When the Story Becomes Hollow

We use stories to make sense of our experiences. These stories shift and change over the course of our relationship with them. The way we speak of an experience that just happened is different than the way we speak of that same experience a few weeks, months or many years later.

Our relationship with our stories defines and shapes us to greater and lesser degrees. Sometimes we become very attached to the story we tell, to the version of ourselves we have lived out over time.

Some of these stories are truly defining moments of our lives. Some of them offer moments of journey we visit over and over again, looking for lessons learned, looking for healing, looking for moving on. When I wrote Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I described it as a process of peeling back the layers of the onion, only the onion seems to grow new layers even as we are shedding the outer ones. It can be annoying, frustrating and downright disheartening when we discover the story we thought we had outgrown still has life within us.

onion-276586_960_720These story themes are rooted deep within us. Depending on your beliefs, some of these patterns may have been carried into this life time from past lives (or future lives perhaps) and some of them may be within us as a result of being passed from one generation to another. We might not know or discover the root of the patterns we live out in life, relationship or typical conflicts we may find ourselves in.

IMG_4882So, when do you know the story is healed – finally, perhaps forever? I am sure there are many possible barometers but one of them (newly discovered in my awareness) is when the story begins to feel hollow. It has no substance, no catch, no grab, no hijack anymore. Like a quantum resonance you can see or sense it just within your field of awareness – like a ghost image asking to be let go. You could possibly put it on and wear it again, but like that comfortable old coat you use to wear seemingly forever, it no longer fits, no longer offers the protection or service it once did. It no longer defines you or your look – since your physical body often also changes noticeably when new levels of healing take shape.

I’m not sure it is something we achieve. I think it is something that graces our awareness in the moment it is revealed. Then we can acknowledge the journey, thank the story for all it has offered us over the time we have carried it and turn our awareness to the future and to the new story that is already emerging within the fabric of the old one that no longer defines us.

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The Voice of Your Inner Judge

There is no more powerful limiting mechanism in our lives than the voice of the judge.  I don’t mean that other person – parent, spouse, child, teacher, boss, friend, co-worker, random stranger on the street or in the shopping mall.  It’s the internal voice of judgment or internal critic that often runs rampant inside of us that we barely notice, if at all, because it is so clever and really good at disguising itself – for self preservation really.

I first became intimately acquainted with my inner judge in 2008-09 during coaching work with Sarita Chawla.  She recommended I read Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown in addition to the work we were doing together. I will forever recognize this as a pivotal point in the shifting shape of my openhearted journey.  I wrote about the voice of the judge back then in an article.  I am reviving that article here now in an updated version .  When I first wrote this post, my inner critic was activated – obvious to me because of how I felt – and I am reminding myself of strategies I already know that help to deactivate it and release its grip on me.

When I first became aware of the force of the internal judge, I had been working with the concepts of self-leadership and hosting oneself for almost as long as I could remember – still do, of course.  I worked with coaches, read books, did courses, took part in and led deep group work.  I am generally a positive, optimistic person holding deep appreciation and gratitude for much of what transpires in my life and who shows up.  I have transformed the negative self talk of my “itty-bitty-shitty committee” into more appreciative forms of self talk and into periods of quiet in my mind.  I meditate and practice other forms of reflection and mindfulness.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered a voice of self judgment and self criticism that was booming loud and clear in my unconsciousness, stronger than any external voice of judgment or criticism could possibly be.  This voice constantly set the bar for my performance at the best that I had ever achieved.  The bar moved if I did better.  When I didn’t match my most excellent performance, even when I did extremely good work, this voice told me that I had failed, that I did not measure up and that I never would on a consistent basis.  Strong performance was interpreted as mediocre.  Criticisms from others, whether justified or not, was reinforced by this inner critic.

When I felt most down on myself or just down in general, this voice played a significant role – and still can in moments I feel most overwhelmed or vulnerable – until I expose it.  I didn’t actually hear it as a voice until I began to listen for it but I felt it strongly in many forms: sadness, unhappiness, melancholy, anger, listlessness, lack of motivation and many other emotional manifestations.

