Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Word Wonder -- accept

1. To receive with favour, willingness or consent.  2. To give an affirmative answer to.  3. To receive as satisfactory or sufficent: to accept an apology.  4. To take with good grace; submit to: to accept the inevitable. [From the Latin acceptare and often accipere, which mean "to take": ad- to + capere to take] -- Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary

When I started writing this blog post I was going to use the word "acceptance." However, as I typed the definitions, I decided that acceptance, as a noun, seems to be a more passive word than the verb "accept." When I think about acceptance I get a peaceful image of somebody not much like me -- some guru guy meditating serenely on a mountainside or something. Nice image, but sometimes it's hard to replace the image of the guru with an image of myself.

On the other hand, the verb "accept" carries some energy with it. This is something I can do, even if it's hard or unwelcome to think about. Since I believe in taking positive action to help myself and others, I switched to the verb form of the word. As I've said before, sometimes doing anything is better than doing nothing.

Acceptance is the result of taking the action to accept, so it makes more sense to me to begin at the beginning.

When something is going wrong or unwelcome news comes, most people's first defense is to feel shock or surprise and a sense of unreality: This can't be happening! As time goes along, the change usually starts to feel less surprising, even if it's still unwelcome. There are no absolute reactions or order in which they come, but many people do feel angry, frustrated, sad, confused and/or unwilling to accept the change. These reactions to change and stress can last minutes, days, weeks or longer. Everyone is different.

What is similar about us, though, is that we all have a choice about accepting the change that's been dumped on us. As you read in the definition above, to accept refers to many related actions:
  • To receive with favour, willingness or consent.
  • To give an affirmative answer to.
  • To receive as satisfactory or sufficent
  • To take with good grace
Nowhere does the definition talk about being delighted or thrilled; instead it speaks of willingness and receiving and taking with good grace. The kind of challenges that are hard to accept usually bring pain or loss or something else few of us welcome. But positive action is still possible. Here are some statements you can say to yourself (in your own words, if you like) that might make change easier to accept:
  • This is really hard, and it's a good idea to allow myself to feel all my feelings. BUT I am willing (even the smallest amount) to receive this change, to stop rejecting it and everything connected to it. I don't have to like it, but it doesn't help me to dwell on my anger and resentment, either.
  • I will open my heart, mind and hands as far as I can to see where I can say "Yes" in this situation.
  • This is what it is, and I can't change it. But I can change me and my response to this challenge.
  • There is so much in this situation that I can't control. BUT if I look, I will find something I can do something about.
  • What have I (or others) done in the past to handle tough circumstances? Maybe I'll try one or two of those things now. When one thing doesn't work, I can' always try something different.
  • Life happens to everybody, and it isn't always fun or terrible. It just is.
You probably already use some of these ideas or others like them. I do, too. But it can be helpful to re-examine even familiar strategies, to refresh our thinking and feeling so that we can act in ways that help rather than hinder. None of this is likely to be a steady uphill climb. Many of life's challenges feel like a roller coaster ride of fear, pain, hope, effort, support, loss, success, confusion and more change. That's really just the way life is sometimes, and learning to accept that helps when a world of hurt hits you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Grief websites

Since the death of my step-son a year and a half ago, which was followed by the deaths of a number of friends and community members, I've become even more aware of the need for support during bereavement. As a life coach, I have counselled others about grief and have read and written about it. But our own life experiences have a way of bringing things into sharper focus... sometimes whether we like it or not.

If you or someone you know is grieving the death of a loved one, the following websites might be useful. This is absolutely not a complete list; it simply presents some sites that have been helpful to my family and me. There are so many ways to get the support we need at tough times -- talking, praying, keeping busy, being still, reading, getting active, and so.

I hope this list of supportive websites offers you some measure of comfort and help:

Forum for Grieving Dads -- a very private site for men whose child has died

The Compassionate Friends -- for anyone who has lost a child. I wrote a post about the site in March of this year. Read it here.

The Canadian Mental Health Association -- a general website offering information and support on many topics, including grief

Sameet Kumar, author of Grieving Mindfully - A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss (Click here to see the book on Amazon) -- You can follow Sameet Kumar on Twitter if you're so inclined.

The Grief Recovery Institute -- offers support for all sorts of loss and grief, whether through death or divorce or anything else

I encourage you to reach out. Get some help. Get a hug. Trust your own feelings and allow yourself the time and space to grieve and heal.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Are you a free or a caged bird?
Of what do you sing?
Of what do you dream?

Whatever it may be, please keep singing, and please keep dreaming,
for we all need each other in order to be free.
Our dreams and our music bring us to freedom.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It is What it Is

Maybe it's my age, but I seem to be hearing this expression more and more: "It is what it is." This little gem generally follows a small or medium inconvenience or problem, such as a somewhat painful medical test, a disappointment at work, or a hurtful comment by a friend or relative.

The expression itself is almost too ridiculously obvious to utter, and yet I (and others) seem to find some comfort or strengthening in the words. I think its power lies in the expression of the obvious, because it counteracts our (or at least my) innate desire to have the bad thing go away, like the little child I sometimes feel like. That little kid stomps her feet and makes little fists and gets mad and weepy at the "bad thing" that's happening.

But It is what it is seems to help the adult take over. It's easier to get real and get on with it. Okay, fine. I don't like it, but oh, well, it's here. Deal with it.

Then I'm okay again. Most interesting. I can more calmly look at my options and make a choice about what to do or what to feel or focus on instead of my hurt feelings or discomfort. Much better. It's amazing to me how very simple it can be to change my mind about my feelings and my actions. It certainly doesn't work all the time, but that is what it is too, eh?

Monday, June 6, 2011

King, Viking or Favourite?

Here is another Celtic triad -- threefold bits of wisdom from ancient times:

Three people that are hardest to talk to: a king bent on conquest, a Viking in his armour, and a low-born man protected by patronage.

Though I don't run into many kings, Vikings or low-born men these days, I can see ways in which their modern counterparts can be hard to talk to!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

If fear weren't there...

