Photo by Philippe D. on Unsplash
Sometimes when we’ve worked our buns off for years to improve our health— changing our diets, moving more, meditating, tapping or otherwise calming our nervous systems, it can be so easy to be lulled into an over-confidence that the good health you’ve achieved will somehow never be rocked seriously like it was in the past. Then a challenge comes along that sets you back, slowing you down and bringing back memories and feelings you hoped were well in the past. Ugh! Maybe not to the same degree as before, but still popping up disconcertingly.
This happened to me on and off in the last year, especially from mid-winter to the early spring. Shoulder tendonitis in my non-dominant arm that was not a result of injury. Occasional back spasms, and some pain and swelling in joints only on the left side (really?), again with nothing specific to precipitate it, except perhaps for slightly more time spent sitting during the colder months. Thankfully, I had plenty of skills to help me not go down the rabbit hole of anxiety and/or depression, but it was still unsettling. Small doubts crept their way in. Was I doing something wrong? Divine Love — you still have my back, right?
I do know that every problem, whatever the cause, has the capacity to teach me something meaningful, to help me grow in some way, though truthfully it never feels like a “gift” at the time! Answers don’t always come right away. Sometimes they are revealed slowly, a bit at a time, so we can process them fully and deeply. I always read inspirational or healing books for about 20-30 minutes every morning as part of my self-care routine. Somehow it clears my busy brain and softens my heart, so I can prioritize what I really value in an intentional way — like a letter from God on how to have a joyous and productive day!
I think because I specifically ask for help and guidance, I’m often fed little pieces of the answers I am looking for. Not all at once, but eerily sometimes giving me just what I need to hear on that particular day. It’s downright spooky! When I borrowed a book from the library, called “Everything Is Here To Help You” by Matt Kahn, it became almost a daily occurrence. His is not a writing style I usually enjoy — not many stories and few metaphors to bring the ideas to life. I slogged through the beginning, considering returning the book for a better, more appealing one. Then one day, the words I read, in the form of questions to ask myself, gave me goosebumps. They were exactly what I needed to hear. An answer to my “ask”... at least in part.
For the next 2-3 weeks I began to look forward to the few pages I’d read every morning. Sitting by the hour with it was counter-productive, as I could really only digest it a little bit at a time. What message did it have for me today, and how could it help me “roll with” the effects of my latest troubling physical symptoms? It helped me tune into the thoughts, feelings, and sensations I was having, with greater love and compassion — my own, and that freely available in the universe. Receiving these messages in such a timely way helped me regain my perspective very quickly.
After reading that book, I got one more episode of back spasms. I could not believe how calm I was! I reached out to helping professionals — a bit hit and miss, but no matter. Eventually the right person with a plan that I resonated with completely, showed up. No instant answers or results, but I’m so O.K. with how it’s all panning out. I trust her, and I trust the Divine who walks right alongside me. I lost very few days of walking, and boy, do I love the strength and solidity I feel as I march with energy up and down the hills of my neighborhood! I stop to notice something beautiful or entertaining in nature, or have a chat with a neighbor. Life is so very good.
I just turned 69, and the senior years are known to have their challenges. This latest one’s gift is that it helped me grow in the trust that I can, and will, be able to handle the setbacks that come to us all, with more patience and love than I used to have. Now what does all of this have to do with climbing a spiral staircase — a concept from Matt Kahn’s book? I used to find myself “revisiting” difficulties similar to the past (especially pain issues), with the grim sinking attitude of “Crap! Here we go again!” Practitioners would say soothingly that it’s like the layers of an onion. We are back in that state/situation, so we can heal another piece of it. OK, I understood the metaphor, but it wasn’t enough to erase the dread.
