Optimizing The Holidays: A different kind of ‘To do’ List

buddy-the-elf

I am awed by people who tell me how much they look forward to the Holidays while smiling widely like Buddy the Elf.  If you fall under this category, feel free to skip this blog post.  For the rest of us, we can tend to become stressed, lose our cool, overeat, worry about money and get caught up in the whirlwind of parties and festivities. Exhale. Join the masses and keep reading.

With Christmas a few days away, all we have to do to get into frenzy is recall the “To Do” list.  You may find yourself reluctant to battle the malls and follow people with shopping bags vying for their parking spot. You’re not alone.  The more we sense the mad rush out there, the more we may be tempted to stay in, serenely cocooned in the comfort of home.

It almost feels like Christmas has turned into another thing to do.  I could offer advice about online shopping, setting limits and practicing stress-reduction techniques but I won’t be a hypocrite.  While they may sound like good ideas, putting them into practice is not nearly as easy. Sometimes the closest you’ll get to a stress-reduction technique may be going to bed early or enjoying a glass of wine. Instead of welcoming the Holidays, many of us find ourselves somewhat nostalgic, missing what was, managing schedules, budgets and lost sleep. Try to maintain realistic expectations.  I’m not suggesting rallying and shouting Bah! Humbug! but do cut yourself some slack if you’re feeling less than jolly. Letting go of the guilt will help you ride this thing out.

It’s important to acknowledge the endless demands and responsibilities our lives can hold.  Energy levels and priorities continually change, so too will our definition of what the Holidays mean. It is quite easy to feel a lack of clarity in this regard, especially if coupled with the dreaded December Blues. Here’s the tricky part, only you can take ownership of your experience.  It may be time to ask yourself, “What’s my vision for the year’s end?  What would make this time feel more supportive and loving?” As I wrapped my thoughts around this, sitting and sipping tea, it occurred to me that the scent of cinnamon drifting from my cup felt soothing as did taking time to map out what’s important. Being more compassionate and kind are definite biggies for me in nurturing a Christmassy feeling, and given the countless paying-it-forward acts in the city, I am clearly not the only one who thinks so.  Feeling appreciative and generous are also up there.  The more I thought about this, the more my heart began to echo a different kind of “To do” list.

Here’s the Holidays Prescription from the Heart:

  1. Define what the Holidays mean to you.  Think of all the things you love about this time of year and begin to notice them more. When you think of past Holidays, what do you remember the most?  Welcome more of that.   Finds ways to create that feeling again.  It might be taking in the insulated beauty of fresh snow, taking comfort in the glow of candles, hanging a fresh cedar wreath, looking at old family albums or simply playing music that makes you want to sing.  Take a moment to appreciate things this Season gifts us with. Try your best to find some enjoyment along the way because in the end, it is our thoughts and perceptions that create our experiences. When we practice awareness and gratitude, every day begins to unfold its own magic.
  2. Think of what you want to share with loved ones. Often, what people appreciate about you has no monetary value.  What are you good at?  Your kindness, your help, your creativity may be the very thing someone is in need of.  Take notice of others and see if they could use some company, a sincere compliment or maybe a heartfelt hug.  Showing generosity can feel quite different from gifting and is a beautiful way to make a difference for both the giver and the receiver. Do not underestimate the gift of your time. Reconnecting with a friend, sending a thoughtful note, shoveling someone’s walkway or volunteering is well worth the effort because it feeds our soul too. For me, baking is relaxing as well as a great way to spend time with my girls, so this year I’ve decided to share some of the goodies.
  3. Be kind to yourself.  This last one is really important and all about honouring you. Remember that being happy and stress-free requires holding yourself accountable for your well-being. Choose to treat yourself with compassion every single day. The rule being, when we take care of our own needs, we have more to offer others.  Make this a non-negotiable. I cannot tell you how to do this. You are unique. It’s important to have a plan that is tailored to you. Decide what you can do and don’t wait until you are overwhelmed to start practicing self-care.  You may want to let go of expectations -this may not be the best time to pressure yourself to lose five pounds or want your partner to pick up mind reading. Fitting in some exercise may be as simple as going for a walk or not staying seated for more than an hour at a time. Listen to your body. A nap may not always be on the horizon but a 3 minute body scan might be just the thing. Let go of anything that doesn’t feel like loving kindness toward you. It’s time to free that big beautiful heart of unnecessary weigh-downs. This includes quieting the negative self-chatter and being less critical. And last but not least, keep in mind that the Holidays are best celebrated when infused with love and joy. Start to celebrate all the wonderful things you have in place right now, and always, always give thanks.

