When the Shift Happens, You Will Make the Decision

When I was in high school one of my very good friends had an on-again-off-again boyfriend. You know the kind of relationship – together for awhile, break up for awhile and back together before too long. And then there came a time, when she broke it off and it was clear it was for good; there was no turning back. Something happened. Something shifted. A clear decision was made. I later found out that a boundary had been crossed from which there was no turning back. Even though I didn’t know that in the moment, I did know she was never going back to him.

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who has been in an extremely challenging work environment where she is not respected despite the incredible value she brings to that company. She has struggled for a few years trying various things to change the nature of the relationships she must work with. And then an insight showed up resulting in connecting the dots between this situation and others in her soul journey, a shift happened and a decision has been made with clarity that will change the nature of the relationships – likely her departure from the company.

In my own soul journey, it took several subsequent insights and awarenesses added together to create a more seismic shift in order for me to make a decision – finally – to end my second marriage. I tracked a three year journey to get to that point and another nine months before the final decisions were made. Sometimes it is hard to track the more subtle shifts that happen over time that lead to the ability to make different choices but that does not mean they are not present.

When we attempt to run away, we often run back. If not to the same situation or relationship, to another one that resembles it – the same pattern. For a long time I was frustrated with my journey and life choices. I felt stuck. In Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I describe this journey. Several times I felt like I was at the edge of the abyss, on my tiptoes, leaning over, ready to leap … but then … stepped back. It felt so anti-climatic, almost cowardly. It was hard to hold myself in compassion and grace in those moments.

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Over and over again, I asked the question, why have I attracted these circumstances of my life to me. Many times new answers were revealed. “Because, at some level, I feel I deserve to be treated this way.” Boom. Unable to hold some previous decisions in life I had made with compassion, I felt I deserved to be punished. “Because, if I am really as powerful as many people tell me I am, and I keep shying away from that power or cloaking it, it has taken powerful circumstances in my life to force (invite) me to step into my power.” Boom. “Because I have been repeating patterns of my mother’s life – patterns I swore not to be circumscribed by and yet here I am.” And a subsequent revelation that I was repeating patterns of my birth mother’s life long before I ever knew she existed.

What I know, what I experience, what I witness in others so often, is that the decision is made when the shift happens. And we know it when it happens because it feels different. While we may be able to accelerate the journey, it is clear that the decision does not happen until the shift occurs – subtly or dramatically.

So, if you, like I have done, are being hard on yourself because you continue to stay in circumstances you know are not good for you, yearning for a different situation, stay with the journey, stay with the questions, hold the outcomes you are seeking steadily in your awareness.

One day you will feel the shift that marks the point of no return. You will wake up on that day and declare, like I did in one moment, “I am no longer afraid!” The next steps will be appear and you will walk that path with a clarity you did not previously possess. Until that moment – and after it – hold yourself and your journey with compassion and grace – because you deserve it, because it is needed, because you are worthy.

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Doing the Work While Looking Away

There is such pressure to do everything full on and perfectly – including or especially the spiritual journey – that it induces guilt and even shame in people whose experience is more spotty. Like, most of us. It is the rare person who has an epiphany, an enlightened moment, the moment when everything makes sense now and forever, our life, habits and patterns forever changed. Some strive for it so ardently you can hear the strains of it as they talk about their spirituality, their practices, their connection to spirit. It has a ring of falsity to it and yet it arises from the pressure of perfection.

bandaged heartFor most of us the spiritual journey is more like fits and starts. The moment of clarity arrives through some deep spiritual experience – in a meditation, on a retreat, in the presence of great spiritual teachers – or in a mundane moment of living – doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, having a shower (since there is no one way that these moments arrive and no right way) – or in the moment of great life transformations like marriage, divorce, having a child, being with a loved one as they die. Gradually, over time, the epiphany or moment of enlightenment becomes a bit obscured and then more so by attending to life, relationships, work, demands on our time and attention.

And then, something brings our attention back to the moments of epiphany – days, weeks, months, maybe even years later. We are reminded that this is our path. Instead of turning to embrace it, we often give ourselves a hard time – the itty-bitty-shitty committee that sits on our shoulder – for having strayed away from “the path”, for letting ourselves be overwhelmed by life. We give ourselves grief because we don’t light candles every day, or meditate or have some daily ritual that would ensure our spiritual purity. We forget to allow ourselves some grace and compassion in the journey of life.

In a conversation with a friend and colleague who I coach, she said she feels like she is looking away from the work she needs to do. It is a thought that carries weight and heaviness – not just for her but for everyone of us who has had this experience. It occurred to me as I listened that we may also be doing the work while looking away. This does not need to be mutually exclusive. There may be many reasons why we look away.

We might look away because we are distracted. Life has a way of bringing us many distractions as we live into work, relationships, health, dreams. We might look away because it is too intense right now and we need a buffer. We might look away because our body, mind, heart and spirit needs time to absorb what we are learning and experiencing. Absorbing is also part of the work. Allowing is part of the work. Self compassion is part of the work. Finding our way – even or especially in fits and starts is part of the work. Remembering is part of the work.