The thing is, once I realized we are not bringing our old selves to the current challenge, but our updated, more healed and integrated selves — the feeling becomes very different. We can get back to a place of calm, connection and support more quickly than we used to, simply because of all the work we did to grow new skills and foster better habits! Possibilities that could help us come out the other side, pop into our heads more quickly and easily. Ones we might never have thought of — 10, 5, or even 2 years ago! How incredibly cool is that? We can ride the wave of that choppy sea more gracefully, with less wear and tear on our nervous systems, learning from all of life’s experiences.
So rather than looking at such challenges with an automatic “Well, this sucks!”, I can recognize that I’ve done a lot of “climbing” before encountering this latest bump in the road (that “turn” in the spiral). I pause and accept what is here right now — without quite so much self judgment (what did I do wrong?), or wasting energy fighting or complaining. Kindness and compassion heal the worry and angst, lifting me up like a gentle wave, carrying me to relative safety — that birthplace of our most creative and inspired ideas! I make the turn and continue to climb up the spiral staircase of life to the next “pause”, the next challenge. I appreciate the optimism and “can do” spirit of this upleveled way of looking at life’s trials. I think I’m going to have to ditch that onion metaphor!
There is something about spring and this whole time of year that seeps into my lethargic, winter-dulled mind. When I think I’ll never get rid of that heavy parka, boxer-style mitts, scarf and earmuffs — poof! New life erupts in birdsong, tree buds, and an overall friskiness in the wildlife out there. It’s Easter for many — with its symbols of life coming from death, love and light rising victorious over darkness and sin. Every single year, like clockwork. The seasons don’t last, they turn over.
We have seasons in our lives too. Some of them are brief and giddy, riotous with color and flavor — like the besotted honeymoon period. Don’t we wish that kind of joy could last forever! We also have longer, heavier and slow-moving periods, like when we, or someone we love, is struggling with chronic or life-threatening illness for which there are no quick or easy answers. It is so hard for human beings to be in a state of uncertainty, to have long chunks of seemingly never ending time, where we mostly wait, ... and wait, and wait some more! We want an answer from the universe, something that will move us from this stuck, dry and seemingly colorless place into a new season — one with more choices, new roads to take that beckon and enliven.
Like everyone, I long for the pandemic to be over, to see our dear ones living so far away. Just to connect more freely in person, share a meal, and hug and kiss our hellos and goodbyes. Remember that? I don’t think I appreciated how precious those connections were. I hugged a close friend I hadn’t seen in forever, just recently. It was against the COVID guidelines, but we both had our masks on, and were so utterly delighted to see each other, we spontaneously took the risk. With the warmth of that hug, the smell of my friend’s hair, and the strong beating of our hearts, my spirit leaped with joy and tears threatened. How had I ever taken this simple, but so special connection for granted?
Ivanla Vanzant has a book she published years ago, called “In The Meantime”. If I’m remembering it correctly, it consists of mostly prayers, to help us through those long blocks of time, when it feels like our lives are literally on hold. Life, as we knew it, changed dramatically, and there is no new “normal” as yet that has emerged from it. We had gotten used to living fairly fast-paced lives, and in that place of in-between, we are often forced to slow way the heck down, leaving swaths of time of relative inaction. And when we’re not doing, our brains fire away, filling up those empty spaces!
We can be in that desert-like place, worrying and obsessing, trying to control what we have no agency over. I was in the habit of doing that for well over 60 years, and have found it unhelpful and an incredible waste of energy that can take a real toll on my health. So how do you change this? First off, I know now that loving and accepting myself for having these feelings is Step # One. Our survival brains have been programmed to react this way. It’s human and it’s natural, not to mention very useful sometimes. So it has its place — but I really don’t want to stay there, ongoing.
So I tap down the intensity of my feelings with EFT, breathe slowly and deeply, and tune into the many supports that are always there for me if I direct my attention there. As I calm and move into the parasympathetic “rest and digest” part of my nervous system, my thinking and creative brain lights up. I am more in the present moment, where I am indeed safe, and look out at the world with eyes that see, and ears that hear. Our perspective can change beautifully when we bask in the ever-present love around us, and acceptance of the now.