From my heart to yours,

Wishing you much love for the Holiday Season!

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Seedlings of Hope Blog Awards

Thank you! 

inner peace awardLiebster award

The lovely beautifulcourageousyou has nominated me for two blogger awards;

The Liebster Award   &   The Inner Peace Award

We all love appreciation and I am no different.  It feels wonderful to receive such an acknowledgement from fellow bloggers. I have been busy launching my new psychotherapy practice and lost sight of how much I truly enjoy writing and hearing from you all… I am revived with gratitude:)

The  Questions I was asked by Lauralee are the following:

  • Would you rather run a marathon or bake cookies? Run, but not in a marathon.  I’ve always found joy and solace in running just for the fun of it. 
  • If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why? hmmm…. right now, if reality were suspended, I’d love to be sitting across the table from Osho.  
  • What are your favourite colour socks? Striped, and  preferably sparkly:)
  • Do you prefer your toast buttered when it’s hot or cold? Definitely hot.  Does butter even melt on cold toast?
  • Would you prefer sweet or savoury? Savoury is good but NOT my weakness.  My sweet tooth is craving chocolate just at mere mention of desserts!!  
  • What’s the best compliment you’ve been given? Just today my daughter said “You make my heart feel full.”  That was undoubtedly the best feeling ever! 
  • If you could be anything what would it be? I’m happy just being me… but I’d love to be a mermaid for a day:)
  • Best advice for getting through the tough stuff in life? Don’t take things personally.
  • What makes your heart sing? A good love story.
  • If you ever had a nickname, what was it?  I was called Omi for short. Most little ones still cannot manage my name and it always comes out Omi♥
  • If you had one final phone call to someone, who would it be? UGH! So difficult!  It’d be to my messaging center where I would pour my heart out and let my loved ones know how much they mean to me.

My nominees are

http://awindowofwisdom.wordpress.com

http://spiritualanalog.wordpress.com

http://wunderkindred.wordpress.com

http://firebrightyoga.wordpress.com

http://transienttransmissions.wordpress.com

http://poeticparfait.com

http://unbreakablehealth.wordpress.com

http://abeanslife.com

Here are the Rules:

1. Link back to the person who nominated you. 2. Nominate (up to) eleven bloggers for these awards. 3. Notify the bloggers. 4. Ask eleven questions the bloggers must answer upon receiving the nomination. 5. Answer the eleven questions you were asked when you were nominated and post your awards.

Here are the questions I pose you…. please answer before posting your awards.  

  1. Would you rather sleep under the starlight or in a luxurious room? 
  2. If you could interview anyone alive, who would it be and why?
  3. What era in history would you have loved to have lived? 
  4. What is the greatest gift anyone has ever given you?
  5. What is a dream or hope that fuels your days? 
  6. What have you learned from one of your regrets? 
  7. If you could only have one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  8. What do you remember most about your first childhood best friend?
  9. Where do you see yourself five years from now? 
  10. If you were to describe yourself with three adjectives, what would they be?
  11. If you could tele-transport anywhere in the world right now, where would that be and why? 

the struggle to surrender

showing-some-love5

You may have noticed that I’ve been quite silent here lately. (Thank you to those of you who through your support have encouraged me to get back to my writing voice) I have recently lost my grandfather…. and… my footing.  The timing of events baffles me, it seems there is some truth to the saying “when it rains it pours.”  The first in a series of set-backs was dealing with the fact that despite his will to live, despite all our efforts, my grandfather’s journey came to an end in early February. He had been ill for a while and succumbed to post-surgery complications when they removed the tumor that ravaged his stomach.