It is not a straight line between the first steps or awareness and the next or last steps. It is a winding journey that brings us to many experiences. This is part of the reason I wrote my memoir, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. It details the fits and starts of my own life journey – the moments of epiphany, the moments of losing my way, the experiences of being drawn back to the journey of openheartedness – because it illuminates the journey of an ordinary person fortunate to have extraordinary experiences that keep reminding me I am human and I am a soul at the same time. It keeps reminding me to focus on the soul journey and not the human tragedy version of the same story.

It is easy to lose our way. It is also easy to find our way back – if we allow that this is all a natural part of the journey of life. And we can still be doing the work – or the work is finding its own way in us – even when we are looking away.

For Who’s Benefit Are You Telling Your Story?

When I first came back from Gold Lake, Colorado, after spending a day and a half on the land, in a mystical experience that took place outside of my normal understanding of time, I had to integrate this spiritual experience with the regular, ongoing experiences of my physical existence, of my life journey.

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My sanctuary site at Gold Lake, 2009

One of the ways of doing this was through sharing the story of my experience with others. There were a few people who knew I was embarking on that sojourn. Some, not all, also knew that prior to going I already had experiences with non-physical guardians and guides. I had been learning to connect with my guides in healing work. And I could, when asked, help other people connect with their own guides, learn to access them and to work with them in their own journeys. I was not, am not, the messenger as much as the connector.

Story at workWhen I arrived home, I began to share the story of what happened at Gold Lake with people, tuning into what they wanted to hear. For some, to hear I went to Gold Lake and came home again was enough. For others, to hear the high level overview was enough. And for some, they wanted full details of as many moments as I could offer. And it was surprising at times who wanted what. It was discernible by the questions they asked and the attentiveness of their listening.

Slide1It was important for me to discern why I might be telling the story to any given individual. Was I telling the story because of my own need to share it, to understand it, to integrate it? Or was I telling the story because for some reason, the other person needed to hear it? If it was just about me, I would have babbled on to anyone in hearing distance all the time. But I had enough people willing to hear and witness my story, I did not need to visit it on people unwilling or unable to hear. And it is a sacred story to be shared in the right moments. Stories hold “medicine” and healing for others when they are ready to hear them so it is a gift to also share experiences, which is what I am relearning now as I have hesitated to share more of the mystical/spiritual stories in my blog. One friend, who wanted to hear the whole story, at the end shook his head and said, “Well, whatever happened, it is clear it was real to you.” It was real to me, although I cannot tell you how many times I have asked myself the question, “Is this real or am I making it up?”

This realization was part of why I wrote my memoir: Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness – not just to share the spiritual journey but to share my own ambivalence with my spiritual journey and the on again off again nature of my relationship with it. And it is also the story of grief, resilience, perseverance and joy – of embracing all the strangeness of who I thought I was (or think I am) and the vulnerability that comes from openheartedness. The stories of being fired from a job, marrying and divorcing, not once but twice, finding out later in life I was adopted, becoming the health care advocate for both my parents and my mother’s journey with dementia, in long term care and her eventual death in 2012.

Life is full of the bitter-sweetness of discovery – sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and more often both at the same time. We are not in bliss the whole time, neither are we in grief or sorrow the whole time, if we choose. When we meet life with the expansiveness of the soul journey lens, our stories become healing for us and others who are inspired by how we meet the path that rises up to greet us.

Unconditional Love – A Daily Practice

Unconditional Love-Oscar Wilde Quote

To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love. ~ Oscar Wilde

“To give and not expect return.” How many of us know how to love like that? How many of us have been loved like that? We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world. We may think we love unconditionally but anytime we are disappointed by the words or actions of one we love, we may not be loving as unconditionally as we like to think.

I have been reflecting on this because it is almost Mother’s Day and there are so many posts and images that speak of a mother’s unconditional love – as though all mother’s love unconditionally, all the time. If we are lucky, we experience moments of unconditional love from our parents, as parents, as partners in a relationship, with friends we hold dear. Rarely are we loved completely unconditionally all the time; rarely do we love unconditionally all the time.

Unconditional love-nothing expected in returnWe are born with unconditional love and complete trust. As babies, we learn very quickly what behaviours and actions get rewarded and what don’t. It is a matter of survival to adapt to the expectations and conditions of people around us.

We know our soul qualities when we are very young, before we learn concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. We know our soul qualities before we build constructs around ourselves that we fool ourselves into believing are truth and essential to survival. We shape life to fit in and shape ourselves in trying to make other people happy.Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness (p. 13)

Loving unconditionally is a practice that starts with loving self unconditionally. The more you can be in a place of loving yourself unconditionally, the more you open up the portals to receive love unconditionally. Can you love another person fully, without judgment about who they are, what they say or how they act? Then you offer unconditional love.