People sometimes think there is not much life in a desert. There is, of course, but you have to look for it and find it! Birds nest inside the sequoia cactus, to escape the worst of the day’s fierce sun and dryness, and to feast on insects. There are plants there, their dull colors blending in with the surroundings, so they are barely noticeable. But it still rains on occasion, even in a desert, and boy, does the landscape ever change! I once went to a sunrise ceremony just outside Sedona, Arizona. It had rained the night before, and drops of moisture clung to leaves, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. There was more color in the plants themselves, and the occasional flower blooming here and there. Everything looked so fresh and alive. It felt to me like one of nature’s little miracles. You just never know when it’ll happen, and my appreciation for that gift just filled my heart with joy.
During those more difficult “dry spells” in our own lives, besides using our favorite methods to return our body/mind/spirits to a state of peace and calm as often as we need to (building great habits!), it helps enormously to be observant and fully present for any little miracles that show up unexpectedly. When our 4 year old grandchild says the cutest things over a video-chat that we talk and laugh about afterwards, my deep sorrow at not holding her since she was 11 months old takes a back seat. And when it returns, it has softened a great deal, as I bask in gratitude for the delight of that unexpected gift!
Sometimes we ask God or “Universal Love” for a mighty big, seemingly impossible miracle. My dearest friend has been struggling to heal from Stage 4 cancer for over a year and a half. I ask, putting it out there in the universe, then I leave it with that Wisdom that sees and knows so much more than we ever will. As we wait, and the days go by, I don’t want to miss out on any “little” miracles. The chance to spend more time together and deepen our relationship in unexpected ways. The extraordinary coming together of an army of caring helpers, who share their love for her in the ways she needs it most — food, lawn and garden care, sitting with, and a plethora of healing modalities. A big miracle (to me) is watching my friend accept and receive all that love, when her entire life has been in the service of others.
Of course there are tremendous difficulties and challenges, but this is still — someway, somehow, a beautiful and sacred time for her and all who love her. I am SO open to the “big” miracle of her healing from cancer, but I am grateful for the many little ones that fill these “In the Meantime” days. They are the precious moments of love and connection that are not restricted to chronological time or geography. They will outlive every one of our corporeal journeys, lasting forever in memories and passed on from one generation to the next — perhaps the biggest miracle of them all!
Over the Christmas holidays, and very much since then, I have been musing about the paradoxes in my personal life and in the world in general. How there are always things I’m deeply grateful for and appreciate, that raise my vibrations to joy, or at least contentment and a general feeling of being O.K. and rolling with life. Then … there is the rest! The world is going to hell in a basket. People can’t agree on “facts”. They argue and act in ways that we all learned in kindergarten is disrespectful. That whole “do unto others” thing.
I would LOVE to see a “good news” channel --- because inspirational stories and freely given everyday kindnesses truly are everywhere. It is so much more ubiquitous than the constant parade of videos of conflict and controversy you see, one after the other, on the news. Fear messaging is designed to attract your attention, because our brains have a natural negativity bias to pick up on the cues that keep us “safe”. Whenever I see “Breaking News!” on the CBC or BBC, I can feel my own chest constricting and throat tightening in an immediate knee-jerk response. These body sensations tell me it is time to wordlessly tap on the meridian endpoints to reduce that stress response. Bad news grabs your attention, increasing ratings, and making it more likely that all you will hear is more of the same!
It’s on all T.V. and radio channels, as well as on just about every site of our tech devices, and can feel like a constant assault on our beleaguered nervous systems, telling us we are in danger. It takes time to delete/snooze/ignore/ or unsubscribe from the most soul-sucking negative diatribes. I consider myself a responsible person who WANTS to make a difference in the world, so I often read the first bits before making the judgment that it has to go. That sorting process itself depletes my energy when I spend too much time on it!
