The Luxury of an Existential Crisis

As I witness events in the world, feel the sense of overwhelm and helplessness, as I am at a loss of new words to describe the wanton cruelty of what Russia is doing in and to Ukraine, and sometimes feel paralyzed by the feelings I am absorbing, I realize I am having an existential crisis, perhaps even existential dread. This is a luxury not afforded to Ukrainians or to any oppressed peoples in the world.

Last month, I wrote that I am feeling a little frayed around the edges. Now I recognize it is more than that. I am torn between the beliefs I have carried about life and humanity my whole life and the cruel, unprovoked destruction that comes into my news feed from Ukraine every single day. How is it possible that some people are so craven they can carry out these atrocities? It shakes my belief in humanity as my heart aches for the loss of life and heritage.

Far Removed From, Yet Affected By, The Unspeakable Horrors and Violence

In the face of violence and unspeakable horrors, I sit safely in my home in a relatively sleepy corner of the world, knowing my family members and loved ones are also safe in their homes. It seems far removed from the violence and, yet, there is and has been violence here too. Not on the scale of what we are currently witnessing in other parts of the world, but it exists. We just have to think back to the “founding” of my city and province or to how First Nations people who lived here for centuries before Europeans arrived were treated, including almost being annihilated, or early refugees, whether they were Francophone or People of Colour, looking for safety or escaping slavery.

In the Worldview Intelligence work that Jerry and I have created and offer out into the world, we have a framework with Six Dimensions that help us understand and explore worldviews – individual, organizational, country, culture. We draw on neuroscience research to explain human behaviour and motivation.

Violence and Oppression From the Dawn of Time

Through this work I have and an increasing awareness that patterns of violence are deeply embedded in our human history from the dawn of time. There have always been acts of inhumanity, depravity, oppression, greed, power imbalances and the desire or need to conquer or claim the land that others live on and call home. There has always been travesty in the world. There have always been some people who believe they are better than others, subjecting those they think less of to violence and harm. There has always been enslavement of one sort or another, by one people over another.

But How Is It Happening Now?

What seems so shocking now is to look at the sophistication of the cities and communities in Ukraine, knowing the multi-dimensionality of culture enjoyed throughout the country by its citizens. Living life fully, just like we are able to do here in Canada, even in this moment. We saw it in cities before this: Aleppo in Syria and Sarajevo in Bosnia are just two examples, not to mention the destruction of cities during the two World Wars. And we have seen many examples of genocide whether we choose to look or not – The Holocaust, East Timor, Cambodia, Guatemala, Rwanda, Hutus, Rohingya, Uygehur and this is not even an exhaustive list.

When Jerry and I walk the streets of Paris, the city is sophisticated – culturally, socially, economically. It is a juxtaposition to the violent history of the city going back to its origins in 8000 BC to more recently when during the French Revolution in 1788-89, the Guillotine was invented and blood ran in the streets. At that time, Paris was considered sophisticated. Was the wholesale violence and death shocking to citizens who experienced it then? To those who witnessed it or heard of it?

Being Interconnected Means We Cannot Do Harm to Another Without Also Harming Ourselves

We are all interconnected – whether we believe it to be so or not. We cannot do harm to another without also doing it to ourselves. As we are now experiencing, harm cannot be done to another without it affecting us all. We can try to look away, compartmentalize, rationalize or justify, as many Russian people (and others) are doing at the moment, but that does not mean we are not affected. The Russian invaders committing atrocities against Ukrainians will be forever marked by the violence they have wrought, even as the Ukrainian people will carry this new trauma through the ages.

How Does This Stop?

Where is the united voice for peace that can enact that desire and stop the violence? Many of us are advocating for it, some more powerful than others. NATO countries are applying ever expanding economic sanctions. Countries are shipping arms, lethal and non-lethal military supplies to Ukraine. And it is not yet enough. There does not seem to be a military course of action that the powers that be are willing to take. Stopped by the fear of a nuclear war, that Putin might wage anyway once he finishes the destruction of Ukraine? Those of us not close to the decision making can only speculate.

Threads of Humanity Connected Through a Veritable Life Force

So, I, we, sit back and grieve for the world through our aching hearts. I take in as much as I can, to know and witness what is happening in a place I have no personal connection to other than through the threads of humanity, consciousness, love, compassion, and the veritable life force that runs through us all. Like so many, I have been absorbing the violence, the emotions, the helplessness – sometimes more than I realize it. It weighs heavy in my consciousness and on my soul. That life goes on here and in so many other places, almost as if this is not happening, seems unbelievable and unbearable. How is it even possible?

