Fight Right

“Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.”

I don’t like arguments. When I was younger, I got into them more often…sometimes down and dirty. Maybe it’s hormone levels starting to tank, or maybe it’s experience, but I can’t be bothered arguing much anymore. Instead, I’m more interested in listening to other people’s opinions even if I think they’re out in left (or right) field. Nowadays, when people tick me off, I try harder to see their perspective rather than going for the jugular.

Think of how many times you’ve been involved in some kind of argument or conflict in your life. I would bet a LOT. And think of how many times you’ve felt bad about it after the fact. At least some of the time, right? But why? Usually because you reacted in the heat of the moment and got mean…maybe even nasty.

Disagreement is part of the human condition. Just scroll Facebook for lots of anecdotal evidence. I don’t have an issue with people disagreeing, or arguing, but I don’t like it when things degenerate into name calling and personal attacks. For example, I admit to having left-leaning tendencies (although I don’t have any more patience for the radical left than I do for the radical right). Do you think calling my more conservative minded friend a right wing nut job during a debate on the political or social issue of the day is going to enhance the conversation?

Now if you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you’ve likely noticed the term mindfulness pop up from time to time. More and more, I try to practice mindfulness, and in doing so, I’ve discovered that if you’re more mindful, you can engage in  conflict in such a way that neither party comes out a bloody mess (figuratively speaking).

So now I’ll share with you some things I’ve learned about “disagreeing.” Try to remember a bit of this the next time you’re embroiled in conflict – or better still, before.

Before I get to the tips, I’d suggest that you first engage in a contemplative practice. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and long walks outdoors are some examples. What these practices do is connect your mind and body and help you become more aware of yourself and others. This can be helpful when tension in the room rises. You’ll still feel what’s going on – like your pain, frustration or anger – but if you’re somewhat experienced with contemplative practice, you may end up less overwhelmed. Contemplative practices may also help you have more insight during challenging situations.

It’s a good idea to take a breath. Pause, just for a moment, before you open your mouth. For some reason, this seems to focus you before you launch into a tirade. Are you still heating up? Pause again. Take another breath.

Close your mouth and listen. I’ve been involved in enough arguments, and witnessed enough of them, to know that most of the time, people try to talk (or yell) over one another to the point where no one can get a word in edgewise. That gets stale…fast…and then, if they’re not still interrupting, people just tune out. But here’s a dirty little secret: If people feel they’re being heard, they’re more apt to listen. Try it. You can thank me later.

Trying to find some common ground is helpful. We usually approach situations from our individual perspectives and biases. Everyone does. But if you actually listen, you may find that you and the person you’re arguing with both want a similar end result. For example, you want to buy a junior a dirt bike for his birthday. Your partner argues that’s way too much to spend on a birthday gift, and junior will end up being a spoiled, ungrateful kid.

Common ground: You both want to give junior something for his birthday. If you keep that in mind while you’re “debating,” the situation may be easier to work out. If not, well sorry, but maybe you should have had  these discussions before junior was born. (Hint: If you’re not diametrically opposed to dirt bikes, maybe your birthday gift is half the cost of the dirt bike junior wants and he pays the rest – or whatever).

When it comes to conflict, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. This doesn’t mean you have to collapse into a sobbing heap on the floor because someone looked at you the wrong way. Yes, sometimes you may be exposing yourself to further attacks if you let yourself be vulnerable, but often, opening up about tender emotions will melt that aggression. Often, this will let the other person open up so that you can find neutral ground.

Finally, you’ll get a lot further if you forget the blame. Listen to the other person, listen to yourself, and try to be a witness to what’s happening. Take it in, let it go, and you’ll move to the next level, meaning you’ll be in a better position to acknowledge the various feelings that arise.

If you just found out your partner is leaving you or that you’re about to lose your job, being more mindful will likely not make you feel better in the heat of the moment. However, if you can be more present during periods of conflict and other difficult situations, you’ll be in a better position to process what’s going on and come to a peaceful resolution. As well, by demonstrating respect, there’s a better chance that both sides can come to a civil resolution even if it’s the proverbial “agree to disagree.”

You’ll disagree with people, you’ll argue with people, but keep it civil, be respectful and “fight right.” Even if things don’t go your way, your credibility will remain intact, and no one will be able to accuse you of being a blustering, hotheaded idiot.

Bonus: Click here for an interesting article on why kids should be exposed to disagreements.






No More Faking

“Don’t trade your authenticity for approval.”

