seemingly forever, it no longer fits, no longer offers the protection or service it once did. It no longer defines you or your look – since your physical body often also changes noticeably when new levels of healing take shape.
I’m not sure it is something we achieve. I think it is something that graces our awareness in the moment it is revealed. Then we can acknowledge the journey, thank the story for all it has offered us over the time we have carried it and turn our awareness to the future and to the new story that is already emerging within the fabric of the old one that no longer defines us.
Our deep human/spiritual gifts and reminders show up in a myriad of ways but be warned – or reassured – they will show up.
Twice this week I was reminded that I have the gift of sight – of being able to see beyond the physical into the deeper patterns, the intricate weave of soul stories at work. Once was a beautiful invitation to dance with the spirit guides of a friend who read my memoir – Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness – and asked about his guides. Not many people ask. He was momentarily concerned he had stepped over a line. But in the invitation the guides show up, delighted to be “seen”. Once I see them they dance with me for awhile and it is a joy. They will dance with their human partner too, but not all humans are ready, even when they ask.
This jarring experience reminded me to stop, to listen, to not deny my experience even if others might wish to dim or discredit the voice. I allowed my voice to be discredited for far too long – some years ago now – and a piece of me wandered in the wilderness til I found the motivation and the courage to reclaim it. It was not an easy journey. It was not welcome on some levels – by me or some around me. It was the best gift on other levels as I returned to myself many aspects of myself that I had become a stranger to. This kind of reminder can be intense and it often temporarily throws me off my center but it invites reflection and deeper inquiry, new openings. I struggle less as awareness comes quicker. I regain my ground and look for better, less explosive ways than blowing shit (or my life or my relationships) up as I remember the power, beauty and grace that is also me.
I am grateful for both forms of reminders when they show up. Honestly, more grateful for the first in the immediacy of it and for the second later after time for inquiry and reflection.