As I watched his struggle, I became increasingly unable to gain clarity in what proved to be an avalanche of emotions for me. I found myself becoming more resistant. Outwardly, my edges grew harsher and words became weighed and censored while negative thoughts began to take over.  Inwardly, this experience reduced me to feeling like a vulnerable child brimming with uncertainty.  Those of you who are close to me have seen me bob up and down between hope and grief, trying to come to terms with the emptiness of his unoccupied place in my days. I tried to make sense of it all, but often the impact of someone’s life on us isn’t fully understood until we leave our reasoning behind and stay with the ache in our heart.  Lately, my heart has been feeling assaulted.  I have been somewhat reluctant to share this on my blog because Seedlings of Hope was meant to add positivity to my reader’s days, to bring lightness to others and these past few weeks I’ve been feeling anything but. Somewhere in this mental fog, I also remembered that I’d made a personal commitment to honesty and integrity, so here I am, offering what is real and raw and true for me in the moment.

Let me begin by saying that I am incredibly grateful for Joe’s life because I had the opportunity to know him well and learn so much from him. He role modeled a beautiful and simple way of living with presence and connection to others.  Not until faced with his eulogy did I realize just how much he shaped who I am today. That was a challenge, how do you even begin to summarize someone’s life?  Yet in the need to succinctly recap his, I became acutely aware of what mattered to me in my own life. The relationships and things I let fall back, the priorities I hadn’t kept and all the parts of me that remained unmet because I would “Get to that later”. This loss brought grief and heaviness but also the kind of clarity we get when we remember how truly precious and transient life is.

As I tried to work through this existential crisis of sorts, I became more restless and drained.  Perhaps if I understood what was happening I could get a better hold of it… if removed the grain of sand in my happy shoes… sought out the root of the problem and eradicated it… alas,  none of this try-hard stuff worked. Probably ‘cause I was trying so hard. In the end, a loss is a loss. My grandfather’s death triggered a wave of subsequent emotions and events that go beyond logic and reason.  Most losses can have deep repercussions and lead us to question the very notion of life, where it begins and ends, the hows and whys and all the in-betweens.  I learned that in these situations, our head is useless.  Justifications don’t really matter. The pain doesn’t subside with good reason, the questions don’t get appeased, and the process is not shortened by our attempts to speed it along.

Very few deaths go unnoticed and I think I speak for all of us when I say that the mere idea of losing  loved ones and facing painful losses makes us want to give up and cry “Uncle”.  In the past, I have seen family members bury their children, friends lose their young siblings, widows get hollowed out by lost love and I found myself cowardly wishing “Please God, make me go first.” The question I keep asking myself is if death is such a huge part of life, then why are we not better equipped to deal with it?  I don’t like feeling this way but I don’t know how else to be.  How come no one in school ever taught us to speak about death openly?  Why aren’t we given more tools as kids to gain support around our feelings of uncertainty, help us to learn how to be more at peace with all of this stuff? We were exposed to images of a Grim Reaper, of darkness, sadness, fear, hurt, and of a Day of Judgement looming over our heads.  I think I’m not ok with this version of death. In an attempt to think it through and redefine this whole concept, here’s what I know to be true about death right now:

  • Yes, death is an inevitable ending of sorts.  The end of a way of being, not just for the ones that pass away but for the people they leave behind as well. We change and grow and evolve with each nurtured relationship and each lost relationship.
  • Death means change, literally and symbolically (I think I’m not particularly good with change I haven’t initiated).
  • Death means allowing yourself to acknowledge that no matter how much education you arm yourself with, no matter the depth of our life experiences, there is a whole other part of us that is full of the unknown.  Nothing can crack this nut.  No amount of research, introspection, meditation, prayer or avoidance. Nothing can help except perhaps, a little thing called ACCEPTANCE.  By definition, the act of consenting to receive or undertake something offered, in this case the powerful unknown mystery of life.

crying angel

So this is where I got stuck and my resistance flared up. I find it crazy difficult to simply surrender into acceptance. And I’m not just talking about this particular moment of dealing with the death of a loved one.  I know I have some work to do here.  You see, my reproach was that I could have been braver, more grateful, more trusting.  I suppose I could have been more apt at explaining things to my young daughters and better at knowing how to console my grieving grandmother.  I wanted to be the kind of person that reacts to life’s challenges with more flexibility and confidence, to respond in the way my best self might, but this time, it wasn’t so.  And I guess the lesson is  that it’s alright.  Heartache can cause us to lose our footing, and that’s ok.  We all have moments when vulnerability and frailty have us feeling a little rattled.  Acceptance of wherever we are with our feelings is pretty much the only thing that will help us trust the process.

