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.

Chasing a Dream or Hosting It Into Being?

For years, with a previous partner, we tried to build a consulting company that would make a difference in the world. It was a dream, a vision we worked hard to bring into being. Sadly we were not individually or together in alignment or coherent with ourselves. We could try to chase that dream all we wanted, but it refused to manifest. Upon reflection, it was an ego driven dream.

Now with my current partner, Jerry and I have been building a company, for close to a decade, that does make a difference in the world – at least the parts of the world we move in. We did not manufacture this vision into being. It just kept appearing and growing more robust with each conversation we had, each offering we created and every time we brought our Worldview Intelligence approach to our client work. We believe Worldview Intelligence has its own life force, sparked into being, hosted, through us and it seems clear, this dream needed both of us to manifest – not just to us but to those familiar with this journey.

In the early days, when we talked about the emerging vision, I would hold my arms wide apart to indicate the size of the dream and then show how very early in that dream we were by moving my hands about an inch apart. We are much closer to realizing the fullness of that dream now.

In the beginning we would talk to potential clients about how Worldview Intelligence could be helpful and how programs could be delivered across geographically dispersed organizations. The idea of certification emerged but building that program takes time. We were told we needed an online component to what we do. We knew that; but in the early days our conceptualization of what that might mean was very basic and we did not have the resources or the talent to build the online programs. But they were part of the vision.

As colleagues took an interest in our approach, they asked us for more than just the Worldview Intelligence Six Dimensions that we were excited about working with. This led us to creating our own planning model – CIDA-W: Clarify, Illuminate, Design, Act with Worldview Intelligence at the Centre of it all. Developing a High-Performance Teams model that links together many of our ideas. And, finally, we wrote the book, Building Trust and Relationship at the Speed of Change to bring it all together.

Because the vision was clear, when the opportunities showed up, we were able to take advantage of them. Once we had the book drafted, a client we had a great relationship with partnered with us on creating the first online program based on the book (there will be 3 followed by a certification process). That partnership advanced our understanding and learning of what it takes to build effective, interactive e-learning courses. We are now developing Level 2 on our own and populating our e-learning platform with other offerings. When we agreed with our client that we should build our own site, funding support appeared through Nova Scotia Business Inc.

The most recent developments are working with clients to create multi-faceted Worldview Intelligence programs to reach employees enterprise wide. Part of the dream. Something we would not really have known how to do a couple of years ago. A three-part education series of programs that include in-real-time virtual education of leaders across the organization, a four-part animated video series to reach everyone about worldviews and Worldview Intelligence (Worldview Intelligence for All) and scheduled drop-in “coffee” sessions with Jerry and me for anyone who wants to join.

Because of this growth, we are on the verge of adding colleagues to our team on a more consistent basis.

We have not chased this dream. It has pursued us. We couldn’t not do this work. So we host it. We host it into being. And we pay attention to what shows up, which seems to show up as we are ready for it. And we are more and more ready. Seeing the path emerge as we walk it, rather than trying to force things that were not quite ready, required us to hold the vision with as wide open arms as possible and keep putting one foot in front of the other until the foot falls came faster, momentum is increasing at an accelerating rate and we are preparing for our most exciting and successful year yet in 2022 as I enter my 60s and Jerry enters his 70s.  

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.

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.

The Anniversary of Dad’s Passing and The Year that Disappeared

One year ago today I got the call from a resident at the hospital saying that dad had had a restless night, his oxygen was low, they had moved him to a private room and I should get there as soon as possible. I notified my children, my brother and my partner. I got in the car and the tears streamed down my face the whole drive to the hospital. This was the moment we had anticipated, literally for years. I have written before that dad tiptoed up to the edge of death many times, looked over, shook his head and said, “No, not yet.”

This time, there was no going back. He (and I) could not envision how he was going to continue to live at home with any semblance of satisfaction. He couldn’t go to his workshop in the garage. He couldn’t go down the stairs to where he worked on his Bluefin Model. He had so many health issues over the decades. His pacemaker and many medications were keeping him alive as long as his will to live prevailed.

It’s been a strange year. The year of the pandemic and shut down where time disappeared in a vortex. I carry the memory of clearing out his house during the months of March and April, of feeling that his guidance was in every part of what happened. The stories of people and connections that have carried on beyond those days, new life long relationships forged.

My dad comes to me in dreams every week, often several times a week. My mother often comes with him, which was not so much the case before he died. I think perhaps she was with him more often then and they are together now.

I feel his absence during the storms when we would check in with each other to see how things were and what was being taken care of. I could imagine how difficult this pandemic and US politics would be for him to comprehend. When I have traveled, I imagine his concerns for my travel and his relief when I am back home.

There are moments when grief overwhelms me, the tears flow just as they did that morning, a year ago, when I drove to the hospital. Not because I wish he was here now but because of the great, unexpected love that was between us. I was his person. The time I spent with him has been filled in other ways. His and mom’s presence are in my house along with the few items of theirs I have incorporated into my home. I carry them everywhere in heart and soul.

This morning, I lit dad’s candle in front of Mother Mary with a candle and matches from his house. I lit another candle for my mom. I put out coffee with Bailley’s in cups from dad’s house for them both and Jerry and I drank a toast to the two of them. In my mind’s eye, I see them as they might have been when they met in the late 50s – young, beautiful, slim, in love; wearing the clothes of the era. With spiked coffee and mom smoking a cigarette. Dad was an avid smoker until he quit in the 70s to save his life. In my vision, he is not smoking even though it is from a time when he would have been smoking. My mother was a social smoker. She would have a cigarette with her coffee, when a friend dropped by for tea or with a drink, at a party. She pretty much quit when dad did but in this vision she is smoking a cigarette, laughing and joyful. Trust the symbols that appear.

Their impact on me and my life is indelibly imprinted on my heart and soul. I will forever cherish all my relationships in my lineage and it will always influence the relationships I want to nurture with my children, their partners and extended families, my own grandchildren and my partner.

Smiling this morning, along with the tears.

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.

You Can Cry If You Want To!

2020! Christmas. Unlike any other I have experienced. Thanks to Coronavirus, the spread of it, illness and deaths because of it, precautions we take to reduce the spread and try to keep ourselves from contracting it – for ourselves and our loved ones. For everyone I know, this means smaller family bubbles for the holidays. And this makes me sad. Deeply, profoundly sad.

In 2011, I wrote this post describing Christmas as the season of amplification – of joy and of sorrow. It was the last Christmas my mother was alive – just barely, in long term care because of dementia. Emotions are always present in our lives if we have lived a minute. Every year of life this becomes more so as life’s experiences continue to accumulate.

This is the first Christmas without my dad. It is the first Christmas since we’ve been together that Jerry will not be with me for Christmas. The first Christmas my whole family cannot gather in one place. It’s been a year, as consultants, that all our client work has been postponed. Travel stopped. It’s all still disorienting.

Yet, we’ve been re-imagining our business during this time, opening new explorations and looking to the future. A vaccine is on the horizon. Next Christmas will look different again – hopefully in more ways we celebrate rather than mourn. In the meantime, my house is decorated. The tree is up. Jerry and I have a tentative plan to be together for a month post-Christmas.

I continue to reflect on my experience and how to move with and through the unusual holiday season. Here are 10 thoughts on how to do this.

  1. You can cry if you want to. Encourage the tears. Let them flow. A good cry is healthy.
  2. Laugh. You may not feel much like laughing, but laughter lifts the spirits, is good for the soul and is also healthy. And, it’s okay to laugh, give yourself permission, even as the world is different than it used to be. Watch funny movies, remember funny events, read books that make you laugh.
  3. Connect. Bubble with the friends or family you have chosen to bubble with and spend time with them. Reach out to other people you care about. Text. Phone. Video call. Think particularly about the people you know are alone or suffering even more than you. There are some who have no one to bubble with.
  4. Find or create comfort for yourself. This could be food, books, movies, music, traditions you allow yourself to carry out even if you are alone or have a smaller bubble. Decorating my tree with my small family bubble was one for me. Making gingerbread cookies to share will be another. Wrapping myself in a blanket to watch a movie or read a book brings comfort.
  5. If you are buying Christmas gifts, shop local. It’s always a good idea and never more needed. Support local craftspeople, artists and shop owners. And make donations to people in more need than you.
  6. Support a local restaurant that offers take out. Buy a meal for yourself and buy one for someone else if you can.
  7. Allow yourself to revisit all the beautiful memories of other holidays. Sink into them and let them wash over you. Last year, my dad was not well. Jerry was here and we spent a lot of time in Lunenburg with him – including bringing Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and other family festivities to him over a 2 week period. We knew it might be his last. It was time well spent and makes me smile. There are so many more memories that make me smile – decades of them.
  8. Take care of your body. Sleep. Exercise. Walk. Eat reasonably well.
  9. Take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing. 2020 is a time when anxiety, depression and emotional balance have been extraordinarily challenged. Then add in the stress that can come with the holidays. Reduce the things that cause you increased anxiety. This might be putting yourself on a social media diet. Or taking medication. Or deciding not to do a particular thing this year. Last year, for me, it was a decision not to do gingerbread houses – a treasured tradition for me for more than 2 decades. Not doing them this year either. Do or don’t do whatever else will contribute to your emotional and mental well-being.
  10. Look to the future. Next Christmas, hopefully, we will not be talking small family bubbles but be able to gather in our extended family and friend networks again without fear of spreading a virus. 2021 brings a promise deeper than our usual New Years. We couldn’t have anticipated that 2020 would be the shit show it has been, but the future holds promise.

For those of you who have lost loved ones in the last year, I send love and compassion. To those on the front lines of battling coronavirus, I send gratitude. To everyone masking up, washing hands, trying to follow arrows in stores and keeping your contact with others minimal, thank you. We’ve got this. We just need a touch more patience and willingness to be disciplined in our behaviours.