While I had been aware of this voice (or at least the emotions it manifested in) to some extent, I also prided myself on my journey of self-transformation and change.  Been there, got that medal, surely I must be done now, can I just get on with my life and success?  I realize now it was the voice of self judgment that said, “You’ve been doing this long enough, how come you’re not done?”

Part of the reason I had been pretty oblivious to this voice was because, in my quest to be calm Happy-sad masksand serene and professional, I skirted over my own emotional reactions.  I barely recognized I had them except in the odd instances where they overtook me.  Oh, was that an emotion that wasn’t calm and serene?  Oops.  Nope. Couldn’t have been.  It must have been something else.

Then, a friend told me I deal with my emotions intellectually.  So, I thought about that.  And I thought my friend just might be right.  Emotions don’t reside in our intellect.  They reside in our bodies.  We feel them and sense them.  We use metaphors to describe them.  We say things like, “That packed a punch!”  If we stop to notice, we will notice where it feels like we got punched.  And if we stay with that, we will begin to notice the impact.  And if we stay with it longer, we will notice the uncomfortableness and want to move onto something else.  This is where I am learning to stop.  I have learned to stay with it longer, until I can begin to discern the wisdom that is held there and that can only emerge when we give it an escape hatch to surface to the light.

It is in these moments that my voice of self judgment has come booming out at me in all of its voraciousness.  With all good intentions, all it wants to do is protect me – from failure, from being unlovable.  But its methods only serve to reinforce for me my failures, even to the extent of turning successes into failures, thus creating in my mind my own unlovability and unwantability.  I have also become aware through the Law of Attraction and the teachings of Abraham that this voice of the judge interferes with flow, abundance and allowing the full vibrancy of life.

CA red dress Day 1I learned to journal in this voice.  I am astounded by the punch it does pack.  Periodically I sit and check inside of me to sense into what I’m experiencing and feeling and what the impact is.  I journal what I am sensing until I feel done.  Then I check in again to see what I am experiencing, sensing and feeling, and then journal again. And then again, if that seems required.  I am committed to going the next layer deep and the next until I feel the light flood back into my soul and I feel a lightness of spirit and of body. This is what I want to amplify in my life now.

Exposing my voice of self-judgment transmutes it into a gift of understanding and insight after which joy can once again arise and take more of the space that is its, and my own, rightful due.  Now, instead of seeing my journey as one that should be concluded and being hard on myself because it is not, I see my journey and myself with a gentleness I could not access before as it was hidden underneath the protective layer of the voice of judgment.  I have always known, intellectually, that learning and growth is a life long journey.  Now I know it and accept it with a graciousness that only comes from the light.

(This post was first published at Shape Shift Strategies on December 20, 2011)

Human Tragedy Story Often Obscures Soul Journey Perspective

For a long time, I have believed we are soul journeyers having a human experience. The beauty and challenge of life is that our assumptions and beliefs get tested along the way.  In 2012, for me, one way has been through my mother’s journey.

adimirkush_Butterly

Painting by Adimir Kush

When the symptoms of my mother’s dementia were becoming more obvious in the years before she went into long term care, I knew it as a soul journey and experienced it as a human tragedy story.  This became more pronounced when she went into long term care.  Instead of being the only person in a household living out a bizarre new set of behaviours,  losing her capacity to communicate and do simple things like change the channel on the TV, she became one of many old and dying people no longer able to care for themselves, most living in their own little diminishing physical worlds.

The human tragedy story is amplified in these circumstances and places.  It is hard to see past the story of tragedy when it stares you in the face as you walk down hallways that evoke very visceral reactions in what you see, smell, hear or otherwise encounter – even in a place as loving and caring as the place my mother experienced as home in the last four years of her life.

CorridorHow many people came up to me, my brother or my father after mom’s funeral to share amazing stories about her that captured the essence of who she was and then proceeded to talk about how they just couldn’t visit her at Harbourview Haven.  How hard it was if she didn’t seem to recognize them.  How hard it is to be in that building when, as a culture, we have become disconnected from the death chapter of the life cycle.  We no longer experience it as part of the natural flow of life but as something to be feared.  Walking in a place where death is imminent generates fear and discomfort for many of us.  It did for me when I first began visiting my mother but, through my mother, the shape of my experience shifted.