Whether it is the loss of a loved one, the death of a career, relationship, pet, friendship, the drastic change in our health, finances, living arrangement… really any ending can impact us profoundly and often take us on some kind of spiritual journey.  I suspect all deaths and changes, big and small have the potential to offer us a little wiggle room for growth.  Perhaps that is the very nature of death, to remind us that our place in this world in not permanent.  We can use this knowledge to propel us to follow our dreams, open our hearts and give it our all.  Despite what we believe, we are not really ever in control of this ride, things can change at any given moment.  Each experience in itself is a gift of some kind as I say to my girls, when someone gives you a gift, even if it’s not your favourite thing, even if you don’t really want it or know what to do with it, just say “thank you” and figure it out later.

 

 

The song in your heart

your road

Have you ever thought about what your own unspoken message may be?  When other people meet you, what do they notice, perceive and guess about you? Granted, a lot of what others think of us is coloured by their own experiences and perception, but there is always a grain of truth in the feedback we get.  I’m not suggesting you start surveying your friends or obsessing about what others think, but I do believe we should choose our personal labels wisely.  We all carry stories, dreams, energy that reads like road signs everywhere we go.  Without our realizing it, we’re constantly processing this information and choosing accordingly.

We’ve heard the saying “Actions speak louder than words” and most agree  to this time-tested wisdom.  Then why do our words hold so much power?  If this were true, nice gestures would cancel out hurtful words.   The verbally abusive husband should then be able to erase hurts with a guilt-token.  Similarly, telling someone “I love you” while betraying them doesn’t hold much significance.  There needs to be consistency.  Taking pause to get acquainted with our truth is the first step in fulfilling who we are.  Expressing it outwardly sets our intent and invites everything and everyone to support our truth, but this alone is not enough.  When you define who you are, the assumption is that this is who you wish to be.  Therefore, your actions and words should reflect what is important to you, to your story, to your purpose. Once we proudly wear our skin, we may begin to feel charged, newly aware, wonderfully able to see clearly into our own hearts.  However, if this knowing isn’t followed by supporting actions, we can begin to lose confidence in our dreams see ourselves as frauds.

So the next question may be, are you in alignment with what is at your center? Most of us are triggered by hypocrites, think of people who claim to be very religious and then act maliciously toward their neighbours; it is not enough to boast about going to church every Sunday if your actions define you differently. We are more able to trust others when the things they tell us are in synch with their behaviour.  Likewise, we are better able to trust in ourselves and our journeys when we speak our truth and have the courage to live that way.  Our actions need to mirror what we believe in.  This is true integrity; approaching each of our lives from a “whole-istic” place.

My hope is that we each take a moment to honour who we are, begin our days with the courage to consciously choose how we’ll take part of this journey.…listen intently to the song in our heart and begin to dance.

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When The Boogieman Strikes!

face fear

Have you ever tried telling a child to stop being afraid of the Boogieman?  You may attempt to assure him or her that they are safe.  After several times, late into the night, you may even reach a breaking point and be tempted to go with the “Just stop it” approach which inevitably backfires into more paranoid sobbing. You know their room is uninhabited by monsters, but your reasoning is futile.  Positive thinking certainly will not work for you either.  Telling a child to repeat “I am safe, there’s no one under my bed” has no power in the grips of visceral fear. Amazingly though, explaining that “Yes sweetie, I know being alone can make you scared.  Our imagination can get carried away sometimes.  It’s ok. Everyone gets a little afraid in the dark. ” may actually get you much further in the battle against the Boogieman. We often need to follow that speech up with thorough checking of all closets and spaces under the bed and maybe even lay next to our little ones until they feel safe. What seems like exaggerated behaviour to one, may be as real as rain to another. Similarly, to disarm our own fears, anxieties or worries we must first acknowledge them for what they are and validate our emotions without judgement.