I have been learning about unconditional love through recognizing the times I have been “loved” with conditions – conditions that often asked me to be someone I am not, to be there for another person at the expense of myself. These relationships showed me who I was not and where I was not loving or accepting myself.

IMG_1493I have been learning about unconditional love through my cats who also come into the world loving and trusting unconditionally. They remind me of the simplicity of life.

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I have been learning about unconditional love through my children, the hopes and dreams I have for them to be successful in life. When we examine what that means, often we have an idea of what success means and looks like and it carries expectations or conditions we are not always aware that we are carrying. Letting go of the expectations and personal hopes for our children’s lives is an act of love. We also hold hopes and expectations for our parents and our siblings and how we want them to be in life and in relationship with us. Letting our expectations and our judgments go is an act of love that opens the way for unconditional love. And I say this in full awareness that there are some relationships that are so toxic there is no opportunity to heal them inside the relationship – just the opportunity to heal within yourself by loving and trusting yourself unconditionally.

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And I have been learning about unconditional love through my relationship with my partner and our love for each other. It is as close to unconditional as any partnership can be, infused with mutual love, honour, integrity and respect. And it is a daily practice.

Unconditional love. We get there through awareness, intentionality and practice. Daily practice.

Welcome to Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness

A memoir is a strange beast. It is an attempt to distill an individual’s life’s experiences and lessons in story form with the hope that in the storytelling someone else sees a thread that resonates with their own life journey, that some inspiration arises or, at the very least, it is viewed as something worth reading.

CA red dress Day 1My good friend Christina Baldwin is known to say, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.”  My book, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, is full of stories.  I am tempted to say by way of humour, “And some of them might even be true.”

When I found out I was adopted at the age of forty-six I learned that many stories I had been telling myself about myself and my life, that helped me making sense of my life and its journey, turned out not to be true.  They were small stories; like why I was shorter than all my immediate family members, why my hair turned grey at a young age, where I was born. It gave me pause. In discovering I was adopted, everything had changed.  And, yet, nothing had changed. It made me wonder what other stories I was telling myself about myself and my life that also might not be “true”.

Abraham-Hicks says the biggest disservice we do to ourselves is in telling “the truth” over and over again, keeping alive the stories we wish would go away, the ones we don’t like living into but which we continue to tell simply because “it is the reality of our situation”.  If we want to change our situation, we must tell a different story.  When we tell it often enough, it can shift the shape of our life, eventually becoming true since our minds do not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined.  This is why Napoleon Hill in his seminal work, Think and Grow Rich, said, “Thoughts are things.”  But it is a tough thing to grasp when many of us are attached to the suffering of our stories rather than the joy of them, to the human tragedy experience rather than the soul journey perspective.

I have been imagining myself as a writer and an author since high school when I enrolled in a journalism correspondence course (which I never fully completed), imagining I would enter a career of journalism (didn’t happen) and when I chose to write a novelette in my final year of high school for my English class instead of doing all the other assignments (the novelette did get completed and I still have it).

The first time I created a vision board for myself back in 1998, the first image that came to my mind unbidden was that of a podium, partly because I imagined myself as a motivational speaker and partly because there was something in me that just knew I had stories to share that maybe other people would resonate with.

The early gestation of my book was back then too and some of what is contained in the book was originally written a decade or more ago.  It is with a little bit of disbelief that I hold my first book in my hand, with copies already sold, readers already saying the most beautiful, heartwarming things about it, ready to send it further out on its own path into the world.

Stories and life journey do not happen in isolation. I am aware that these are my reflections, stories of specific moments in my life, moments that have intersected with others on the journey.  The way others have experienced these same intersections may be somewhat or vastly different than the way I have experienced them. Their experiences are their stories to tell but I would not be the person I am today without having crossed paths with these fellow journeyers, without having had the experiences that I did in relation to them, good, bad or otherwise.  For each and all of them I am grateful.

I share my stories as a way to dive into the deeper patterns that shape life, relationships, healing, and journeys. Even as I re-read and edited them, they moved me—sometimes to laughter, sometimes to tears. Even though I have spent a lot of time unearthing and living with these stories, some of them still have the capacity to delight and surprise me. My hope is that they do the same for you, that along the way you find your own intersection points with your story – or, at the very least, you enjoy stories of someone else’s experience – believable or not.

I imagine this blog will capture many of the soul journey stories, hosting self stories that used to all reside under the Shape Shift blog and that there I will continue to write about what I’m learning through the Art of Hosting work and world that is so much a part of my life and experience. Sometimes a post will show up in both places when it seems relevant.

I would also invite you to check out the Embracing the Stranger in Me Facebook page where I am already seeing a community of support and inspiration arise, fuelled by all who interact with it; as well as the Twitter page for the book.  And I would also love to see your comments here.

Thank you for intersecting with my journey now.  May you immerse yourself in the book or the blog or both and may your path rise up to meet you as you journey well.