Put the word FAKE in front of any of the following:
  • orgasm
  • news
  • ID
  • breasts
  • fur
Now let’s try ARTIFICIAL:
  • intelligence
  • sweetener
  • insemination (a great option for many, by the way)
  • turf
  • nails
Are you starting to see my point? We’re surrounded by so much that isn’t real (whatever “real” actually means). Heck, why do I put makeup on before I go to work? Because if I don’t, people ask me if I’m sick. Why do you colour your hair? Because in many cases, you don’t like the reality of being a brunette or the fact that you’re going grey. The point I’m trying to make is that in a world of “fake it ’til you make it,” we aren’t always genuine. We say we’re fine when we’re not. We pretend to understand when we don’t. We try to impress in order to further our cause in some way…to get a promotion, for example. And in the process, we sacrifice our souls and become great…big…FAKES.

(Photo credit: Stefano Pollio)

Hey, I’m no better than anyone. I’ve dipped my toes in the cesspool of fakiness more than a few times. I would challenge anyone who says she hasn’t. Guys, too – you aren’t immune. The older I get, however, the more I admire those folks – young and old – who just don’t give a flying fiddler’s fart, the ones who insist on being who they are without trying to make a big point out of it, the free spirits who aren’t kissing anyone’s ass to get ahead. Let me tell you a childhood story about faking… For my first couple of years in elementary school, I took the bus although the school was only a ten-minute walk from my house. The bus driver was going by anyway, so he’d pick me up. One day in grade one, I was poking and missed the bus going home. I was devastated so I walked the whole way home crying. After that, my teacher made sure I was ready and out the door. A short time later, I arrived at school one day to find that, horror of horrors, my teacher was out and we had a substitute. To make matters worse, it was a man! Not only was I afraid, but I was freaked out by the fact that this man didn’t know about my bus problems which surely meant I would miss the afternoon run yet again. I had to think fast, so part way through the morning, I started crying and told the substitute teacher that I felt sick. The tears were real. The sick belly was fake. He did what any teacher does in those circumstances. He called my mother. Since we didn’t have a second vehicle at the time, she told him to send me on my way, and she would meet me. I started home, trying my best to look ill, but as soon as I saw my mother coming down the road, I knew she wasn’t happy. She was walking fast, swinging her arms, and as she got closer, I saw how her mouth formed the thin line it always did when she was angry. Long story short, she marched me home and later that evening, told my father. I don’t recall the punishment, but I do remember getting a lecture. It would likely have been easier to simply cry and tell the teacher that I was scared of him and scared of missing the afternoon bus, but I suppose I didn’t want to look like a wuss. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson, and there were many other times where I acted like a fake in order to cover up my true feelings. You’ll hear more about that in my memoir. Ok, enough with the reminiscing and back to the point. Sometimes we’re just plain disingenuous even though we know it’s much better to be real however painful that might be. So what’s the key to being more authentic? You know I like lists, so yes, there’s one coming, but first let me say that I’m no expert, and I can often benefit from taking my own advice.

Speak your mind. Form your own opinions and perspectives, and don’t be shy about sharing them even if they’re not always popular. However (and this is a big one), stop needing to convince others that you’re right and they’re wrong. I certainly have my opinions, but if I get over myself long enough to actually listen to someone whose opinion is different, I usually learn something even if I don’t agree. Remember to be respectful when you speak your mind, and here’s something else: Facebook fights are a waste of time. Thoughtful discourse that sticks to the topic is fair game as long as it doesn’t degenerate into name calling. Be less influenced by external expectations. There’s nothing wrong with listening to others’ opinions or asking their advice. But no one should determine your direction. If there’s any person or organization trying to do that, run! There’s a caveat here…If you’re an adult still living under your parents’ roof for free, don’t complain if they’re giving some direction. If you don’t like it, move out. Yes, I know anyone can fall on hard times and may need a hand. I’m not talking about those situations. Blaze your own path. You are unique so find your own way of living and doing things. Figure out for yourself how to pursue your passions and your purpose in life. I’m learning this from the younger ones. Neither of my children has gone to university (at least not yet), and I don’t care if they do. They aren’t making buckets of money, but they don’t have any debt, and they don’t seem to want much in the material sense. One is travelling the world, the other is making music, and they both seem pretty content. If you don’t want to do something, don’t. Just be responsible enough to accept the consequences of your choices. The good thing with life is that you can change your mind at any time. Be ok with failing. Taking the road less travelled can be risky and it’s often fraught with failure. That’s why we like to stick to convention and play it safe. But if you really want to be more genuine, you have to get over the fear of failure. It’s part of the journey, you learn from it, and it will contribute to your growth.  Admit you’re not perfect. To be true to your feelings and opinions, you must first be honest with yourself about your thoughts, beliefs, and behavior—which means confronting the bad along with the good. Genuine people are more likely to recognize their faults and shortcomings, accept them, and take responsibility for their actions. Drop the judgement. You have your faults. I have mine. We’re all different, and we’re all the same. So let’s not cut others down too much. Instead, let’s embrace our differences. We have a tendency to look at people through the lens of our own bias, expectations and perceptions. If we can shake that habit, we’ll see more clearly and have more honest interactions.
Being more authentic and less fakey takes guts because people may not like how you look, what you say, or what you do. You may find that by being more genuine you are pushed aside or ignored by the mainstream. I’ve discovered, though, that there are some amazing, unique (and crazy) people out there who are happy to welcome you into the fold. Join them!
Learn to be comfortable in your own skin, and don’t spend all your time trying to figure out someone else’s agenda or worrying about your own. If you can do this, there will be very little about you that’s fake, and that’s the kind of person I want to know.