We function best when we are cautioned by fear not frozen by it.

The problem is not in experiencing fear but in letting it limit our choice-making abilities.  Just like our little ones, while we imagine the worst, we are bracing for all sorts of bad things and are unable to approach the problem from angles that are untainted by negative thoughts.  When facing our personal fears we often can’t move, we can’t sleep, and we can’t do much other than complain or plead for help. We lie there petrified with our eyes shut-tight, hoping someone else can help us out of it.  It is no wonder that all of our energy gets sapped by the efforts we make to manage this stress.   Worry and anxiety stifle our actions, limit creativity and prevent us from doing differently. Our bodies don’t lie. It’s like you’re playing Simon Says.  Your thoughts are Simon and your feelings do whatever Simon says.  It’s hard to ignore nausea, depression, muscle tension, insomnia and so on.  Stress manifests whether we mask it or not.

As we fret away, we have less time and energy to direct toward actions that may actually help us avoid that very outcome.  Trying and approaching our challenges in resourceful ways is key to operating from our best, integral selves.  This doesn’t mean striving to be super-humans who are immune to fear.  It just means knowing that no matter what comes at us, we will be ok.  No matter how difficult a situation is, it will pass. And when it does, we can feel content with the wisdom and love we brought to such a difficult place.  While this approach doesn’t guarantee success or even lessen the many risks or hurts, it does help to give us confidence in the strength of our spirit. Facing our fears brings us closer to our unique power and individual beauty.

The question is not “How do I make sure this never happens to me?” but rather, “How would my best-self want to deal with something like that?  What would help me live with the least amount of regret and provide the best footing to proceed from such a difficult place?”♥

scared lion

fear is a tool

Roll with it

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Sometimes things don’t turn out as we imagined or hoped for.  This doesn’t mean that a situation is not good, just different from the version that played in our heads. Too often, not getting our way translates to disappointment or hurt instead of having it simply be an opportunity to experience something as is, without judgement. After all, if life unfolded exactly as we wished, it would make for an incredibly boring existence.

It is not difficult to see how the need to control our lives helps us guard against hardships.  What could very well be an act of self-preservation has become deeply rooted in every aspect of our society.  Its evidence can be found in creams that guarantee wrinkles from setting in, pills that help us avoid our feelings, regimens and air bags that keep danger at bay, and websites that promise to find our soulmates.  In reality, nothing is fool-proof.  This should in no way stop us from intending and planning the kind of life we want.  However, it is equally important to know how to release the kung-fu grip we have on those expectations and learn to roll with it.  Any woman who planned for the birth of her child knows this well.  We can plan and hope and prepare, but when it is time, we must simply accept what is happening and do our best with whatever comes at us.  Typically, the most impactful experiences in life are the ones that unfold despite our efforts because in those moments we are challenged to bring our best selves forth.  It is easy to be present and prepared and centered when we puppeteer a situation, but our ability to adjust, our ability to find grace in response to any given experience is when we see our spirit shine.

Last weekend I hoped to create a memorable day for my family as we set out to find our Christmas tree.  I made us a pancake brunch and we left shortly after 11am for Horton’s Magic Hill where a tractor ride, bonfire, and festivities awaited us. We scoured the fields singing “Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, oh where are you hiding…”  My girls chose a beautiful tree and not surprisingly, a very special one that had an abandoned nest perfectly placed near the top branches. We enjoyed a hot apple cider near the bonfire and took leave in early afternoon. We must have gone through a time warp, a worm hole, a mini Bermuda triangle that temporarily moved north… It was an extraordinarily long drive home. I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that the ride back took five times as long as it normally would have. This was not part of my grand plan for a fun day.  I had to be at a Christmas party at four and I was in charge of food and drinks.  As time got away from me and four o’clock approached, my lack of control over the situation ate away at all the peace I had felt earlier that morning.  I didn’t want to disappoint my friends by being late and was so worried about letting them down that I failed to see how I was already letting my loved ones down by dissipating all the joy felt earlier. Even when I finally did make it to the Christmas party, it took some effort to relax and actually be present.  I kept wondering at how the day could have gone better.