I couple of weeks ago, in the midst of various health challenges and changes, a friend passed on a question she'd heard recently:

How would you act if fear weren't there?

Hmmmm... Good one. Although I didn't have much energy when I heard it, part of me liked this question because it cut through all the rhetoric and emotional roller coasters. The question asks me to set aside my ordinary reactions and more objectively ask myself what actions I would take in a situation if I (or even others) weren't afraid. It doesn't ask or expect me to stop feeling the fear, just to consider what I'd do if the fear weren't there.

My favourite definition of courage is "to feel the fear and do it anyway" -- whatever "it" might be. This new question I'm writing about is, to me, a helpful way to move from the theoretical definition of courage into action. And since I'm a great believer in action as the antidote to many sticky situations, this is something I can get my head around.

For example, if you were faced with an unexpected and unwanted job change, such as a layoff or being fired, a common reaction would be to feel afraid (among other feelings). Fears about your financial situation, changing status and/or respect, loss of workplace friendships, having to move, and so on. Many people would feel fearful in such a situation.

But now imagine that instead of dwelling on the worries and what-ifs, you just sat down and for a few minutes pretended you were an android or a robot. Imagine yourself moving into 'Droid Mode in which you feel nothing and simply have a problem to solve -- a problem no more emotional than sorting through the junk drawer or sweeping the floor.

In 'Droid Mode, you say to yourself, "Okay, so this is not what I wanted or expected. The situation appears to leave me with no familiar options, but I will consider every option I am able to see at this moment. Some will be familiar, perhaps, while others may not. That is no matter. I will simply weigh each one to determine how helpful it might be in this situation. Then I will choose reasonable actions and carry them out."

And so, ignoring all emotional reactions to the change, you simply list problems that have arisen and what you can do right now and in the near future to address them.

What would you do if the fear weren't there?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Changes, Changes

A couple of weeks ago I had my right knee replaced. Having had the left one done last year at this time, and having had a generally great experience, I was actually looking forward to getting this one done. More mobility, less pain, etc.

Without launching into the details, I'll just say this experience is being a mixed bag of great, not so great, and really difficult. The knee itself is generally doing extremely well. However, problems have arisen which, coming on the heels of a tough eighteen months of grief and illness, I'm finding my resilience is slipping. Or at least it feels like it is. I'm usually an optimistic, forward-looking person, but that part of me has been soundly buffeted by circumstance for the past many months. And then I am aware of my committment to keep up with this blog. It's been two weeks since I wrote a post, and that's just too long.

My debate, now that I'm feeling a bit better physically, has centred around the content of this post. How do I write something that could be helpful to somebody "out there," while still being true to my own experience and feelings? How can  I write honestly without sounding like a whiner, when I am at a pretty low ebb? As I get going here, I'm remembering my usual approach when I don't know what to say or write -- just get started, be honest, and see what happens.

I am finding that my usual anchors aren't working so well, and that feels scary. I don't know what to feel or do about the changing circumstances in which I find myself. I don't trust my previous optimism. I don't trust my concept of Something More. Yet here I am, writing it out, however vaguely. Somehow that feels like something, at least. What, I don't know. But something, some positive response to myself and my own previous decision to keep up with this blog, to commit to it for my own sake and, hopefully, to be of some help to somebody else.

It seems my rambling is done for now, but by doing something, even as small as this, I do feel a bit better. I think it's about reaching out past my own concerns at a time when those concerns are feeling like quite a load. It's the offer that matters, not the result. I can control my offerings, but I can't control the result.

I hope you are making a great day for yourself or for someone else. Mine has gotten a little bit better. Thanks.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Celtic Triads

Half of my heritage is Welsh, and it's the part to which I feel the most connected. When I was growing up relatives came to visit from Wales often, and my grandparents went back there to visit, as well. I was the first of my generation to visit the Welsh island of Anglesey, where my ancestors come from and where many cousins still live.

Though the word "Celtic" is often thought to refer only to the Irish, it also refers to the Welsh. It is easier to find information about Irish Celts than Welsh, but I found some, and this knowledge has added richness and depth to my understanding of myself and my family.

In exploring a little of this heritage, I came across The Celtic Book of Days -- A Celebration of Celtic Wisdom and enjoyed reading each day's entry. It seems to refer mainly to Irish traditions, but I like the richness I found there just the same. Serendipity is a delightful part of any search, if I keep my mind, eyes and heart open. My favourites in The Celtic Book of Days are the threefold prayers and blessings which are explained in this quotation from the book:
Throughout Romano-Celtic Europe, the Triple Mothers were worshipped as the Deae Matres or Matronae. They are usually depicted as seated mature figures carrying fruits, bread and babies and were clearly venerated by all sections of society. Triple deities abound in Celtic tradition, as we find the triple Morrigan, the triple Brighid and the threefold Godesses of Irish Sovereighnty... The Celtic preoccupation with threefold groupings is seen from the tripling of divine powers to threefold repetitions of invocations and prayers. The number three is still dominant in British and Irish culture as being lucky, and significant events are believed "to come in threes."
From time to time I'll post a threefold blessing until I run out. I think they're lovely ways of considering ourselves and our place in this life.

Three things that ruin wisdom: ignorance, inaccurate knowledge, forgetfullness.

The three most beautiful things in the world:
a full-rigged ship, a woman with child and the full moon.

I hope that, whatever your heritage, you enjoy and feel blessed in some small way by these Celtic snippets of wisdom.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A poem by Crowfoot

Life is the flash
     of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo
     in the winter.
It is the little shadow
     which runs across the grass
And loses itself in the sunset.

-- by Crowfoot, a Blood Indian who grew up with the Blackfoot people of Alberta and became their chief.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thoughts about Death

Since the death of my step-son a year and a half ago, I have roamed and lurched all over the strange planet of grief, loss and change, accommodation and acceptance, fury and pain. It's a complicated and unwelcoming place, to be sure.