“Life is change.”

According to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, you will shed about 35kg (77lbs) of skin over the course of your lifetime, most of it tiny flakes which make up the major constituent of house dust. Kind of gross, huh? But here’s the thing: Your body is a self-renewing system, and your tissues are constantly recycling. You never stop changing. This scientific tidbit got me thinking about change. Whether it’s happening in your personal life – relationships, health, finances – or your professional life – job status, reorganization, new management – change can be stressful even if it is for the better.

(Photo credit: Alan Emery)

I’m like everyone else. I’ve experienced a lot of change in my life, some good, some not so good. I’ve grown through it all. Depending on the change, I’ve reacted in various ways – anger, anxiety and worry but also joy, serenity and contentment. Regardless of my particular reaction, I’ve learned that there are positive ways to deal with change without pushing it away or denying that it’s happening. Lower your expectations. Sometimes I expect a lot from life – health, happiness, prosperity – even though I know that none of these things is a given. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy all three, but I’ve also experienced the exact opposite as well. This has taught me that nothing is constant and nothing lasts forever. Nothing. Therefore, I’ve found that if I lower my expectations, I’m in a better situation to accept whatever comes up. Remember, most things are out of your control. Acknowledge the change. Change is inevitable. You can duck and run, even pretend it’s not happening, but when you finally uncover your eyes, it will still be there staring you right in the face. In most cases, you’ll go a long way in preserving your peace of mind by facing reality and not burying your head in the sand. Accept the change. You can spend a lot of time trying to prevent change or actively stop it. While this may be appropriate in some circumstances, most of the time it’s not necessary and is nothing more than an exercise in futility. Try letting change unfold. It might transform you in the process and allow you to move forward. As much as I’ve disliked certain changes in the moment, with the benefit of hindsight, I realized they contributed in some way to my overall growth. Learn from change. There is a lesson to be learned in any change. Your partner left you? Perhaps you’ll learn to become more self-reliant. Maybe you will meet someone who’s a better match. You had a heart attack? Perhaps you now realize the importance of looking after yourself. Maybe with some lifestyle changes, you’ll enjoy even better health. Change is a great teacher. Be a willing student. Use change to build strength. The bone that breaks is no weaker when it heals. The winds of change may toss you around like street litter, but if you can accept and embrace the unsettling effect, you’ll be stronger and more resilient. Embrace the wisdom. The more you can accept the impermanence of everything and the more you permit change instead of fighting it, the more you’ll grow. At times, it may seem that life wants to chew you up and spit you out, but change doesn’t have to break you. By accepting the change you are experiencing, you’ll very likely gain wisdom and insight.

(Walk the path)

If you can accept and learn from it, change is no longer an enemy. In fact, most of the time, it can be your friend and teacher. So open your arms, take a breathe, move boldly forward, and welcome the newness of change while releasing the past with affection and grace.    

Mental Health Through Fitness

Fitness is an entry point to a happier, healthier life.