And I realize, even through this existential dread, that it is my duty to do what I can, even as that means living my life fully where I am. Showing up completely for my family, loved ones, friends and neighbours. Spilling my passion into the work that Jerry and I do, continuing to develop it so that whoever is touched by it can be inspired to their own hope and courage, to build trust and relationship in the places they have influence – which will likely never be at the highest levels of government. But it matters. As many people as possible operating within their spheres of influence matters.

What We Are Called To Do – Creating Ripples Where We Can

There is nothing less that we are called to do, to honour the fierceness and perseverance of the Ukrainian people, as they stand for what is right, as they fall in the streets of their cities and towns, knowing they stand for all of democracy, for all of us who value democracy. Would I be able to take the stand that they are taking if it was my city and country that was threatened? Would you? I can only hope so – as the world stands by witnessing atrocities we have said many times should never happen again.

Love, Hope, Community and Connection – Also Through the Dawn of the Ages

Just as there has always been violence and atrocities, so too there has always been valour, dignity, hope, love, respect, integrity, kindness, community and collaboration – through the dawn of ages. It may not seem like much, but we need to keep shining a light on this. As Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” We have many such “stones” at hand. Let’s use all we can, create as many ripples as is possible.

There are many groups active here in Atlantic Canada, across the country and around the world who are actively working to support Ukrainians. A friend of ours is in Poland at the border, welcoming refugees into her open arms. If we cannot be there, we can donate to reputable organizations – money or supplies. Take in a family if you can until they can get on their feet. Discover other methods of support.

Hang on to your loved ones – life is both fierce and fragile. We never know when it will change. If this is what we have in this moment, it is the most important thing. I have very young grandchildren. When I was having my babies, there was a question about whether it was moral to bring new children into the world. Now I am 60. People still ask that question, yet my children are having children and I am deeply moved and grateful. They are inspiration and hope as well as the reminder to stay present to the moment.

Live Life Fully in Honour of Those Who Can’t

We cannot always see what the solutions for our challenges are as they may not have been invented yet. It would be a disservice to the people of Ukraine, who are fighting for their homeland and for democracy and freedom, with their lives, to not live fully, to not have heart, to lose sight of our humanity and of theirs. So take the opportunities and chances available to you – do it for yourself and do it for the people who do not have this luxury at the moment. Жива Україна! (Live Ukraine!)

I Am a Little More Frayed Around the Edges … We All Are

These days, I’m a little more frayed around the edges. I notice that my well isn’t as deep as it usually is. Anger and frustration can spark a little – or a lot – faster. And, when I’m being really honest with myself, I notice moments of deep exhaustion. I imagine this is true for many of us, even if we are not in the epicenter of big events.

In the last 2 years, not only have we had to deal with the ordinary travails of life, we’ve been collectively hit with one big event after another. Many of us are deeply impacted at the emotional and soul level as we absorb, consciously or unconsciously, all that is going on around us, close by and around the world. We live in a constant dissonance between ordinary, daily life and the knowledge that so much disruption, pain and suffering is swirling in so many places in the world. Knowing the huge losses to Covid. Aware there is a new war that has people fleeing their country en masse, if they can.

January 2020 my dad died. End of February was his funeral. Mid-March a global pandemic was declared. As we imagined we might emerge from it within a few weeks, I started clearing out my father’s house only to have lock down hit and very little help available for a gigantic task. But it got done.

While I was doing this, in April of 2020, Nova Scotia was hit with the largest mass murder ever in Canada, making news around the world. Then George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis in May, sparking worldwide protests and an increased awareness and discussion about race and police brutality. But the murders didn’t stop with George Floyd.

While we put our seatbelts on to wait out the long haul of the pandemic, with new variations of Covid keeping the waves of the pandemic going and us on edge, we were hit with controversy over precautionary measures like masking and social distancing and the role of government and public health – a divide between people advocating for individual freedom and those advocating for taking care of each other. This divide ramped up once vaccines became available with some waiting in line to receive them and others very vocally and often aggressively questioning their validity. The Trucker Convoy in Ottawa, Canada was ostensibly about a response to vaccination mandates, speaking to and fueling the pent-up frustration that has had little or no release for two years.

Climate change continues unabated showing up in severe weather patterns, fires, floods, droughts and other natural disasters.

Conspiracy theories about just about everything abounds. The divides between conservative and liberal ideologies, right and left wing, continue to be exacerbated. It is hard to know anymore what is truth and what is lies. There are far too many interested in stoking the divide who don’t seem to care about whether what they promote is based in lies or truth, just bring on the chaos and anarchy.

The 2020 US election results sparked yet another series of exhausting disinformation campaigns, culminating with the January 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington. The investigation into what happened currently makes headline news around the world. At the same time, in Nova Scotia, the investigation into the mass murder is also making headline news. All of it is hard to take in. Because we don’t just see it. The energy of it seeps into our consciousness and our souls. We feel it, even when we feel numb.