Before Daniel's death, I had experienced many deaths -- my first child, my father and grandparents, all my aunts and uncles, friends, in-laws, students, cousins and pets. Since Daniel's death, more deaths have touched my life closely...and painfully. My world is being rocked significantly.

I am being challenged to re-examine my ideas about death. I've never been terribly afraid of dying or of death, but I've also never spent a lot of time thinking about it. I guess in some vague way I've just assumed it would all turn out okay. This non-approach has been part of my magical thinking, which I wrote about a few times in April.

My current exploration starts from a place of absolutely believing I can't know for certain what dying feels like or what happens after we're dead. So it's all speculation. Maybe we'll understand it on "the other side." Maybe we won't. I can't know that, either. Maybe I won't even know it once I "get" there.

I like to think that our time after we leave these bodies will be pleasant, but I don't invest a lot of emotion into that preference, because as I said before, I don't believe it's possible to know for sure while we're on "this side."

Where all this surmising and musing leaves me is with this: it actually doesn't matter too much (to me) what happens after I die, but it matters a great deal what happens before I die. And I can do something about that. I can choose to live my life fully and consciously. I can choose to regularly act on the love I feel for those around me. I can choose to be a better version of myself than I was yesterday or last week or last year. I can choose to be respectful  and kind to those I find hard to love and to those I meet only briefly. I can choose to shoot for my best self and to be grateful when I see traits I admire in others and in myself.

So I don't currently feel too worried about the hereafter. I'm aware that I may feel very differently if I'm conscious when I'm close to my death, but even so, I prefer to deal with the here-now as best I can. In the meantime, I love this sentiment about death which has been ascribed to Mark Twain:

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Word Wonders -- disgruntle & gruntle

To make dissatisfied or sulky; put out of humor. [from the prefix dis- (meaning "not") + gruntle, an obsolete word that intensified the meaning and impact of "grunt"] -- Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary and The Oxford English Reference Dictionary
In other words, disgruntle means to "not gruntle," which for me instantly raised the question, "What, then, does 'gruntle' mean?" So here you go. I found the definition and a couple of delightful uses of "gruntle" online and discovered that it means "to put in a good humor." (from www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gruntle). Texan Walter Prescott Webb, 1888-1963, wrote that some people "were gruntled with a good meal and good conversation."
In the entry from the 1913 edition of  Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (found on www.thefreedictionary.com/gruntle), I learned that gruntle also once meant "to grunt repeatedly."

So here's my fanciful theory about the development of gruntle and disgruntle. (Remember I am not a word expert but, rather, a word enthusiast with an imagination.) Maybe, back in the day, a pig farmer or village of pig owners noticed that their swine grunted when they were contented with their slop and mud. They came up with the word "gruntle" to describe the pigs' expressions of bliss.

Then maybe another astute soul noticed that sometimes humans also grunt with pleasure at dinner time (and other pleasurable events) and applied "gruntle" to their expressions, too. Hence, over time, to be gruntled could come to mean that a person was in a good humor or tranquil.

Then, life being what it is, someone who was not in a good humor, was not feeling at ease and serene, might have come to be described as being "disgruntled." And, sad to say, the delightful little word gruntle passed from our daily vocabulary.

Personally, I'm really glad I found the word gruntle, because as it happens, earlier today I was feeling decidedly disgruntled about a variety of frustrations. However, it was time to write a blog post so I decided to investigate a Word Wonder. Those are usually entertaining for me, and I was hoping I'd get distracted from my grumpiness.

It worked. Not only did I get distracted, I got gruntled in my search for meaning...of the word "disgruntled." And the word "gruntled" is so charming and rolls so nicely around in my mouth, that I think it might just help me choose being gruntled over being disgruntled the next time I'm out of sorts. And, that, my friends, is an important part of healing and personal growth.

Happy Gruntling to me and to you!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Change your Magical Thinking

This is the third post in which I write about magical thinking, a life view and habit that keeps many of us stuck. (Read the first post here and the second, a journalling exercise, here.)

If you have recognized that you do engage in magical thinking, if you've thought or journalled about it, you might want to know how to do the next step...changing your magical thinking.

As I said in my last post...
By recognizing and then loosening your grip on magical thinking, you'll find new energy, new resilience, fun, and hope.

  1. Notice one aspect of life in which you're waiting for some magical solution to appear. Money, relationships, job, lifestyle and health are common areas for magical thinking.
  2. Name what you're wishing would change, such as:
    • more satisfying work
    • no more debt
    • more travel
    • better appearance
    • happier family life
    • ...or whatever is on your mind
  3. Can you name the person or entity you've been wishing would make your situation better? Is it God, or a loved one, or some nameless and faceless Something? This can be hard, because magical thoughts are usually vague by their very nature, but give it a try.
  4. As you pay more attention to your wishing-thoughts, notice how you feel, such as:
    • hopeless                   
    • wishy-washy
    • angry
    • vague
    • tired
    • frustrated
    • lonely
    • wistful
    • without energy
  5. Now say or write a statement that includes what you've noticed in the first four steps. This might be hard or uncomfortable, because part of the power of magical thinking is that it's vague and usually not put into clear words. But looking at your wishful thoughts and putting them into words is an important part of seeing and then changing them. For example:
    • When I think about my huge debt load, I feel tired and hopeless. I wish Uncle John would die and leave me his money.
    • I wish God would just change Susan so we'd be happier. She really makes me mad. Maybe she'll just leave, and I won't have to deal with this mess.
    • If only I could win the lottery, big time. Then I could quit my lousy job and travel around the world.
  6. Take a few deep breaths. You might be feeling guilty or pathetic or angry or many other things if you've written out your unnamed desire for someone to die or go away. But this step is so important if you're going to actually see changes in your circumstances. Because magical thinking is often so vague, we don't really pay much attention to those thoughts; they seem to hover in the background of our minds and hearts. The trouble is that while they're hovering, they're also draining us of energy and blinding us to our ability to be responsible for our own lives.
  7. Now try this. Below your "I wish..." statement, write an "I will..." statement, such:
    • I don't like being in debt, but I will change that myself. If Uncle John wants to help, that's a bonus, but I don't need him to die for me to get out of debt. I'll take an honest look at my finances and see what my options are. 
    • I 'm not happy with my marriage and the messes Susan has created. But I'm an adult, and I can take a look at my part of things and do something about that. And I'll ask God to help me with me.
    • I've waited for ten years to win the lottery, but I just keep losing. I don't like my job, but I need an income. So I will make a list of the pro's and con's about this job, and I'll start a savings account for trips I want to take. Then I'll decide where to go from there.
Maybe you've noticed that the I will statements are different than the I wish statements. They're more action-packed and positive. Their power results from looking at the reality of a situation. And in saying them, our power is made available to us. Even if the changes that follow are hard or uncomfortable, they're rarely harder or more uncomfortable than the problems we lived with before we changed our magical thinking.