For the few who were able to manage a visit or two, they expressed how amazing it was when there was a flicker of recognition in something she said.  I learned how many people besides me she called “little one” (really mom?!) and that was a point of reference for them.

There are others who saw enough through the human tragedy story to visit often.  My mother had a few of those regular visitors although we often didn’t even know it since she couldn’t remember who visited or when they did.  Deeply grateful for those dear friends.

The length of mom’s journey with dementia and her stay in long term care, invited me more deeply into this paradox of understanding  the human tragedy dressing of soul journey.   The phrase “oh, that poor soul” makes me chuckle now.  We use that phrase to describe the human tragedy perspective.  It is the physical experience that appears poor, not the soul journey perspective if you believe, like I do, that we make some choices before we manifest into physical form about what it is we want to experience for our soul journey this time around.

As my mother become more disembodied, I embodied the soul journey perspective from a deeper, more encompassing place of understanding.  Towards the end, her human tragedy story didn’t register for me anymore, only the soul journey perspective.  This gave me a high degree of peace during her long transition process, allowing me to live my life fully even while being present to my mother’s journey and our family care around it.

For the gifted people who work at Harbour View Haven, it seems to me they also see past the human tragedy perspective, treating each individual with full dignity and respect.  Treating them as if they are, what we consider, fully functioning, fully present human beings.  It was a gift to observe this most keenly in my mother’s final hours. It made me wonder what would happen if  we all treated others all the time with this kind of dignity and respect – whether we thought they deserved it, whether we thought they were fully human or not.

Living simultaneously with my mother’s journey, my journey and the rest of life, I’ve been thinking about how to express this all so it does not fuel the human tragedy story. I now speak about “the many streams of life”.  We are all in many streams of life all at the same time. Stuff happens.  Stuff comes up.  There is a life giving invitation to be well in all of it, although a more typical response is to be stressed by all the things that come our way that we have to take care.

I’m leaning into this invitation to flow with the many streams of life as though that is what they are, rather than challenges.  Greater spaciousness beautifully shows up.

And then there are the lessons of embodiment that have been present for me in a big way already in and since 2012.  As I embody my experiences and my learning I understand more deeply my life’s events, my relationships and my soul’s calling.

I’m not saying the human tragedy story isn’t real.  But the soul journey perspective is also just as real although harder for many to see, obscured by the human tragedy story.  The soul journey perspective allows me to live into joy and delight and allows me to fall in loveover and over again in a way living into the human tragedy story does not.

For my mother, I continue to experience a dance of joy, delight and lightness as her spirit soarspixies_in_the_sky-1868 free from the human tragedy unfolding of her physical body.  She continues to be my teacher and my friend and very, very real in my human experience.

(Originally published at Shape Shift Strategies Inc. on March 1, 2012)

Extending Love – A Powerful Game Changer

A long time ago now, I was studying A Course In Miracles. The most striking thing I learned, that has stayed with me for more than a decade, is that everything is either an extension of love or a request for love.

hurt-people Thich Naht HanhI reflect on it often. It seemed improbable when I first heard it, but in my own journey to openheartedness, embracing all that shows up on my path, the meaning of it has seeped into my being. The implications are profound. It is top of mind for me as I see posts on social media reminding us that “hurt people hurt people”, an adaptation of Thich Naht Hahn’s quote, and as I see quotes about forgiveness.

When someone issues a request for love it does not come in a question. It comes in behaviour that looks like anything but a request for love. Actually asking for what we need puts us in a place of vulnerability and for many of us this is a fate almost worse than death.

A request for love often looks and feels like an attack. The default is to respond with your own request for love. Attack meets attack. Defence meets defence. And the game is on. Not only is it on, it is hard to break the pattern. It is a vortex we get sucked into. Until we don’t. Until we become conscious of the pattern, our own contribution to it and set an intention to step out of the pattern, dance a new dance.

bandaged heartAn extension of love does not come at the sacrifice of you and who you are. It cannot truly come at the subjugation of yourself because then you are still acting from the place of requesting love. You can only extend love to another once you have extended it to yourself. The more you extend love to yourself, the more capacity you have to extend it to another person, the more likely you are to break the patterns.