Recently I had a 6:30 a.m. session with my personal trainer, Doris. I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t because of Doris. It’s just that it was cold and dark, I was feeling a bit blah, and I wanted to stay in bed and play with my cat. This wasn’t reason enough to cancel, so I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed, grabbed a clementine, and headed out the door. I arrived at the gym, still wishing I was home, but I went inside and got myself organized. Doris was already there so as per the routine, I hopped on the treadmill for a quick warm-up. Doris came over to greet me and ask how I was doing. Honesty being the best policy, I told her that I wasn’t feeling the love. I wasn’t sick or anything, but I just wasn’t motivated.  Doris replied, “We can work with that.” Ugh, I wasn’t going to get out of this one. Doris and I had previously discussed what we were going to work on that morning, but I told her I didn’t want to do that anymore. So she put away her clipboard (which she often ends up doing with me) and suggested that we incorporate some mindfulness into our session. This appealed to me because on this particular morning, I didn’t feel like counting reps. Each exercise we did, Doris guided me into proper form and helped me bring awareness to each part of my body, even the parts I didn’t think I was targeting. She encouraged me to listen to my body to fine tune my positioning and determine when I had done enough. And it worked! By being mindful, I felt the burn. At one point, Doris asked me about the weight I was using for a particular exercise, and I admitted that I could go heavier. My body was clearly telling me that. Somehow, this led to a discussion on strength, and I thought about my usual catch phrase, “I’m flexible but not strong.” I told Doris how I often say this and how I wanted to change that perception to start saying, “I’m flexible AND strong” in order to send myself a different message. This is where the conversation got deep. Next thing, I was sitting on a Bosu and Doris was sitting on a stability ball, and we started chatting about why I felt I wasn’t strong. This led to a discussion about the struggles I’ve had with anxiety and depression over the years, and how I feel like I’m not strong enough to definitively beat it, how I fear that if I were on my own, I wouldn’t cope well. While talking to Doris, I realized that I want to be physically stronger because if I gain physical strength, I will start to challenge my notion of weakness. I started to see physical strength and physical fitness as a gateway to healing and the inner strength I crave. That morning, Doris and I talked about her passion for what she does, how she’s evolved as a trainer, and how she’s increasingly incorporating mindfulness into what she does.  Despite the fact that I did more talking than exercising during that session, I had come to life. For someone who could barely drag herself in the door, I was now full of energy and had a renewed purpose for exercising.

In the days since that session with Doris, I’ve thought a lot about physical fitness and mental health. Many years ago, when I first decided to get my anxiety under control, I knew I had to move my body so I became a regular walker. At one point, I decided to start running, and I saw very quickly that the increased cardiovascular activity reduced my anxiety symptoms significantly. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I slacken off on the exercise, my anxiety returns. The science supports this. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, brain chemicals that play an important part in regulating mood. There is no doubt in my mind that physical fitness can be a gateway into healing. If you deal with any kind of chronic illness, it’s not unusual to feel weak, vulnerable and unempowered, all of which can have consequences on your overall well-being. As someone who deals with anxiety, I know what it’s like to feel powerless. I could write a book on it (actually, I am). Over time, I’ve learned that when you feel powerless, it’s critical to get back on track and reclaim your power, and I’ve learned that a physical fitness regime can be a very effective part of this process. There’s no doubt that improving your body can have a measurable effect on your state of mind. Those who deal with mental illness are inclined to ruminate, their minds getting stuck in negative thought loops. Exercise helps to interrupt this cycle and gets our thoughts flowing more smoothly and productively through the brain. Walking is a well-known way for clearing your head and encouraging meditative thought, but any exercise you enjoy will do the same thing. Lying in bed just doesn’t work. I’m all for accepting our bodies, but there is no doubt that physical fitness can improve your self image and the way you think about yourself. Now before anyone accuses me of being vain, remember that being more fit gives a sense of strength, self-empowerment and achievement which is very valuable when dealing with illness. There is a significant link between physical and mental health, and there is no doubt that your physical state of health affects your mind. Your brain is connected to your body, so the health of your body affects the health of your mind. In a healthy body, things run smoothly thus giving the brain more time to deal with all the psychological stuff. Your outer reserves affect your inner reserves, and nurturing your body helps to heal your mind. So go for a walk, ride your bike, head to the gym or do anything else that gets you moving.  Your mind will thank you for it just as much as your body will!  

Get Sh*t Done

“Carpe the sh*t out of this diem.”