So, the last step (#8) in changing your magical thinking about a situation is to actually do something concrete. Make a budget or talk to a credit counsellor...and then follow his or her suggestions. Stop blaming others, look honestly at your own undesirable behaviours, and change them. Quit your job or change your attitude about the one you have. Start a savings account with $2, if that's what you have.

Small, concrete, responsible steps are the antidote to magical thinking. And the result is more energy, a more positive outlook, healthier relationships, better finances...whatever. You decide because you can.
You can follow the steps below by thinking it out, talking with someone, or writing your answers.Start small, since this is often the best way to learn new skills and attitudes. Here are eight suggestions for doing just that:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Question

The other day, a friend said she'd asked herself a question. Now I'm asking myself the same question and pass it on to you. Maybe it will be useful to you.

What would you do in any given situation if the fear weren't there?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Magical Thinking -- a journal exercise

Last Wednesday I wrote about magical thinking, a view of life and self that resides deep below the surface in some people. (Click here to read that post.) This sort of belief system is part of childhood's charm, but in adults it supports an unhealthy degree of passivity. Magical thinking, as I mean it here, keeps us meekly waiting around for someone or something else to resolve our problems -- financial, personal, professional, etc. -- while we do little or nothing to progress.

As I said the other day, magical thinking is not the same as being patient or wisely waiting for the best time. It's not the same as trusting others or accepting limitations. These are helpful ways to interact with the world, while magical thinking makes it hard for us to move forward and to recognize our own strength and ability.

Letting go of magical thinking means seeing one's own strengths and weaknesses realistically. It means letting go of the idea that others will fix one's problems. It means taking responsibility for choices and decisions.

Get out a pen and paper and set aside 15-30 minutes to start. Ask yourself the questions below to help identify if you are prone to magical thinking. And as with any new awareness, the purpose of this is not to criticize yourself but to take the first step in change -- recognizing the problem. Keep in mind that many people have the thoughts and feelings described below; the trick is to identify if you frequently count on others to make things better.

Q?    Do you find yourself wishing someone would come along and pay your    debts or fix a troubled relationship?

Q?    Do you have vague feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy in your own daily affairs?

Q?    Do you feel like you're getting nowhere, especially in areas of life that are important to you? 

Q?    Are you sometimes jealous of people who seem to "have it all together?" Do you compare yourself to them or resent them?

As you work through these questions, others might arise. Do your best to honestly explore the questions and the answers. Be kind to yourself, since that's the most effective way to stay interested in change. If you beat yourself up over perceived failures, you just add to the pile of magical thinking and lack of progress.

You can make changes that make you and your life more dynamic! By recognizing and then loosening your grip on magical thinking, you'll find new energy, new resilience, fun, and hope.

In another post, I'll write about  ways to turn magical thinking into dynamic thinking. Once you begin to recognize the old patterns, you'll be able to build new ones.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A quotation

Life is not life at all without delight.

-- Coventry Kearsey Deighton Patmore (1823–1896)
Victory in Defeat

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Magical Thinking

Never grow a wishbone, daughter,
where your backbone ought to be.
-- Clementine Paddleford

Born in Kansas in 1898, Clementine Paddleford  wrote in her memoir that her mother gave her the advice I've quoted above. Apparently young Clementine listened well, since she grew up to become an intrepid journalist, pilot and traveler in the 1920s to 1960s.

As a food writer at such publications as the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Sun, Paddleford flew a Piper Cub all over the States to learn about and report on regional foods. She went aboard a submarine to learn what the sailors ate and explored quiet corners of her country to discover what the locals prepared for their families. Paddleford then conveyed her enthusiasm to readers by tempting their palettes with descriptions of the exotic-sounding foods she found in her travels.

When I found Paddleford's quote a number of years ago, I knew nothing about her. I only knew that its cleverly worded meaning shot straight into me and put words to a vague and unsettling feeling I had about myself. Although I was happy with some of my accomplishments and personal traits, I knew I wasn't being and doing all I could. At that time I'd never heard of "magical thinking," but I could tell I had more of a wishbone than a backbone in some areas of my life.

Through the years I've carried Clementine's mother's advice around in my head. I've passed it on to students and have continue to be attracted to its meaning. And when for the first time I heard about the idea of magical thinking, I knew that Mrs. Paddleford had nailed it so many years before.

To me, magical thinking means meekly waiting around for something to happen instead of doing it for yourself. It implies to me a floppy, waffling sort of attitude to one's circumstances and, perhaps, oneself.

Magical thinking is not the same as being patient or wisely waiting for the best time. It is not the same as trusting others or accepting limitations. Instead, it's a state of mind that doesn't allow a person to recognize his or her own strength and ability. Magical thinking is the result of (and supports) the belief that some external Somebody or Something will fix the problems, get the job done, make the desired result appear...and it immobilizes the magical thinker because she or he does not believe in herself or himself.

Letting go of magical thinking -- getting a backbone instead of a wishbone -- means seeing one's own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. It means letting go of the idea that others will fix one's problems. It means taking responsibility for choices and decisions.