First, I need to recognize when this is happening. The more stresses I am dealing with in my personal life, the more trigger-happy I have to become in managing and deleting the content of what is either too negative or just unnecessary at this time: ie., too much news, reality(!) or violent T.V. shows, do I really need yet another interesting course or Summit right now, etc. Paring it down mainly to the necessities and what lifts me up.
Right now, my closest friend is struggling with trying to survive Stage 4 cancer. We are losing sleep from the antics of mice behind our walls(!) in the wee hours, and trying to find just the right solutions for my on-again, off-again back pain from dreadfully unsupportive furniture that is well past its “best before” date. The last thing I need is “busy” work of questionable value, or to get my nervous system all razzed up!
I need to look after ME --- to maximize the messages of love, inspiration and support I take in, and foster the connections and relationships that fill my emotional tank. We simply don’t have unlimited hours or energy to do everything. More demands always translate into making selfcare a much higher priority --- if we want to stay healthy!
One change I’ve made (in addition to my usual self-care rituals) is to make sure that I read something inspirational early in the morning. Ten to twenty minutes of deep immersion in some thoughts and ideas that expand my heart and fill me with optimism, energy and strength, can’t help but improve that dreary state I so often wake up with (Is it “groundhog day” again?). Brene Brown’s books are my current favorites. After I read, I feel more loving and kind to myself and the world, able to focus on the part of my glass that is half full, and start getting excited about creating a satisfying and interesting day.
I can’t control the majority of what is happening around me, only what is inside. Our moods and outlook are incredibly influenced by the choices we make of where we place our attention and energy! First thing in the morning, and last thing before we go to bed are, I believe, quite vulnerable times. That’s when we get the most mileage out of practicing our positive habits and routines. It brings our nervous systems calm and safety, so we have the capacity to be more present in our world --- even with the ugliness and confrontations we inevitably encounter at some point.
By simply doing a short “Loving Kindness” meditation for instance, we can extend love and compassion for those on both sides of a sticky, seemingly immovable paradox. That caring energy can begin to soften the rigid polarities --- because it speaks to the heart and our common humanity. Research has already proven that the more people meditate on peace and love for targeted recipients, the greater the calming effect --- on everyone! [The “maharishi effect”.]
In order to manage the challenges of the paradoxes in our lives, we have to take care that we are not bamboozled willy-nilly into joining “camps” that separate us, one from the other. To listen to our heart’s wisdom, we must first let go of fear. And THAT requires work on ourselves, with any tools you may have in your arsenal --- meditation and mindfulness, prayer, EFT, Havening, etc. Self-care is SO not selfish! It helps us to bring our best selves into every relationship and every encounter in our day. You have to have love and grow it, to give it. I would say that’s the total opposite of “selfishness” --- wouldn’t you?
Today on Remembrance Day, I am thinking of the huge number of people who lost their lives, their health, and sometimes their sanity, so that others could live and be free. I was born in Holland, and both my parents struggled with the hunger and hardships of 6 years of occupation. My Dad decided to move to Canada based solely on his appreciation for the Canadians who liberated Holland. My parents judged the Canadians to be both friendly and reserved, kind and caring, but low-key about their contributions. They were just extra comfortable with them. Had they not been so impressed, I’d have grown up as a little Dutch girl, with a totally different life unfolding for me!
I feel 100% Canadian, though I also feel 100% a citizen of the world too. This is not hard when your children live in Hong Kong and Australia, and you’ve travelled to many countries. You realize that absolutely everyone has the same needs and desires, no matter where you live. We all love our children, want to provide for them, do meaningful work, and find our place in the world --- a place of belonging where we can care for and be cared for by the people in our community.
To that end, this Remembrance Day I am focusing more on the veterans we’ve forgotten about or overlooked without meaning to. One group is our indigenous brothers and sisters, who were unwittingly forced to give up their Indian Status in order to enlist to fight for Canada, because if they were gone for 4 years, they automatically lost their status! They did not benefit from the post-war benefits other veterans received (like land, loans, education), because details about these were posted at the Legions --- which they were barred from attending! Can you believe this? After all their sacrifices, it seems that they were not considered Canadian either. I want to honor and respect them in my heart today, though I knew nothing about this. This is Canada’s shameful legacy. We can’t have Reconciliation without first acknowledging the Truth.