And because that is not enough, Putin decided to invade Ukraine causing wanton destruction throughout the country and killing masses of innocent people. At 45 years old, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become an unlikely hero of the free world, coalescing many layers and levels of support that has not yet stopped the killing. This invasion has consequences, reverberations and impact throughout the world, including the impact of economic sanctions on Russia.

Inflation added onto a housing market that has been off the charts in many places. Gas prices and stock markets bouncing all over the place. All other worries are now compounded by greater financial insecurity for many, if not food and housing insecurity. Not to mention if you are trying to flee from war.

It is one more thing on top of one more thing on top of one more thing. That we don’t just witness. We feel. And often we feel helpless.

The sun wants to shine in Sancerre, France, but is covered by a haze of dust from the Sahara desert. It feels like an apt metaphor for what many of us are experiencing in 2022.

It is no wonder a backed-up toilet, a deck that needs replacing, a new car purchase, ill health, an unexpected announcement, an empty grocery store shelf, can cause us to feel like we have no reserves to draw on. We have been living in heightened alert for two years, while more isolated from friends, families and colleagues or, in contrast, in demanding work environments that require people to be onsite whether that is retail or health care or some other front line function. Each day has added slightly more pressure and it is exponential rather than simply additive. And, if we live in our safe cities, rather than those being bombed, relief, guilt and helplessness can compete for attention within our psyches.

So, yes, I am a little more frayed than I used to be. I think we all are. It feels hard to simultaneously be in a world that is falling apart or blowing up while, for many of us, still living our daily lives as though all of that is not going on. I have had a few “normal” experiences lately that created more stress than usual. Dealing with my bank on some things, working to meet key deadlines, differences of opinion on the development of creative material. I’ve noticed the need to apologize a few times for being short or frustrated with people. And, I’ve noticed being extra complimentary to people for what they are doing, recognizing many people dealing with customers are more often on the receiving end of the publics’ frayed nerves. Expressing appreciation, kindness or support is so notable, people talk about how much they appreciate it.

Noticing it all. Trying not to be too grumpy. Remembering kindness is an antidote. Knowing that putting words and language to what we are experiencing helps. Wondering when we will have a collective reprieve. Wondering also what collective scars we will carry into the future. Remembering what fuels the spirit. For me, hanging out with my grandchildren because they call me into presence and brighten my spirit. Getting outside in the fresh air. Meditation and ritual practices. I feel a little less frayed once I’ve had the chance to center and ground myself. And I wonder how long or what it will take to feel a full renewal of the soul.

The Road to 60

It’s a long road to 60 – and it happens in a nano-second.

This is the year I am 60. When I was in high school in the late 70’s we used to play a game: how old will we be in some future year – like 2000? In our teens, the idea that we would be almost 40 seemed like such an astonishing age, it was almost impossible to comprehend. And that in 2020, to be almost 60. Unimaginable!

Me at 60

And yet, here I am. 60 years old to start 2022. It is, and has been, nothing like anything I could have imagined. For one thing, there are parts of my mind and memory that still feel like I am 18. Or 28. Or 38. I carry all the ages inside of this one age. All the versions of me. All the many lifetimes within the one lifetime. All the identities over time, which also change over time: child, daughter, sister, student, wife, mother, divorcee, rinse and repeat – wife, mother, divorcee one more time – adoptee (discovered in my 40’s), biological family member, single adult, partner in a long-term, 2 country relationship, mother-in-law, grandmother, care-giver, neighbour, friend. Secretary/receptionist, researcher, Executive Director, consultant in many different iterations, company creator and builder. Learner. Practicing magician. World traveler.

Inhabiting the role of mother and mother-in-law of adult children and as an involved grandmother (for which I am grateful), I often wonder what it was like for my parents when they were my age. And I have no idea. When they were in their 60s and I was in my 30s with my own very consuming career and life, my own children, what was it like for them in their role of having adult children and grandchildren they loved deeply but were not so involved with? What hopes, griefs, disappointments, cherished moments did they have that we never talked about? At that age, even if I thought my perspective was wide, it was pretty narrowly focused on what was right in front of me.

At this age, after 6 decades of living, there is a much broader perspective available to me. I am much more conscious of identity, how it is shaped, how it changes over time, how it impacts our emotional state. How we will fight the changes that life brings us, sometimes even changes we are welcoming. We will feel grief moving from one sense of identity to another, even as many identities overlap.

We can fully inhabit each next stage of who we are by embracing it all, absorbing it all – and I mean all of it – the joyful, the devastating, the normal or mundane and everything in between. Many things and emotions can co-exist and be true at the same time. I can enjoy how a day turned out while being sad it didn’t turn out the way we planned. This past Christmas Eve and Day is a good example. Our social plans changed thanks to a cold – and I felt very sad about not being able to visit with friends as planned, not having a turkey dinner (and not making one for the first time in 40 years – and yes, this is a part of an identity shift too) to settle into a beautiful, lazy day with Jerry where we watched movies and warmed up leftovers for each meal. It was a day we enjoyed and fully inhabited. Sad and joyful at the same time.