Changing my own magical thinking has come as a result of facing and dealing with the lousy things that have been done to me as well as the lousy things I have done or the valuable things I have not done because I was waiting for somebody to do it for me. It's a satisfying (though not always easy) feeling to take responsibility for my own life, for myself, for my choices.

In my next post, I'll offer a journalling exercise that can help you look at your own tendencies towards magical thinking.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Compassionate Friends

Last night I went to my first meeting of The Compassionate Friends (TCF), an international organization dedicated to those who have lost a child of any age, by any cause, at any time. Our youngest son, Daniel, my stepson, died in November 2009, at the age of twenty. His death was a deep, stunning shock. The repercussions of his death have been broad, deep, wide...exceeding practically every strong adjective I could possibly come up with.

For the first several months, we did the best we could just to make it through each day. Many times I've told myself, "Just do what needs to be done and make time pass until you can go to bed." Sleeping is sometimes the only way to make time pass without pain.

I've felt at times that I could suffocate in my own sadness. At other times, we've laughed and told "Daniel stories" and have been able to feel grateful and happy about having had him in our lives. Those laughing times don't happen often, but at least they do happen, and I believe they'll increase as the years pass. But I miss him. We all do.

Daniel's death, like any death, is changing family relationships. This reordering can be hard and is often not welcome. But it happens anyway, sweeping up the grievers in emotional and physical whirlwinds. In the past 17 months, other life changes, such as the death of friends and a pet, and health challenges, have added to the stressful mix.

So, after pushing the tough feelings down for a while, I finally feel ready to take a deeper look into myself. I needed a time not to feel, but now I need to deal with those feelings. So, after hearing high praise from a family member about The Compassionate Friends, I decided to check out the meeting in our area.

A small group of us gathered in the quiet of a Wednesday evening. The organizers, themselves bereaved parents, started us off by telling their own story. From there, the rest of us talked, if we wanted to, about our child's story. In some ways it was hard to witness other families' sorrow, and it was also affirming to hear them express feelings similar to my own. We cried sometimes and smiled in understanding agreement at other times.

What I like most about The Compassionate Friends approach is that no one tells anyone else how to feel, how to act, when to talk, when to be silent. No one interrupts. No one lectures or preaches or drapes others in expectations of what they "should" feel or do. All beliefs and experiences and feelings are honoured.

To gain a better understanding of someone whose child has died, or to help yourself in this situation, look for help with The Compassionate Friends. Explore their website here. In future posts, I'll share other resources that might help with bereavement.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Word Wonder - honey

1. A sweet, viscous substance made by bees from nectar gathered from flowers.  2. Anything resembling or suggestive of honey.  4. Sweet one; darling: a term of endearment. [from the Old English word hunig] -- Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary

When it first occurred to me to explore the word "honey," it seemed a bit too obvious to bother with. However, I decided to check it out anyway. I found so much has been done with honey that I decided to write about it despite its (possibly) small impact on healing, relationships, and personal growth.

As a term of endearment, honey is sweet and simple. Although overuse can render it as meaningless as any other word, adding honey to daily utterances does often sweeten them up a bit. "Honey, will you do such and such for me?" adds a love-reminder to the basic request.

As a food, honey is so delicious, so nutritious, that it's a wonderful addition to many foods and beverages. It also feels excellent sliding down a sore, raspy throat. Though I've never tasted mead, I understand it's a tasty drink made from water and fermented honey.

Honey has had a far-reaching affect on language and daily life. Take a look at this  honey of a list from modern and ancient English:
  • honey-apple -- a fruit created in ancient times by grafting some kind of apple onto a quince stalk. The resulting fruit was used to make marmalade.
  • hinny -- a British form meaning "darling"
  • honey-tongued -- can be used as high praise, for one who uses words beautifully or as a sarcastic phrase for one whose words cannot be trusted
  • honeymoon -- After the wedding, life and the beloved are as sweet as honey. But a cynic might say this joy lasts only as long as one cycle of the moon's phases.
  • honey-bucket -- a receptacle used in a latrine
  • honey-bun or honey-bunch -- a term of endearment or a pretty girl
  • honey-do list -- a facetious name for the list of household chores a wife wants her husband to complete
  • honey wagon or cart -- the vehicle that empties latrines and carries away the contents
  • honey-pot -- in Australia, a way to jump into the water. This is the same as the North American cannonball jump.
  • honey-star -- a mistress!
  • honeydew melon -- a sweet melon
  • honeysuckle -- originally misnamed when ancient people thought that bees drew honey directly from this woody vine
  • honey thighs -- a term of endearment to a girl, since about 1945
So, I don't know. Maybe this post has made you more aware of how sweet your loved one is and will encourage you to say so to him or her. Maybe you'll just eat a bit more honey and be a little healthier as a result. I honestly just wanted to write about honey, even though it has no deep, profound meaning. That's it, that's all, sweetie.

Resource used for this post:
Thereby Hangs a Tale by Charles Earle Funk
Partridge's Concise Dictionary of Slang & Unconventional English, ed. by Paul Beale
A Word in Your Ear by Ivor Brown
Why Do We Say It? by Castle Books
Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not a creative bone in your body...?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In the writing course I'm currently teaching, I give my students a creative writing exercise during each class. Since the start of the semester, I've heard several variations of the statement, "I don't have a creative bone in my body."
  • I'm not creative.
  • I don't know what to write.
  • My writing is always boring.
  • I don't have any good ideas.
  • I'm no good at this.
  • I can't tell a good story.
Here are some of my responses to those statements:
  • Hogwash.
  • Yes, you do.
  • Yes, you can.
  • That's old thinking.
  • Everybody's creative, even if they don't know it.
  • ...etc., etc. You get the idea.
What might it mean when people say they're not creative? It might mean any number of things. Maybe they were laughed at for some creative effort(s) in the past. Maybe they don't like a particular type of creative activity and don't recognize that not liking something isn't the same as being unable to do it. Perhaps they believe that if they don't excel at an activity, they shouldn't do it at all.

Maybe this sounds like you. Do you think you can't write a story or paint or act or make a craft? Do you believe you don't have a creative bone in your body?

Well, consider these ideas:
  • Are you a person who comes up with great party ideas?
  • Do you come out with funny one-liners or puns, or do you tell jokes really well?
  • Can you come up with options or solutions for nagging problems?
  • Do you hum or sing while doing some other activity?
  • Are you good at keeping the beat with songs on the radio?
  • Was there an activity you loved when you were a child?
  • Do you cook well or do carpentry?
  • Do you enjoy a hobby?
  • Can you tell stories to children that they enjoy?
  • Do your neighbours compliment you on your garden or yard?
  • Are you able to find the best arrangement of time or objects in order to get a job done well?
  • Do you find yourself wondering how the writer came up with the idea for a movie or book you like?
  • Is there one time of day when you seem to get a lot of good ideas?
  • Do you like arranging food, flowers, furniture, artwork, or table settings in pleasing ways?
  • Can you fix just about anything that needs fixing?
  • Are you good at solving puzzles?
  • Can you find the best/shortest/most scenic route to a destination?
This is a very short list of examples of creative expression. Maybe this list has given you other ideas about what you do well but never considered as meaning much. That's often the case with people who believe they're not creative.

Keep in mind that being creative simply means "having the power or ability to create...and is...characterized by originality of thought and execution." (Funk & Wagnalls' Canadian College Dictionary). Every single person can create something or come up with an original idea. Really. Creativity is not a special gift doled out only to a select few. It is a natural part of being human.

You are creative, even if you're haven't been given a Nobel Prize for Something or aren't published or famous. You are creative because you're alive and it's in your nature to create.

I encourage you to take a look at your attitudes about your own creative ability or that of someone else you've said isn't creative. What words and feelings go along with that limiting belief?  How can you change your words and thoughts and feelings to allow for a new concept? Do you expect phenomenal results, or can you see that creativity is a process to be enjoyed?

If you like, try the following:

Every day for two weeks, write or say to yourself,
I am creative. I like to __________ (fill in the blank), and this is a creative activity.
It's very possible that your ideas about creativity will shift. Then go ahead, do your creative activity some more. Allow yourself to enjoy it simply because you enjoy it. It doesn't have to measure up to anybody else's idea of "good." If you want to, expand on it, share it. Learn something new.

Creativity is fun and satisfying. I hope you allow yours to blossom.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Be patient towards all that is unsolved in

 your heart and dreams;

try to love the questions themselves."  

-- Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Advice to a Daughter

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The other day I found a book on my bookshelf, one of those enticing little nuggets found at a yard sale or some such place. I'd completely forgotten I own The Book of Lists by David Wallechingsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace. I do remember that it was old even when I bought it, but it just seemed like a good thing on which to blow an extravagant 25 cents, ya know?

Since this is the week of International Women's Day, I thought today would be a good day to list "F. Scott Fitzgerald's 21 pieces of advice to his daughter on living," originally from Fitzgerald's Letters to His Daughter, edited by Andrew Turnbull (New York: Scribner. 1965). I'm not big on worry, but maybe he meant something like "concern yourself with." In any case, I like most of what F. Scott had to say to his daughter, Scottie. See what you think...

1.   Worry about courage.
2.   Worry about cleanliness.
3.   Worry about efficiency.
4.   Worry about horsemanship.
5.   Don't worry about popular opinion.
6.   Don't worry about dolls.
7.   Don't worry about the past.
8.   Don't worry about the future.
9.   Don't worry about growing up
10. Don't worry about anyone getting ahead of you.
11. Don't worry about triumph.
12. Don't worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault.
13. Don't worry about mosquitoes.
14. Don't worry about flies.
15. Don't worry about insects in general.
16. Don't worry about parents.
17. Don't worry about boys.
18. Don't worry about disappointments.
19. Don't worry about pleasures.
20. Don't worry about satisfactions.
21. Think about: What am I really aiming at?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

100 years of International Women's Day

Saturday, March 5, 2011

This coming Tuesday, March 8, is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day (click here to go to the official site). Look there or in your local newspaper for IWD events in your area.

In my area, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada, I will gather with local women, men, and children at the Manitoulin Nordic Ski Club at 2 p.m. The guest speaker is Ruth Farquhar, writer and activist, whose topic is "Women in Media and Entertainment."

Below I quote from the IWD website where it explains what International Women's Day is about...and the range of ideas and activities it engenders.
International Women's Day 2011 Theme

Each year around the world, International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. Hundreds of events occur not just on this day but throughout March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women.

Organisations, governments and women's groups around the world choose different themes each year that reflect global and local gender issues.

So while many people may think there is one global theme each year, this is not always correct. It is completely up to each country and group as to what appropriate theme they select.

Below are some of the global United Nation themes used for International Women's Day to date:

- 2011: Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women
- 2010: Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all
- 2009: Women and men united to end violence against women and girls
- 2008: Investing in Women and Girls
- 2007: Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls
- 2006: Women in decision-making
- 2005: Gender Equality Beyond 2005: Building a More Secure Future
- 2004: Women and HIV/AIDS
- 2003: Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals
- 2002: Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities
- 2001: Women and Peace: Women Managing Conflicts
- 2000: Women Uniting for Peace
- 1999: World Free of Violence against Women
- 1998: Women and Human Rights
- 1997: Women at the Peace Table
- 1996: Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future
- 1975: First IWD celebrated by the United Nations

I encourage you to give some thought to the issues represented in the themes listed above. How do you support or hinder them in your day-to-day life? What can you do to improve the situation for women in your sphere of influence? What will you do?
Consider checking out these IWD-related websites:

The United Nations:

Canada's list of events:

American list of events:

United Kingdom's list of events:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Time to Muse...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A few months ago, I spent a day with some friends, Klaus and Donna Bach, helping them pack to move. They'd lived on the Island a bit longer than I had, and I'd gotten to know them by several means. In the 80s, we'd worked together, with many others, organizing an annual folk festival here on Manitoulin. Klaus and Donna also owned the only health food store in the area, so I often saw them there.

These two make a wonderful pair: he, a soft-spoken, friendly German, and she, an effervescent, laughing Canadian. From all I could see, they, their two children, and the many foster babies they welcomed into their home formed a happy, loving family.

A firm believer in equality and common sense living, Donna was also a full-time homemaker -- truly, a home-maker. She loved looking after the whole family's comfort and offering stability and calm in their home. She contributed to the community and worked in the family's store.

Donna is one of the most smiling, practical and interested people I know.

On our packing day in the late fall, I was telling Donna about my blog, and she was as enthusiastic and supportive as ever. This conversation led to her showing me a poem she'd written years before. I asked if I could post it on my blog sometime, and she was delighted.

I like her little poem because it's real. It reflects the simple realities of daily life -- that the common tasks are more than just common tasks. They allow our minds to shut down and get much-needed rest. The small attention we must pay them allows emotions to be put on hold... or expressed in relative privacy (since the common tasks are often completed on one's own, anyway!). Intuition can slip in quietly and offer solutions that might otherwise go unnoticed. Life is full of small moments in which we can be renewed.

Here's Donna's poetic musing from 1979:

Women's Work

Lead me to the sink where I can think.
Let me peel the onions -- I can cry.
Put my hands in hot and soapy water,
Let me fold the laundry if it's dry.
Ironing's my favourite -- then comes mending,
I'll probably be at it  'til I die.
I know my family thinks I'm busy working,
But I'm solving all our problems on the sly!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Family Day in Canada -- yesterday

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yesterday we celebrated Family Day in Canada. This statutory holiday was first observed here in February 2008. It always falls on the third Monday of February. My first thought  at the time -- my jaded, pessimistic first thought -- was that this would be just another opportunity for Hallmark to make a bunch of money. I didn't object to a mid-winter break; a three-day weekend is rarely a bad thing.

But the negative little corner of my mind has had a pleasant surprise this year. I've heard from a number of people that they did actually use the day to do something special with family. They played with their kids. They visited an estranged fathers and grandfathers. They got together for games and other fun. What refreshing news! In our family, I put on a big feast for our gang, and though it needed to be on Saturday, I still thought of it as our Family Day celebration.

So I've learned a little lesson here. Although, of course, most of us would hope we'd love and enjoy our families every day of the year, setting aside a special day does seem to have drawn attention to that hope. I'm so happy many people took the friendly reminder/opportunity to focus on their loved ones, to heal old rifts, to have some fun together.

I feel certain that such positive actions have ripple affects, some of which we may never see ourselves. But to me that's just fine. Love and fun and laughter and forgiveness carry their own wonderful energy. I don't have to understand it. I don't have to control it. I don't even have to do it.

But I'd rather do love, fun, laughter, and forgiveness than their opposites. So, Happy Today. Fill it up with some good stuff, and the ripples will bubble away from the centre of you to who knows where.....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Books to Check Out

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I've recently heard about two new books published by Hazeldon, a publishing house specializing in resources for people working on personal healing and recovery. Take a look at these titles and their descriptions, which I've quoted from Hazelden's website:

"Do you take on the feelings of others around you? Or do you expect others to absorb yours? Is it important to be in synch? No says Dr. Allen Berger, author of 12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and Drugs are Gone."

"1000 Years of Sobriety: 20 People x 50 Years by William G. Borchert and Michael Fitzpatrick. 1000 Years of Sobriety features the moving personal accounts of twenty men and women who have each remained sober for more than fifty years. These are the real 'old timers,' keepers of the wisdom, men and women from around the world who are among the dwindling generations who joined Alcoholics Anonymous when Bill W. was still alive, and whose very commitment to sobriety is a testament to the enduring power of the program."

Of course, there are as many paths to well-being as there are people. The beauty of recovery, healing, and personal growth lies in the strength and hope each of us possesses...and in the help offered by those around us. Hazelden is one such helping hand.
If you'd like to find other helping hands, you could:
  • check the list of topics on this blog (right-hand column) to read other posts about a topic of interest to you
  • borrow a book from the library or a friend
  • write in a journal
  • talk to someone you trust
  • listen to what your gut tells you
  • ...and so much more.
I wish you well for today and every day!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What do you think?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

There is not such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.
You seek problems because
you need their gifts.
-- Richard Bach

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Appreciation & Gratitude

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

For the past two weeks I've been quite sick, and this ended with five days in the hospital. I got out yesterday and am on the mend. It was nothing life threatening, but it has not been fun.

Today, as a result of many people and factors, my appreciation-gratitude-index is way up. Co-workers, my partner, my boss, and a number of friends supported me and sorted out the details of my life when I couldn't. The health care system in my little corner of Canada worked beautifully to get me better and keep me comfortable. Medical staff gave me thorough, friendly care, while kitchen staff did their best to accommodate my unique-to-them dietary needs. I had a safe, snug home to return to and two excited, happy dogs to greet me. I even appreciate the illness, only because it was a relatively innocuous wake-up call about some of my lifestyle choices.

I'd been so caught up in the busyness of my life that I wasn't making time to just sit still and take notice, relax, or give much to my family and friends. Nearly everything I've done in the past six months has been done in hyperdrive...and I crashed at the end of the ride.

The time in the hospital and this recuperation week at home are gifts. I have actually had an hour or two of boredom, which is rare for me. And thank goodness, I turned the boredom into peaceful reflection and relaxation in my lovely electric shape-shifting hospital bed. It felt so good to sit and do absolutely nothing in my quiet, darkened room.

That's when I realized that I was the author of my illness. I overworked and over-stressed, and ignored myself, family, and friends to a great extent. I'm so grateful that it didn't take a serious, terrifying illness or accident to wake me up. I'm so grateful I have loved ones and generally good health and options.

So I tell this little tale for my sake and, if you're interested, yours. Don't wait until you get knocked flat, like I did, before you notice what's happening. Stop whatever you're doing right now and look around you. Notice one lovely thing. Appreciate one comfort or challenge. Give somebody nearby a smile or a kind word. Send loving thoughts to somebody. Breathe deeply five times, say thanks...and then go ahead, get back to whatever you were doing. It might just seem richer than it did a few moments ago.

I've just done this, and I intend to do it more often. I intend to make some changes, because it's in my control to look after myself so that I can be of some use to others and appreciate the joy in life.

I hope you make a wonderful day.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

You in the world -- a journalling exercise

Saturday, January 29, 2011

This journalling exercise gives you a chance to examine the impact on you of community or world events. Sometimes doing this is simply interesting, and sometimes it's quite revealing of what  your childhood world was like.

Think of a world or community event from your childhood or youth. Find out the date it happened and then figure out what age you were on that day. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What was going on in your life that at that time? Did you have siblings? Where did you live?
  • What do you remember about the event?
  • What did the adults in your life say and feel about it at the time? 
  • As a child at the time, did you feel the event affected you or your immediate world? Now that you're older, do you see any effects that you didn't notice at the time?
As you write, see what else comes to mind (and heart). Children have a unique take on things, and remembering your own youthful perspective can be enjoyable and sometimes revealing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Change -- a journalling exercise

Monday, January 24, 2011

Some people say that change is one of the few things we can count on. In any case, change affects us all in different ways at different times and in different circumstances. Sometimes we like change, such as when an unpleasant person becomes more pleasant. Sometimes we don't like change, such as when we have to move away from a beloved home. And no matter how we feel about it, we change often in the course of growing up and getting older.

Set aside some time to consider how you have changed in the last five, ten, or twenty years...and what affect those changes have had. Think about the changes you consider to be "good," as well as the ones you think of as "bad" or "negative."

First, write down all the big and small changes you can think of. Decide how many of them you want to look at closely. One? Three? All of them?

Then, for each change you decide to examine, answer the questions below, taking time to muse and remember:
  1. Was the change fairly easy to deal with, or was it hard?
  2. Did you react to this change differently than ususal?
  3. If you resisted the change, what did you think and do in your resistance -- refuse to discuss it, get really busy, take out your feelings on others? How did you feel -- afraid, satisfied, angry, resentful, excited, willing, sad, ashamed, etc.?
  4. If you accepted or enjoyed the change, what did you feel, think, and do to help the change occur?
  5. How did the change affect other people? How did you feel about those affects at the time?
  6. At this moment, how do you see the change and its results? What do you think and feel about it? Do you feel differently now than you did when the change occurred?
Self-evaluation like this fosters growth and healing. It provides opportunities to understand the nature of change and to embrace, or at least accept it, as a natural part of life. Through self-examination we find wisdom and forgiveness. Our fears can diminish because we learn to see change as a normal process.

You might have uncovered old feelings of guilt or shame while doing this exercise. This isn't unusual, and it doesn't mean you're a bad person. It means you're human. We're very good at burying unpleasant feelings, often because we don't know what to do with them at the time we feel them. This journalling exercise gives you a chance to re-examine your difficult feelings; the gift of time might have given you new perspectives or emotional skills. Use these to help yourself understand and deal with old pain. You might find help in earlier posts I've written. To read more about dealing with guilt, click here. To read more about dealing with shame, click here.

If you have trouble coming to terms with past changes, feelings, or actions, I encourage you (as always) to talk with a trusted friend or counsellor. Sometimes another person's perspective can be very helpful.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Never Too Late

Monday, January 17, 2011

For the past several months I've been teaching a number of college and community courses for adults -- primarily lifeskills, computers, and English. Over the years, my students have ranged in age from 16 to 70+. Every time I teach another course, I'm encouraged, awed, and renewed by those who risk moving forward.

It often takes courage to go back to school after being away. People wonder if they can do it. They wonder if they'll be laughed at for being "too old" for school. Some they don't really know what they'll be dealing with or exactly how it might help them, while others have a definite plan. As with many things, people's confidence covers a spectrum from near-terror to absolute certainty.

Many, many of my students over the years have met the challenges of returning to school as an adult and have then continued to meet more. They've learned that they're smarter than they thought and that asking for help is smart, too. Some have made friends, found entirely new directions to pursue, felt proud to provide an example for their children and grandchildren. Just as importantly, some have learned that school is not the best choice for them, not at that moment, anyway.

I take my hat off to anyone who decides to learn something new, in any setting, for any reason, at any time. Keep up the good work (and play).

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Hardest & the Best

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tweny-seven years ago today, I was very large with child...our third child. His dad, older brother, Logan,  and I were so excited about this baby! Having lost our first son, we were perhaps more appreciative of this healthy pregnancy and aware of the unpredictable nature of life than many young parents might be.

Well, Lucas did arrive safe and sound as anything. He was followed a few years later by another brother, Graham. Over the years of raising these boys, partly as a married parent and partly as a single parent, I came up with one of my personal axioms:

Being a parent is the hardest, best, & most satisfying thing in my life.In the course of time, I've also been blessed with step-children, grandchildren, and other Bonus Kids, as I call all the young ones I get to hang out with. Birth Kids and Bonus Kids. Fantastic.

Today, with most of my Kids in their twenties and thirties, it's still true that being a parent, auntie, and grandparent -- as conscious, loving, and dedicated as I can be -- is the hardest, best, and most satisfying aspect of my life.

I've certainly screwed up. I've tried things and failed miserably. I've felt so frustrated with my little lovelies I could have shaken them; I nearly did, actually. But I kept paying attention to how friends with older kids handled situations. I asked questions. I learned to listen to my own opinion and began my own healing work. I lost two children and felt terror at losing others. I watch them suffer and wish I could carry that for them, but I can't. And I shouldn't.

This is life.

If you have a friendly or loving relationship with any child or younger person, you are both so fortunate. You get to enjoy a ride that enables you both to have fun and work hard and grow up. What a great gift!