A beautiful side benefit is that you fuel your own boundaries. It is much harder for someone to “request love” through an attack when your boundaries are clear – first to yourself, then to others.

When you understand that when someone is behaving inappropriately, it is a reflection of their own internal state of being – it really is more about them than you – it can change how you respond. When you change the way you respond, you can change the nature of the relationship. If it is an intimate relationship where you are at risk, it does not mean you stay. But you exit differently. When you extend love to yourself, you will not put yourself at risk or stay in a situation of risk.

forgiveness quoteWhen you can forgive someone for their behaviours or actions, it does not condone or excuse their behaviour but it releases their grasp on you. As long as you hold onto the pain, they continue to have power over you – essentially you give your power away. Forgiveness is a means of reclaiming your power. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

It is easier to forgive if you can see past the behaviours of the other person, to the child within, see their soul essence, see the request for love as what it is – an expression of their own pain, their own desire for connection – with an inability to articulate it, possibly even to themselves. It becomes easier to extend love to the person and bring the whole situation to a higher vibration. This does not mean you do not act in ways that are appropriate to the situation, but the range of options you can draw on expand, sometimes exponentially, when you are in the place of extending love to the person or situation.

Reclaim your power. Step into it fully. Extend love every chance you get.

Love at First Sight

My dad, Hector Jourdain, and me during a toast at a mine celebration of my parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary.

My dad, Hector Jourdain, and me during a toast at a mine celebration of my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.

On January 11, 2008, the day of my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary, I turned to my father to ask him to tell me the truth. “I’ve received emails this week from two women who seem to think I might be their sister.” I was 46 years old and never suspected I might be adopted.

I already knew the answer before I posed the query. And I could see it in his face before I finished talking. There was, what seemed like, a long pause and finally he said to me, “Well, that’s another long story.”

A long story, yes. And it began with a very simple and clear declaration I might not have heard otherwise, “It was love at first sight!” he told me. Love at first sight. I always knew that my father and I had a special connection. And I always knew that he loved me/loves me as unconditionally as it is possible to love a child, although it hasn’t always been an easy path or relationship, but showing up most significantly, most unconditionally, in the times I have been most challenged – in job loss and divorces.

In the early moments following that conversation about what had been a family secret, dad was worried that my knowing would change our relationship. But, as I told him, we had a lot of history together so I didn’t see any reason it would change. And, I knew both my parents loved me and only wanted the best for me. The journey was undertaken in the spirit of openheartedness.

Dad is now 82 years old. Much to my surprise, not only did he outlive my mother, he became her personal care giver before she went into long term care with dementia – the same year as their 50th wedding anniversary. She died in 2012. Dad still lives home, alone, in the house they shared for many years.

Mom and dad in 2007 for his birthday.

Mom and dad in 2007 for his birthday with a 4 year old Shasta helping out.

He has had, over the years, a myriad of health issues that makes it a miracle he is still alive. He had his first open heart by-pass surgery when he was 45 years old. His second one about 30 years later and it took him almost 2 weeks to wake up from that surgery, partly because, in the end, it was emergency surgery and partly because he was exhausted from taking care of my mother. Then there was the time he became delirious with dehydration during the final week of radiation therapy for prostate cancer and it was the synchronicity of a call to him by my brother that resulted in contacting family friends who immediately took him to the ER, just short of having his organs shut down because of the dehydration. In the hospital so long, his legs weakened and he was in a wheelchair. Even his family physician thought he wouldn’t walk again. That was a few years ago now. Then, he was diagnosed with lung disease and told he would be on oxygen for the rest of his days. A few months later the oxygen was taken out of his home because he was doing fine. (And that’s just a snapshot of his health issues over the years.)

Quality workmanship - one of dad's projects.

Quality workmanship – one of dad’s projects.