I have experienced much in my sixty years, achieved a lot, struggled a lot, lost people (and pets) who are dear to me still – my mother and father being chief among them. And it is not just death that changes the nature of relationship. People we connect with deeply in one capacity or another, one job or another, on one project or another often no longer take up the same space in our life when one or the other moves on, the job changes or the project ends. Or guardian angels who show up, literally out of nowhere, in just the right moment when you most need the guidance, support and hope they offer. I have experienced several of these people in critical moments of my life. When the moment passes, the nature of the relationship changes and they recede into the background or completely disappear. No rhyme or reason. Not because we don’t want to stay connected but because priorities and attention shifts, as it needs to. And I wonder, what hopes, griefs, disappointments, cherished moments do I carry that I never talk about, but which sometimes overwhelm me with great intensity.

I feel all the losses. Like we all do. We continue to carry all these people with us – those still living and those who have passed on – in our hearts and in our memories. They all shape who we become. You cannot get through any part of life without having these experiences and for sure you cannot get to 60 without having many of them.

Often, we cannot repay others for what they offered us in life saving moments. But we can pay it forward. I think of that now in some of the relationships I tend to – paying forward not just gifts of support to me, but gifts of support to others – my dad being a good example. The people who showed up to support him who thus supported me and my brother – when we needed it most, I can never repay them directly.  

I am deeply excited for this next part of my life – my third third. A study shared in the American Elder offers that the most productive decade in a person’s life is from 60-70. The second most productive decade is 70-80 years old. As the momentum builds for Worldview Intelligence, the company Jerry and I have been building for almost a decade, this is promising and exciting news. We have been told our work and approach is much needed in this time in the world. It can be transformational for individuals and organizations. We have a BIG vision for the work we do. We anticipate gaining momentum over the next few years. We are learning so much that our creativity is ramping up. We are doing things we would not have even begun to think of a couple of years ago that makes our work more impactful and powerful.

Me and my partner in crime… I mean life and work

I am embracing it all. The work. A growing family. Deepening relationships with my own family, with Jerry and his family. More travel. More touching lives in small and big ways.

A Few Lessons Along the Way

There are some key lessons I have learned in these decades of life. A few of them follow.

  1. Don’t ever lose sight of who you are. But when you do (because you will) find your way back to core essence of who you are (and you will). Don’t let anyone hold you back from being the person you are meant to be. I was once told, when I was a lot younger and building my career, that my laugh was unprofessional – by a female colleague. It was crushing, until it wasn’t anymore. My spirit wanted and needed to express and this is one way that happens.
  2. Even as identity shifts and changes, even as we change over the years and experiences, some core essence of who we are remains the same. Connect to that essence – over and over again.
  3. Remember you are love. Love more, including yourself. Take care of the people you love.
  4. Mind what you say – do more reflecting and less reacting. Think about your motives for speaking your mind. If you recognize you have been hurt in some way, work through that first, then consider what you want to say. Sometimes you may say less, sometimes you may say more.
  5. Hold space for yourself and others. Tune into what is needed in that space and why you may or may not want or need to express yourself. But, less is often more. Speaking from my own experience here.
  6. Boundaries are important – essential to acting with integrity, to not being taken advantage of, to clarity of who and what is important.  They are not meant to be rigid walls – we only keep ourselves confined when this happens. They are meant to signal when certain harmful behaviours and people are not welcome.
  7. Don’t sweat the small stuff. So many times in a relationship with a lot of conflict I used to ask myself, how important is this anyway? How important will it be in an hour from now? A day? A month? Years from now? Don’t let those irritants erode important relationships, while learning how to decipher between an irritant and a boundary violation.
  8. Be curious more. Judge less. So easy to fall into judgment about other people, their choices in life and so hard to remember that we do not know all of what is true in their lives or their circumstances. Extend love as often as possible. It is a game changer.
  9. Do what brings you joy. Laugh a lot. Dance. Sing. Move anyway that feels good. Get outside. Enjoy the weather – all of it.
  10. Live life to the fullest you know how. Then stretch a little. And a little more. Embrace it all and embrace all of who you are.

Happy 2022. Bring it on. I am ready for all this next decade will bring my way.

Abuse, Power, Greed and Corruption; Not Faith, Definitely Not God

The Innocent Children

The children. All the children, little and big. Their deaths are not isolated events. They are endemic to a culture of abuse, power, greed and corruption. In a monolithic church that gained momentum through the ages using these patterns that have been enduring and defining characteristics of its culture. Abuse, greed, power and corruption was going on well before Residential Schools, during the era of Residential Schools and continues post Residential Schools.