And then there are the soldiers who fought on the opposing side --- the “enemy”, as it were. Propaganda and caricatures making the opposing side seem somehow less than human, people unlike ourselves, make it easier to fight, maim and kill them. My Mum tells a story of a small group of Germans who were walking past their house. Their leader, an officer, knocked on the door and politely asked my grandmother if his men could have a drink of water from their well. They were hot and thirsty. My grandmother of course told them to go ahead, and as they were filling their containers one by one, the officer engaged Oma in conversation. He apologized for the hardships the Dutch people were suffering because of his army’s occupation. It was war, and as a soldier he had to do his duty. He treated her as he might have a neighbor down his own street back home, recognizing their common humanity.
If the “powers that be” currently, and in our history, realized this --- there would be no wars, or at least far fewer. Differences could be ironed out by communicating and working together to make this world a caring more peaceful place where EVERYONE’s needs are considered. Because in truth we are all connected, impacting each other and our physical world by the way we live and the decisions we make. I see and hear an “us vs. them” mentality in so many areas of our lives today, fomenting fear, anger and division. Conflict on a smaller scale than full-out war, yes, but eerily much the same.
I do not want to be a part of the problem --- even in my private thoughts and judgments! They carry weight and negative energy. I am as guilty of this as the next person, even just recently! I got upset with a postal clerk who was “obstinately” doing things in a way that I judged might impact the chances of this Christmas parcel reaching a beloved child overseas. I carried the energy of the 2 previous years, when they had been sent to the wrong address, or arrived so tardily that the baking had to be thrown out. Was this history her fault? It was not. Although I apologized to her, she was very cool and not in a forgiving mood. I did not know or acknowledge what other things might have been happening in her life that contributed to her (what I considered) argumentative and “I’m right” attitude. She was so young and inexperienced. I was appalled by my own part in escalating the tension and judged I should have handled it a whole lot better!
So why didn’t I? I used my tapping to come to a place of compassion and understanding for us both, forgiving both her and (eventually--- it’s SO much harder!) myself. I learned I could not “skip” my morning tapping, grounding and filling routines. That day, I had not done even 5 minutes. I was focused on getting my job list done under time pressures, so I could make it to my sister’s place in Markham for our first visit in 2 years. Taking a few extra minutes to calm, focus on love and set my intention for the day would have helped me to behave from a more compassionate place during that testy post office visit. I could have left, for instance, when I saw how it was starting to go, instead of escalating the tensions, pushing through just to get the task done. I forgot I had choices!
Although it may seem like I’ve gone off my original subject --- honoring our veterans, I actually haven’t. I honor and respect their sacrifices, along with those of their families and communities, who endured such unbelievable loss. There is no glory in war and its devastation. We remember them, so we NEVER FORGET the futility and destruction of fighting wars, when better safer solutions are possible. It’s hard work! We can all do our part for world peace when we humanize the people with whom we disagree, tone down our own rhetoric (guilty as charged!), and listen with an open heart at least as much as we talk. Whether it’s vaccines, lockdowns, politics or religion --- preventing wars and conflicts starts in how we handle day-to-day encounters and relationships. “Lest we forget”, indeed.
I am excited, and just a wee bit nervous about starting a Blog. A book is edited and re-edited till the cows come home, until I feel comfortable with both the message and the tone or “feel” of the piece. If I did that with a blog, I don’t think I’d ever get it out there! It’s more of a “state of the moment” sharing --- what I’m thinking or feeling about a topic that I judge may resonate with my readers, very specifically from a present moment perspective. This will not be a daily, or even necessarily weekly offering. I will write when I feel moved by the Spirit to do so!