This past winter, a hard one here in Nova Scotia, he was out with his snowblower clearing his driveway. Over the last couple of years he renovated his upstairs bathroom to put in a shower. And he built a row boat in his basement. He still has marine engines in his garage that he works on from time to time and he has a long list of projects to tend to. He complains that it takes him longer to do anything, but he has time and he has motivation. And he’s taken a few road trips to Quebec – his home province – to visit with my cousin (who graciously hosts him in her home) in the last couple of years. These things – things to look forward to, to get out of bed for – they keep him not just alive, but living. And just recently, he bought his first tablet and got internet at his home (thanks to some persuasion from my cousin Jacqueline) and this Father’s Day I will try to help him sort it all out. Wish us luck.

In Rimouski, Quebec - dad, me, my cousins Julie and Jacqueline (who we stayed with) and Julie's husband.

In Rimouski, Quebec – dad, me, my cousins Julie and Jacqueline (who we stayed with) and Julie’s husband. 2013 Road Trip

I’m proud of my dad. I’ve learned, am learning, a lot from him. About quality workmanship. About independence. About sheer will power. About love. About just keeping on keeping on. And, I’m glad it was love at first sight or who knows where I would be today.

Dad, Shasta and Spencer, watching me cook. April 2015

Dad, Shasta and Spencer, watching me cook. April 2015

Expanded Consciousness – It’s So Simple Really

Expanded Consciousness

What are you waiting for?

From a very young age, I have always believed in the super-natural – things “attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature” or beyond our own limited “understanding” as human beings – limits, by the way, we have placed on ourselves.

When I was growing up and even as a young adult, I used to think it was something only very special or very gifted people could access and I was in awe of them. Now I think of it as “expanded consciousness” and I know that every single one of us has the capacity and ability to access it. Not just in special places or special states of being, but anywhere and everywhere, when we choose to. But we doubt ourselves and our experiences. We invalidate our experiences, saying “it wasn’t real, it was my imagination, I’m making it up.” It is part of the stranger within that goes unacknowledged, un-embraced. For many of us, this was what we heard growing up. Our connection to expanded consciousness, to source, was “beaten” out of us and replaced with the kinds of messages we now hear in our own minds when we encounter our own expansiveness.

We learned how to fit in with our families, friends and institutions (school, church) – our Worldview influences. Yet, for some of us, there was a niggling sense that something was missing, not explained or not quite aligned. Questions you couldn’t ask, observations you couldn’t make, and the door to expanded consciousness slowly – or abruptly – slammed shut.

This niggling sense does not go away though. Maybe it is just easier at first to imagine that only really gifted people have access to expanded consciousness. That way we can live vicariously through someone else’s experience rather than venture into a place we have been told doesn’t exist, that we have learned to shut off for ourselves.

My first encounter with spirit guides was when someone else told me about one of mine. When I was told I could develop my own “intuitive” capacity, I couldn’t. I got nothing. No information. No connection. No visions. And I certainly didn’t trust any information that might have come, certain I was making it up – with that certainty shutting down access to information.

Slowly, slowly, over years, I began to learn to trust my own experience, my own “visions”. There were periods of awakening, periods of “practice” of being in touch with my own expanded consciousness – which meant periods of regular connection to non-physical entities like spirit guides (mine and others) and there were/are greater periods of non-practice equivalent to shutting down connection, access to information and flow.

Yet, it is so simple. It is a matter, for me, of shifting awareness, asking the question, opening to my heart and my knowing, inviting the experience and the connection. So very simple.

So I ask myself this question, “What am I waiting for?” I don’t know the answer at the moment but these days, I am living the question, “What AM I waiting for?” Living the question will reveal the myriad of – or the one – response, which is true for me. Are you also waiting? What are you waiting for?

Drums 019

My youngest son and I making drums in 2009 – part of the compelling journey.

Dementia and Death Illuminates Choice to Tell Stories Through Soul Journey Lens

My mother with the beauty of youth.

My mother with the beauty of youth.

My mother with her mother in 1990 (the year my first son was born)

My mother with her mother in 1990 (the year my first son was born)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We make meaning of our lives through the stories we tell. We can tell those stories through the lens of human tragedy or the lens of soul journey. I learned what this means through my mother’s journey with dementia and in long term care. I share a bit about that in this 2014 interview with Terry Choyce: