Today, Finally, I Cried

This is the first morning in weeks I woke up alone in my house. As I sat with my coffee, taking in more of the stories, today, finally, I cried.

tears-of-the-heart

It is just over 3 weeks since the US election. The world has fundamentally changed. Yet, for me, much is the same in my life and work. No on the ground ripple – not yet. I have watched my news feed spiral almost out of control with stories of anxiety, grief, fear. I have read so many stories of people who have felt the fall out, have experienced first hand the overtness of anger and violence that once simmered under the surface and now is being expressed in checkouts at grocery stores, shouted slurs on the street, hateful words painted on people’s houses and cars. Divides that are tearing families apart.

I have read the stories of people whose wounds have been opened wider, being re-wounded by the level of public discourse that has misogyny, sexism, racism running more visibly and publicly than it has in some time. More of the undercurrents we do not always see.

I witness the spillover of fragmentation, polarization and fear across international boundaries from Brexit, the US election, France, Turkey and even here in Canada where it felt like we escaped from the brink of this in our own election to new disruptions surfacing with various provincial or party elections.

I am heartsick that women do not support the emancipation of women and do not support women’s rights. I am aghast at levels of misogyny so deeply entrenched in society that some women will subjugate themselves to it without conscious awareness. That people see others of a different colour, nationality or background as somehow less than. That there are white men who believe that they are somehow entitled because of the colour of their skin and their gender.

I am heartsick for the stand off at Standing Rock, the difference between how that situation and white resistance is handled. I am heartsick for an earth that is bleeding and hurting and for people who do not want to see what is right in front of their eyes.

I am heartsick for those who pine for a way of life that no longer exists, that is remembered in an idealized memory, who want the world to go back to a way that it was or a way that they wished it had been but maybe never really existed.

Not being able to predict the future – ever, but certainly not now in some of the most unpredictable times I have witnessed in my life time, I do experience fear and anxiety about the world stage, about what will happen next. I hold the grief of my own experience and of all of the stories I read.

teardrops-flowerI have also read the stories of so much courage. People standing up, holding the space for others who are under attack, coming to the support of people through words and deeds, rising to their openhearted humanity.

I noticed for awhile that the positive focus, the positive, aspirational things I usually post got lost in advocating for and against politicians and political stances. I need to continue to be aware and definitely stay woke and gradually I have noticed a resumption for me of more inspiring stories, a focus on the future I want to move towards.

I do not know that I can influence the course of world events. But I can do what is within my power to do. Last week, my partner, son and I took part in a community dinner in Halifax, sharing Thanksgiving with newcomer families who have been refugees. We met a lovely Syrian family who live near us and it was a heartwarming experience. Four hundred people in all showed up for the dinner hosted by Engage Nova Scotia.

The Worldview Intelligence work my partner and I do is focused on creating exploratory space between people with differing worldviews – from slight differences to vast differences. And even though sometimes we wonder how to bridge the vastest differences, we just keep putting one foot in front of the other and bringing this work where it wants to go. And it is important work in the world right now.

I hold my family close and focus on the issues and joys that we need to deal with – report cards, weddings, careers, Christmas.

I hope if I am called to courage in a public space to support someone I may or may not know that I will find it within me to rise to that challenge. I hope nations find it within themselves to rise to the courage that is needed now. I hope that the seeds of disturbance have answering seeds of courage and renewal with more of us determined to find more ways forward that embrace the diversity of the fullness of humanity.

And in holding all my own conflicting feelings, in holding so much of the grief that is spilling over in the world right now, in a quiet moment all by myself this morning, with my coffee, today, finally, I cried.

tears_in_heaven_dev_by_kuschelirmel-d6hzeuy

Who Are You At Your Most Powerful?

It is easy to get lost in the smallness of a day, an incident, a word from someone that hits at the core of your insecurity. The story that rattles around inside the mind, told by the “itty-bitty-shitty” committee, is one that often reinforces helplessness. It is only a “true” story because you tell it over and over again.

What I want to know is, who are you at your most powerful? When have you experienced your most powerful moments? What was alive for you then? What is the story you tell about those moments? They are not accidental. They are your soul qualities peeking through the morass of shadow accumulated over a life time of hiding the most precious things about who you are.

Maybe you are sensing it is time to shake it off, although this is not often an easy journey. There are so many habitual patterns that have developed over time without your noticing that need to be identified and shifted. Some people will attack you. Some will abandon you. Because they will no longer recognize you or know how to interact with you. They will want you to be the same. But you stay the same at your own peril. The soul wants to be illuminated and it requires you to grow. When we do not respond at the first gentle nudgings, they become more persistent and louder.

Flowers growing in the rocksIn my own soul journey this showed up in the form of a difficult job loss decades ago and my first marriage crumbling at the same time – largely due to my own unawareness and not knowing how to act in conscious ways. Just as I was congratulating myself for how far I had come, I stepped into an even more challenging relationship that shook me to the core of my being. And it invited me to step into one of the most powerful aspects of my journey – the journey to openheartedness, embracing the stranger in me – who is no stranger at all but the most powerful aspects of my being.

Even with the intensity of that journey, staying on this path, embracing my most powerful self, is a pattern of forgetting and remembering. It is a noticing each time a shift seems to be taking place in my energetic field however subtle. And it is a reminder to self to be in the practices which keep me strong and to not let the “itty-bitty-shitty” committee take precedence every time I step off the path or forget. To engage self-compassion and self-curiosity.

One way to remember who you are when you are at your most powerful, is to invite an image in your mind’s eye of what you look like, what is around you and what you feel like in those moments. It can be an image from your day to day lived life or it can be the image that emerges as you invite it. Images and symbolism are powerful and your spirit will offer to you that which is most meaningful in any given time. Trust what shows up. The image is not always the same. It shifts and changes as the journey shifts and changes. For me, my power animals and spirit guides are never far away, even as some of the other symbolism changes.

adimirkush_ButterlyThese days, when I invite this question of who am I at my most powerful, I see an image of a woman – me – with powerful posture, in a long flowing dress, levitating slightly off the ground, surrounded by a ring of fire with fire breathing dragons protecting my boundaries and my arms raised by my sides to receive that which the universe wants to bring me. The fire breathing dragons do not isolate me or keep out that which is intended to flow to me but they do create a barrier and warning to anything which would seek to harm me or diminish my power. In my wakeful moments – during the day or at night and especially in the morning – I call that image to me and remember who I am at my most powerful.

dragonformWhat is your image? Call it to you now and know it is also who you are. You can choose it every single time.

Facts, Stories, Courage, Justice, The Court System

I went to court once. It was a simple matter. I was contesting a $275 ticket I was given for illegally walking across the railroad tracks in Bedford, NS. Yup. Turns out that’s illegal. Who knew? The policeman, who reluctantly issued the ticket (which is different story), did tell me that I could contest it in court. So, I went to court. I watched all the cases called before mine. Citizens, representing themselves, showing up to contest tickets of various sorts – not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while cycling, other ones that I don’t recall. What I do recall is that systematically every case was “won” by the court – which had a lawyer present, a process, witnesses (usually policemen) with notes. The contestants had none of these. I knew, that had my case gone forth, there was no way I was walking out of there a winner. Except, thankfully, the policeman who issued the ticket did not show up. My case was dismissed. I walked away with a glimpse into a system of law that is not necessarily a system of justice but a system of process.

Scales of JusticeI am reminded of this little incident by a very high profile celebrity sexual offence case taking place before a judge in Canada at this moment. A case which is not only re-traumatizing the accused’s victims but a host of other people – primarily women – who have experienced something similar in their lives. It makes me think of the system of law, which may or may not be the same as justice. A court system that wants to protect an accused as innocent until proven guilty, so much so that the victims are on trial as much as or more than the accused and seem to have to prove their innocence, and even purity, rather than have it assumed.

I am thinking about the women who have had the courage to pursue this case, or similar ones, in the courts, who are taking the stand, whose stories are being cross examined in the search to cast doubt on the facts of the testimony. Re-victimizing victims, as if it wasn’t hard enough the first time, or difficult enough to step forward. It is a system that does not encourage women, perhaps any victim, to step forward, because it treats them harshly.

It is supported by a societal wide phenomenon that immediately casts doubt on any woman’s story of sexual assault – casting doubt on the woman herself. Even when many women step forward about the same man, as is the case in this situation,  there is more doubt about their character than his, as if there is a conspiracy against him. “Why didn’t you go to the police?” they are asked. “Why didn’t you speak up sooner?” Over and over again the answer is that they did not think they would be believed. Which is exactly what happens.

The women in this case say that the accused was, in one moment, the epitome of charming and, in the next moment, he was hitting them in the head or choking them in a rage. There is consistency across the stories, the ones in the courtroom, the ones reported in the media, the general knowledge that existed in the milieus of social settings the accused and the victims found themselves in. Part of the challenge to the credibility of the women is that, in this case, they often describe an initial encounter and then a subsequent encounter. Why did they engage the subsequent encounter if the first went so badly, is the obvious question? Surely it couldn’t have been that bad? Surely now you are only seeking revenge?

In reflecting on this and some of my own experiences (not nearly so extreme) in life, it occurs to me there is a gap created by cognitive dissonance – a gap in stimulus and response. A public figure. Charming to the extreme. Seeking some of these women out. Surely the rage is a momentary lapse, not the essence of this person? The mind is resorting to logic to try to make sense of what just happened. The beating, the rage, is “out of character” with what is known or presumed known about this individual and these women found themselves back in his vicinity, imagining a better situation, imagining a respectful encounter. Surely you have encountered such a cognitive dissonance – where it takes your brain awhile to catch up to what your experience is telling you to be true? I know I have been.

And then there is the role of facts. The court system is interested in the facts and in evidence. Part of the issue in testifying is that we relay our experiences through stories, stories that are a mix of facts, emotions and values. And there is research that disputes the idea that factual memory is accurate. If you have ever told a story and had someone contradict the “facts” you relayed with their own, you know how difficult it is to agree on the “facts”, because people remember different things. Was it this or was it that? Who knows for sure?

It is easy to get stories confused for several additional reasons. Stories are how we make meaning of our experiences. And we rarely ever tell the same story twice in exactly the same way. As time goes by, how we relate to the story and the experience may shift and change, as we try to imagine it never happened, or as we heal, as we move on, as we learn from our experiences, as we gain distance from the event. The story you tell now about something you experience today may be very different a month from now, a year from now, a decade from now. Yet in a trial, the person on the stand is expected to tell the exact same story, without variance, from the time they gave their statement to the time of the trial and, at a minimum, months, if not years have gone by. Any contradictions become “proof” of their inconsistency and unreliability as a witness.

When I was writing Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, a memoire spanning several decades, I came across my own writing from a decade before – writing done very close to the experiences I was describing. How I remembered those situations and the rawness of the writing immediately following the experiences was very different than how I recalled them a decade later.

courtroomI find my heart breaking for these women on the stand and for the many more who refused to go there because there is too much trauma, too much shame, too much self doubt and self recrimination. I am torn by believing people do have a right to a fair trial and wondering if that should not also apply to the courageous people who step forward to testify. And I continue to wonder if our justice system delivers justice while understanding the need and increasing demand for processes like restorative justice.

And mostly my heart aches for a society that will dismiss the voice of a woman to such a degree that even in numbers there is doubt. My heart aches for a society where people are ostracized for pointing out what is common knowledge in a community, an organization or a social system. I wonder how we have come to be such great protectors of the shadow side, the underbelly, and so afraid of the light. I yearn for places and opportunities for people to be supported and celebrated for doing the right thing, for stepping forward, for making us all safer. And, I hold space from my little corner of the world, for each person who speaks a truth known to many openly and courageously. May we be these people.

You Are Not Your Story

It is deeply heart-opening when people who read Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness share how the stories in the book resonate for them in their own journey.  And then they thank me for being so courageous to share those stories as they feel they have glimpsed into my own vulnerability.  All true.  And it has generated a curiosity for me about what my relationship with this book is – because it doesn’t feel quite so courageous from my perspective.  This book has its own life, energy and flow – thankfully and interestingly.

Story at work

How are your stories working for you?

And I get to remember, again, what I already knew and now know more deeply.  I am not my stories.  I am not my book. I am not the stories other people tell (or think) about me.  And, you are not your stories.  They do not define you – unless you choose to let them.  Of course, they shape you.  And, you have choices as to how they shape you – looking at life through the human tragedy or drama perspective or from the soul journey perspective – that which we are seeking to learn or experience at the soul level.

There are moments in my life that are seared into my memory as pivotal moments.  One such memory, complete with date, is March 1998.  I was halfway through a severance period, having been royally fired from my job, in the middle of a divorce and having bought a home, for me and my two young boys, predicated on a salary I no longer had with no idea what I was going to do next to support myself.  I was in the highest anxiety of my life – to that point.  I could only focus on what was right in front of me – the next moment, maybe the next day, but certainly not weeks, months or years down the road – because otherwise the stress was overwhelming to the point of being debilitating.

I was sitting in my kitchen, making a choice of which book to pick up and read – the practical What Colour is Your Parachute or the transformative The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  I didn’t know it would be transformative when I picked it up, but it was.  I was transported to another world.  Mesmerized.  It moved me to tears and to laughter. And I understood maybe for the first time: I am not my stories.  I am not my failure.  I am not my divorce.  I am not my job loss.  These are things that have happened in my life.  I have a choice as to how I view them. The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore offered me a different, expansive option for how to view these things that happened to me.  The author, Alan Cohen, offered that I had attracted these things into my life. If I had the “power” to attract those life altering “negative” things, I had the equal and opposite capacity or power to also attract more life affirming circumstances into my life.

What I understood is that I had been increasingly drifting away from the things I hold true in my life, the things I valued – or said I valued.  My actions did not always support my beliefs and what I thought I valued.  I was in increasing dissonance and did not know how to live a fractured existence anymore. At the time I felt like I was looking out a picture window at my life as it unfolded, I was so dissociated from my experience and my existence.  And I did not have the skills to know how to navigate it – or relationships – in a healthy way.  It made me believe the human tragedy/drama perspective – that I must be a bad person, maybe even evil.  Otherwise, why would these things have happened to me?

In this one day, I was liberated.  I was invited into choice.  I wish I could say it was only a generative upward vortex from then on but of course it wasn’t.  It was, and still is, a human journey, fraught with the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences.  It took me another decade to surrender into the journey with a greater degree of fullness and I’m still learning about surrendering.

The book was and is intended as an offering of stories for others – for you even – in your own journey.  An invitation to journey on, journey deeper, journey more lightly. An invitation to view your stories in a different way from different perspectives, ones that generate more expansiveness, spaciousness and choice.  An invitation to trust what you doubt, to know someone has navigated similar waters with varying degrees of success, sometimes at peace and sometimes in turmoil – because this is life and this is how we grow. To understand that life is more than just the physical experience and to trust the non-physical as you experience it, as you surely do.  To treat yourself with compassion, love and forgiveness and to invite that into your relationships – all of them, even the ones where you would prefer to hold onto a bit of resentment.

When you live your stories as if they are you, you disempower yourself.  When you understand your story shapes your journey but is not you, you show up more fully in your strength and your power and it is a thing of beauty to behold.