Things took an unexpected turn, a different ending, that’s all.  So instead of going home and decorating our tree while singing carols and finishing the day off with hot chocolate and holiday cheer, we hurled the tree in the house and raced out muddy and dishevelled. I had no control over the delay that derailed my day, but then again, I had not counted on having extremely grateful kids that made the best of their time and didn’t complain once -and I certainly hadn’t planned to find my new favourite ornament nestled within tree branches.  Each time I look at it I wonder if its architect had ever pictured this nest tucked among gold stars and twinkle lights.  I bet that talented mama bird hadn’t planned for her beautifully crafted nest to gift another mama with much heartfelt gratitude.

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The Gift of Anger

life's tests

Anger is the house of sadness.   It is impossible to separate the two emotions; when sadness is not healthily expressed it  festers into anger.  Within these emotions live the countless opportunities we did not take.  The hurts we did not forgive, the let-downs and betrayals, the times we did not hold ourselves accountable and all the cowardly choices we made that did not help us grow into our power.  Behind every outrage is a lot of hurt and this toxic state of being harbours resentment and fear, not to mention a miserable existence.

We all know that holding on to anger is unhealthy; it can outwardly manifest as numerous unwanted symptoms like illness, mental fog, depression, and it always has us at the edge of a vulnerable precipice. But here is the good news, anger is an incredibly healthy part of our emotional wellbeing.  When we learn to use anger as a tool for growth, we can begin to live responsibly and with less reactivity.

Life will continually mirror the things we need to heal, so we might as well avoid the repeated discomforts and face our wounded parts as they come up. Think of a time when you got angry and ask yourself if the reaction was appropriate for the given situation.  If you jumped the gun or went straight to seeing red, you were most likely dealing with a residue of unresolved emotions.   Each time this happens, we are not able to see things clearly because we are revisiting that unfinished business. We lose our objectivity and ability to problem solve.  People and situations repeatedly trigger us in the present providing an opportunity to heal something in the past.

I recently got in the car and exploded with frustration and anger when I found it on empty. My husband tends to drive it until it’s past the red and it drives me absolutely nuts.  My mind was racing.  I mean, can you imagine?  I could have been stranded!  And what if I didn’t have my phone with me? Who knows what else could have happened?  My inner dialogue kept ranting away and I was definitely not seeing things clearly.  You see, many years ago, he asked me to take his car knowing that it had been on empty for a long time.  The car puttered and died leaving me stranded on a busy street.  I was only 19, alone and I didn’t own a cell phone.  The experience was extremely embarrassing and horrible.  I’m sure that if it had happened to him, he would have known what to do and it would have become his funny story to tell.  I, on the other hand, did not find it funny at all.  It left me feeling like I couldn’t trust him.  I took the empty gas tank as a sign that he really didn’t care about me.  Though this makes me highly anxious I’m pretty sure that for him it’s all long forgotten. Now, twenty years later, I know better and I see that he does care about my safety and wellbeing.  Plus,  I always carry my phone, I have CAA and I would know what to do.  It was time to let this go.

We all have our difference, I like to fill the car up and feel prepared, he likes to see how low the needle can go.   Maybe some of us can live with a little more risk, while for others feeling safe is a priority. In truth, it really doesn’t matter.  If we are arguing over whose methods and habits are better, no one wins.  Regardless of who’s right or wrong, who’s entitled to be upset or who should be making greater efforts, anger always presents itself when we need to heal an unmet part of ourselves.

The next time you see red, take a moment to ask yourself some important questions “Am I overreacting?  What do I need in order to feel supported, loved, understood?  How is this different now?  Can I change my perception so that I am no longer walking on a minefield every it happens? ”   Then do what you need to in order to validate your anger and replace it with forgiveness.  Later, when it blows over and your nostrils are no longer flaring, you may feel surprisingly grateful that it happened because the alternative to feeling scorned for two decades is being able to own the story and maybe even laugh.