The sudden explosion of sexual abuse charges against Catholic Priests, Bishops and more in the late 80s and the 90s did not bring down this monstrosity of an institution. Charges that emerged all around the world. Will finally looking for, finding and counting the bodies of potentially thousands of children across this country do it?

In My Lifetime – Yours Too

I am almost 60 years old. I was raised as a Catholic. I was the first alter girl in my small church. I was pretty proud of that at the time and also oblivious to the power structures. I taught Sunday School when I was in high school. My father was French Canadian Roman Catholic. My mother’s mother was Irish Catholic (via Newfoundland). My grandfather changed religions for my grandmother but he was not opposed to skipping mass for a good cause, like sleeping on the couch Christmas Eve to stay with the grandkids while the rest of the family went to midnight mass.

I grew up in a small town in Nova Scotia. Sheltered from most of the abominations of the world. While I was growing up in all innocence, children my age – children – my age – were still being forcibly removed from their homes, their parents and families, their communities, their cultures, their support systems. They were imprisoned in facilities claiming to be schools, sanctioned by the Canadian government and run by Catholic institutions, whose sole purpose was to “kill the Indian”, even as that meant killing the child, the human being.

These professed ambassadors of God are among the most heinous, villainous people. They have no humanity. What person sees a newborn baby and throws it into an incinerator? What person professes to love God but abuses children, starves them, lets them die of starvation and other illnesses? What person sees evil in a child – many children – and somehow believes they are justified in their actions of capital punishment and worse? Except to hide their crimes.

St. Paul’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

No Person is Less Than

What society turns a blind eye to what is right there to see and then blames the traumatized people – the people we traumatized – for the ills that befall them – the inability to parent, not knowing how to be in relationship, turning to addictions because they are hollowed out cores of who they are as a person and who they are as a people, disconnected from their roots, their language, their own humanity? What person with any humanity can find any justification in what happened, the crimes that were committed? What kind of person still tries to hide the truth, still tries to believe there was good happening in those buildings?

There was no good in those “schools”. There was no humanity. There was no Christianity. There were horrors, evils, punishments, fear, isolation. There was physical, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse. Many people sought to hide those stories, including the Canadian Government, silencing anyone, like Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, who dared to try to tell the truth. Many others just looked away, unwilling to believe this was possible, denying First Nations peoples their voices.

From its roots, Christianity has wrought harm in this world, running roughshod over other practices like paganism, taking over holidays to take root in cultures and banning practices they deemed un-Christian. Birthing the patriarchy, violating women and making women subject to men. Destructive patriarchal patterns that societies have not yet extricated ourselves from. Why were Catholic priests not allowed to marry? Because of greed. Back in the days of the European aristocracy, a son offered to the church also brought some portion of an inheritance that would go to the Church because the Priest was not married. The Church filled its coffers off the backs of the poor and built beautiful, elaborate cathedrals.

What Compassion and Humility is Needed Now?

What compassion and humility is needed now to not block the way of full exposure, the full truth? Our nation should be screaming for investigations, for arrests, for every conceivable record to be handed over. Some of the people who committed these atrocities are still alive. Apologies are needed, sure. But they are hollow words without commitment to systemic change and to what it takes to heal the harms done.

I don’t know that any of my ancestors were directly involved in these systems of oppression and harm. I long ago stopped being a Catholic – a FARC as a friend of mine said – Fallen Away Roman Catholic. But I would be remiss if I did not bear witness. If I did not clamour for justice. If I did not create the space for these stories to be shared. If I did not let myself be horrified while not making any excuses for myself, the heritage I spring from or the society I live in. There are no excuses. Stop making them. Do the right thing. We can no longer look away because it is inconvenient to look directly at the horrifying harm that we, our ancestors, and our institutions have done.

How the Catholic Church continues to be a seemingly untouchable monstrous global organization is beyond me. When the stories about the abuse of young boys by priests began to break and we learned that priests were shifted from one parish to another, moving the problem from one community to another where these same priests continued to perpetrate harm on innocent youth, to supposedly protect the reputation of the Church, it was not enough to bring down the institution. It happened by and in full view of decision makers and high-ranking authority figures within the Church hierarchy. And in happened in full view of the community with hushed whispers and the inability to confront power.

Don’t Look Away

The truth is there for all of us to see. My parents would be mortified, heartbroken and confused. And none of that would make up for the pain and destruction wrought by the Church since it was conceived all those centuries ago.

What can we do now? Add your voice for justice. Research who to contribute to. Learn about Truth and Reconciliation. Question every assumption and judgment you have ever carried about the First Nations people of our country. The fact they have and are surviving despite the extent of harm and destruction wrought upon them is nothing short of a miracle. That they were deemed less than human, by others claiming superiority is exactly the abuse, power, greed, and corruption that infuses the culture and systems of the Church, government and even our communities.

The Children’s Voices are Rising

They may have tried to take away the language of the children. The voice of the children may have gone silent for a while, but a chorus of voices is rising up now. They are creating the space for the voice of the living and the dead to finally be heard, acknowledged, seen by more and more people. We can no longer look away. The truth demands to be known.  

Wistful

I learned of the death of a high school friend yesterday. I discovered how, even for someone you have not seen in decades, some friends carve out a little space in your memories and nestle into your heart in deep ways. His obituary reflects the person I knew and remember, celebrating his soul and soulful qualities. It also gives the smallest glimpse into the challenges he faced in his life. Another high school friend described him as “that boy”. He was “that boy”. I wish his path could have been easier, but it was his path.

Last night, as I paused Shadow and Bone on Netflix and stood on the landing of my stairs, looking out the window onto my street, I felt wistful. I longed for the days of being a parent of teenage boys when our house was always full. Full of life. Full of energy. (Also full of challenges but those are stories for other days.) There were days I had no idea how many kids, or who, were in my house. Grocery bills were staggering. I cooked for them. They learned to cook. They all helped out when asked. They supported each other through a lot of challenges and most of them are still friends, a decade or so later.

Adventures

Life ambles along. It brings us all that shows up in the soul journey. We don’t always stay connected in the world, but there are threads of connection that never go away. There are people nestled in the vastness of our hearts who have carved their names into our memories in ways they will never disappear, even when our paths no longer cross, even when death intervenes.

Hope and Despair – More Than A Year In

Just when we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, darkness and despair have descended yet again. So many metaphors come to mind: the wind taken out of our sails, it is darkest before the dawn, the darkest hour, dark night of the soul.

Just as vaccines are rolling out and hope is on the horizon for many of us, variations of Coronavirus are showing up around the world. India is making headlines for the devastation being wreaked by the virus and the inadequate ability to respond which is leaving people dying, not just in hospitals but in the streets. Other countries are also struggling, even while others are enjoying success like Australia and New Zealand. The tide in the US has changed dramatically with clear leadership and the dedication of resources to combatting spread and ramping up vaccinations, and they are not out of the woods yet.

Across Canada, cases are rising, hospitals are in chaos and frontline health care professionals are exhausted. In Nova Scotia, after being down to no or few cases for months, we are having the highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Last year, most of these cases were in long-term care and now they are the result of community spread. Locked down again just as plans were made for opening up.

Defiance of vaccines, mask wearing and social distancing competes with people advocating for as many precautionary measures as possible. Misinformation, both deliberate and uniformed, competes with science, medicine and public health guidelines based on sound research and evidence based results. Almost everyone I know personally is signing up for vaccines as fast as they become available.

It is easy to get lost in a sea of desolation. I am fortunate that my family is close by, we all take precautions and we do get to see each other, if not as often as we might like. My partner and I live in different countries and are separated by more than a border right now and have been for the majority of the pandemic. We are not young. These are precious years. My business was just beginning to return to some in-person work, which is sorely missed in my world.

The tides can turn fast, though. If you, like me, seem to be moving through quick sand to get up in the morning, begin your day, attend to your tasks, to find joy, we have to remember the light is at the end of the tunnel and, even if it is hard to see, it’s not as far off as it seems in the moment.

Here are 14 reminders of things to do to keep moving through the days, toward that light at the end of the tunnel:

  1. Above all, be kind and compassionate to yourself. You are doing what you can. Things are getting done, even if slowly.
  2. Be kind and compassionate towards others – family, friends, neighbours. Most of us are doing the best we can.
  3. Reach out and connect with your family and friends – including new ones. Commiserate together. Laugh together.
  4. Let yourself feel what you feel but try not to let it overwhelm you. Not easy some days and for some people not easy at all.
  5. Grieve the losses. The people. The ability to be together. The freedom. All of it. There is so much of it. Acknowledging our grief and our sorrow helps us be still or keep moving or discover whatever it is we need to continue.
  6. Look for things that make you laugh. We are allowed to laugh, even in the dark days. And laughter is good for the soul.
  7. Get outside – walk, sit in a garden, in the woods, on the lawn, on your patio or balcony. Even just open a window. Breathe in fresh air.
  8. Take care of your body. Hydrate yourself. Drink water. Lots of it. Eat as well as you can in these days. I live alone. Getting motivated to make good food is not always easy but I do what I can on the days I can. Exercise. Breathe.
  9. Meditate, if it is in your practice. At a minimum, sit quietly with a cup of coffee or tea and invite yourself to be present to that moment.
  10. Take a break from the news (says she who listens to CBC radio a ton).
  11. Listen to music that lifts you up.
  12. Use social media to lift your spirits – not drag you down. Find the groups that inspire, the people who provide hope. Spread those messages as often and as far as you can.
  13. Read. Binge on Netflix. Play games. Just give yourself permission.
  14. Allow the future to motivate you – when you will see loved ones again, be able to travel, move more freely without the fear of the virus at every outing.

I know it’s hard. It’s why we have to turn our attention to the little things. They keep us going. And, above all be kind – to yourself and to others.

Love Never Fails

I woke up recently with 1 Corinthians 13 in my mind, likely prompted by a compulsion I feel to compile my writing on love into a little book about love – Embracing Love: An Openhearted Practice. A common reading at weddings, this verse holds a promise and a commitment.

Yet, too often, it is just words. Words read but not taken in, not lived. There is such power in these words that, if they were lived, there might be more compassion and less harm, in us, our relationships and the world around us.

For many, the promises of love fade as life is lived. Too many hardships. Too many hurts. Too much despair. Too much trauma. Grudges held. Forgiveness demanded but not given or offered. Heartbreaks. Grief. We break. Our humanity breaks. We lose our way. We forget.

We forget that love is not sustained through a promise. Love needs to be a practice. Without the practice of love, the promise is meaningless. It feels like love fails, but maybe it is humanity failing love.

In his book, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah says, “Love is a creative act. When you love someone, you create a new world for them.”  He was talking about his relationship with his mother. “My mother did that for me and with the progress I made and the things I learned, I came back and created a new world and new understanding for her.”

Thus, love is generative. It is a life force that shows up in so many shapes, forms and degrees that no single definition of love will suffice. Love is at the core of who we are as human beings although it is often obscured by shadow as I wrote about in my memoir, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. We are all a little bit broken. It is part of the human journey.

Imagine if we remembered we are love. Imagine if we emanated that love out to all those in our circles of love and beyond. Imagine if we took these words in – love is patient, love is kind; it does not envy or boast; it does not dishonour others – and brought them alive, let them live in and through us. It would change us. It would change the world around us.

Love would be a bold, courageous, radical, creative act.

Hope and Despair and the Promise of Tomorrow

Someone in my circles posted yesterday, asking if anyone else was having difficulty finding words to share in these times. The answer was a resounding yes from many of us. Last night, in my deep dream state, these words came to me: hope and despair.

I imagine these words were also relevant in that first Christmas as Mary and Joseph looked for a place to stay, to give birth to the baby Jesus. A side note: the fact that I am not a church goer was obvious when my two oldest were young, whispering to each other in front of the nativity scene, saying, “That baby has a bad name.” So, it is kind of ironic I find myself referencing that first Christmas, but it is 2020.

2020 has been a year with all the feels. Anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, delights, joy, love. Also, at points, the absence of feelings. Nothingness. Like the monochromatic days I wrote about earlier this year. Most of us have discovered we can move through it all. Some days are full of activity and outcomes. Some days, we just manage to get out of bed and have a cup of coffee. Some days, it is enough to know we are loved and we love, no matter how imperfectly that might be.

While time has disappeared into a vortex and it is already Christmas Eve morning as I write this, we have not disappeared into that vortex. We are still here. While not everyone is still physically here with us, they are in our hearts. They are present whether we know it or not. For me, my father who died in January is a constant presence along with my mother who died in 2012. Regularly in my dreams. Likely inspiring this writing this morning. My father prayed to Mother Mary regularly. His statue of Her still has the unlikely place on a side table in my living room. A tribute to him and his faith in Her. Also possibly what caused me to think about that first Christmas morning as I woke today.

Tomorrow holds a promise. Not just tomorrow Christmas Day, which for some holds as much or more sorrow as joy, but for the many tomorrows that flow out of and through time. The promise we will still be here. The promise we will keep putting one foot in front of the other, literally and metaphorically. The promise that we will find the moments of peace in times of chaos and uncertainty. The promise that 2021 may hold more hope for us individually and collectively. My partner, Jerry, and I look to the coming year with a hopeful eye. We will grow. We will expand. We will rise above and prosper.

That is my 2020 Christmas wish for you – to rise above, to prosper, to hold your loved ones close in your heart if not physically in your hugs, to continue to find your way, to stay hopeful for tomorrow and all the tomorrows that follow. Sending love, peace, joy to each and every one of you, from my family to yours, from my home to yours. Merry Christmas.

F**k the Law of Attraction

I struggled with the Law of Attraction for a long time. I felt the guilt, shame, frustration and self-blame of not doing it right, not consistently enough guarding my thoughts to stay positive and focused on what I wanted, to not get stuck on the intentions but to let them go once created.

I knew it could be done, I just wasn’t good enough at it to do it repeatedly, to improve my financial situation, to create the business of my dreams. I was bound to continue hobbling along with limited success and fruitless hope, even as I practiced gratitude for the good things that showed up – my family, my partner, our business, my book, our book, our clients.

I first came across the Law of Attraction in 1998 after my first marriage fell apart and my job blew up. The shards of the glass walls fell down around me, resting in small piles at my feet making any step I took in any direction somewhat precarious. Five years ago I wrote about my Passive-Aggressive Relationship with the Law of Attraction. There is a lot of good advice in that post, things to do to keep yourself centered, grounded and focused that are not dependent on the Law of Attraction.

Now, though… now I am done with the Law of Attraction, its hope filled promises for the price of positive thoughts, a book or many, a course or two or a life coach. The premise is that you attract everything in your life to you – the good and the bad. You attract the bad things because of worry, fear, frustration. They arrive to teach you a life or spiritual lesson. And, if you attracted those things to you, you can also attract the equal and opposite good things, once you understand everything happens for a reason and you need to consistently think good thoughts. There are too many hard things too easily explained away through this premise that don’t quite add up.

When you come from a place of privilege, even if you are struggling and don’t quite see your privilege, it is practice of luxury. I don’t mean the luxury that comes from millions of dollars at your disposal – lord knows I’ve never had that. But I also haven’t had a real fear of living on the streets no matter how much financial stress I have endured.

I mean the luxury that many people not only can’t afford but don’t have access to. Like a roof over their heads. Or food. Or a safe place to land. Or adequate healthcare. Or any range of other things that can hobble daily existence.

The Law of Attraction premise begins to fall apart when we think about people living in poverty, or in violent situations, family breakdown or dealing with chronic or terminal illness or addictions. People who have been the victims of sexual or other violent assault, experience war conditions and the wanton destruction of life, property and nature. People who have experienced natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornados, earthquakes, erupting volcanos. Did people really attract those circumstances to themselves? And to all of those around them who were are also impacted.

Then we revert to “all things happen for a reason”, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”, “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.” Ways to try to explain or understand the level of hardship that has come our way.

And this Covid thing? We can make up a lot of stories about how and why “we” have “attracted” this pandemic to ourselves individually and collectively. “Life is showing us we need to slow down.” “The world is falling apart so we can put it back together better.” We use stories to try to make sense of the situation after the fact. These do not validate the Law of Attraction. They trap us into a line of thinking that is hard to escape from. I’m not aware of Law of Attraction stars or enthusiasts from countries and communities focused on survival.

When I wrote that post five years ago, I was still trying to sort out why I wasn’t manifesting the abundance in my life that was promised to me through the Law of Attraction. And I had “proof” that it worked because when the house I owned with my second husband went on the market as we were divorcing, it sold within 24 hours and the house I have now lived in for 10 years beckoned.

I knew I should be able to do it over and over, but I was failing far more often than I was succeeding. The Law of Attraction had me blaming myself for this failure because I obviously wasn’t guarding my thoughts clearly enough. I wasn’t doing it right. And even though the Law of Attraction would say things don’t necessarily manifest right away, it is a pattern of thought over time, what happens when that pattern of thought is interrupted by sadness, disorientation, hopelessness, fear, anxiety or frustration? Emotional states that are all naturally occurring and we all encounter them.

Looking back, I now understand what happened with the house. Regularly for months before we put it on the market, I would go for a walk or run, come back to the house, walk down the driveway, behind the house to the stream out back. I would sit on a rock in the middle of the little brook and meditate. Then I would walk back up the other side of the house. I was meditating on letting go and asking my spirit guides to make the house welcoming to the next owner. I was powerfully weaving a spell, reinforcing an enchantment for the house over and over again. That is why the house sold right away, not because I wished it so but because I was a conscious, active participant in the process. Over a sustained period of time, in consistent practice. And that is why other big things didn’t manifest. Not because my thinking was wrong but because I was not weaving enchantments. I was not in a regular practice or ritual that supported my intentions.

I get now that I get to want what I want, no matter what that is. I no longer believe in “magical thinking”, that all I have to do is visualize it, then release it and if I think about it right it will come into being, which is not to say I don’t believe in magic. I have stopped following Law of Attraction posts and advocates and I am living into both the hard stuff and the joyful stuff as a conscious active participant in my life, feeling more grounded and more expansive in the journey. I am looking for coherence, so that my thoughts, my surroundings, my intentions and practices are all aligned, inquiring into how I can be my most powerful self, most consistently. It is part of embracing my identity, embracing my gifts, sludging through the hard moments and dancing through the joyful ones.

A moment of Embracing Power – Brazil, Warrior of the Heart

Doorways, Thresholds and Portals

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?