I recently read You Do You, the latest book by best-selling author, Sarah Knight. She wrote two other wildly popular books: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck and Get Your Sh*t Together. I plan on reading both of them. Sarah Knight’s work has been described as “self help with an edge.” She’s been referred to as “the anti-guru,” and I’d have to agree with that. She’s irreverent and funny, and she swears – a LOT. If you’d like some good advice and a laugh, pick up one of her books. Inspired by Sarah’s no holds barred style, I decided to call this blog post “Get Sh*t Done.” That said, I won’t be swearing as much as she does (except for sh*t but that’s not really swearing since I didn’t spell it out). When I put my mind to it, I’m pretty good at getting sh*t done. I’ve discovered it’s not even that difficult. In fact, I’m here to say that you can get sh*t done and still have time to spare. According to Sarah, “Everyone’s shi*t is different…and it ranges from small sh*t to tough sh*t to really deep sh*t…but the trick is to treat it all exactly the same way.” I knew that but was never able to express it as eloquently as her. I guess it’s because I don’t say sh*t as much. Whenever I’m feeling as though I’m going nowhere, I take a few minutes to think about some sh*t I’ve actually done like learn a second language, run a half marathon, and write a weekly blog post. I’ve done more than that, but I won’t bore you with the details. Accomplishing these sorts of things isn’t always easy, but if you break them down into manageable pieces – for example, learn to conjugate a verb, run a kilometer (then another), and write fifteen minutes a day – you’d be surprised what you can accomplish in a week, a month, or a year. There, I kind of snuck that first tip in when you weren’t looking. I’ll be more straightforward with the remainder of my tips for getting sh*t done. Here we go! Get Up – I hear you. You’re not a morning person. Too bad. Get up thirty minutes to one hour earlier than usual, and you’ve just found that much time to do things that you need or want to do. Sometimes I write before I go to work. Or I peel vegetables for supper. Occasionally I read a chapter in a book. If you are a night owl and just won’t change, well fine. Cut back on thirty minutes to one hour of TV late at night and do something that will advance your purpose in life. Make a List – I used to have a black book where I noted all of my appointments and things to do. Now I use the calendar on my Blackberry. Don’t rely on memory. You will forget. Keep the list simple and make sure that on any given day, you include only what you can realistically do. You’ll find that you will get more done on a day-to-day basis, and you’ll also make more progress toward those bigger goals. Sarah Knight takes it a step further. She suggests that you turn your to-do list into a must-do list. This means review your list and identify the things that must be done today and push the rest ahead to tomorrow. I suggest that depending on what it is, you can move it ahead to next week…month…or even year. Heck, maybe just don’t bother doing it at all! Clean Up – Keep the space around you tidy. It keeps you more focused and helps you to avoid distractions. I wrote a blog post about that. If you haven’t already, check it out here. Exercise in the Morning – Guilty. I don’t. But it really is a good way to start your day. Quick jog. Early morning gym class. Yoga. You’ll wake yourself up and be ready to take on the world. And the bonus? It’s done!  Even though I’m a morning person, I go to gym class in the evening (except for Saturday – that’s a morning endeavour). I do other things in the morning, including play with my cat. The most important thing, though, is to exercise. You’ll feel better and have more energy which means you’ll get more sh*t done. Stop Multi-taskingSorry, folks, the research is in and it’s pretty conclusive. Multi-tasking doesn’t work and makes us less efficient. Don’t bother playing the “women are multi-tasking experts” card. We’re not. To increase your productivity, focus on one thing at a time. On top of that, schedule a chunk of uninterrupted time to get that one thing done. Say No – It’s not always easy, but this word might be one of the most important ones in your vocabulary. If you can’t commit to something 100%, don’t commit at all. I don’t need to say anything more. There are lots of books and internet articles on how to say no. Get Off Social Media – I know, it’s your hobby, your entertainment, whatever. That’s fine. But don’t on the one hand say you have no time to go to the gym, visit your mother, read a book, learn a language or cook healthy meals then spend two hours every day scrolling through Facebook. Yes, I like Facebook, and I use it (sometimes too much), but I’ve figured out that I get a lot of useful things done when I limit social media time. I don’t think I’ll lie on my death bed saying how social media made my life so much better, but I might lie on my death bed saying how writing that book made my life so much better. Skip the Meetings – I have to be careful here. I’m a manager, and I lead meetings. But really, don’t you hate meetings? If you’re one of the social people who likes when meeting time is spent talking about that new restaurant, someone’s sick kid, and so forth, you might love meetings. But I like to go to meetings, get to the point, and get out. I’m not anti-social, but most meetings really interfere with getting sh*t done. If you really don’t have to attend, don’t. If your boss says you have to, well go, and lobby your boss to keep them as short as possible. Make a Decision – Cut down on the time to make a decision. Black dress? Red dress? Believe me, no one cares. Make up your mind within sixty seconds, and you’ll likely make the same decision it took you twenty minutes to make. Access the Power of Negative Thinking – This one is straight from Sarah Knight: “Sometimes, getting mad is the fastest route toward getting sh*t done. Instead of sitting around playing woe is me about your nasty boss or your dead-end job, channel that energy into a search for something better.” (I hope Sarah doesn’t sue me for plagiarism, but I gave her credit, right?) Yes, you can get sh*t done. It’s often a matter of getting your sh*t together, maybe even having a couple of goals. I’ve given you a few handy-dandy tips so now figure out what you want (or need) to do and go slay it!  

Forgiveness from a Spiritual Perspective

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

Dr. Fred Luskin is an expert on forgiveness who has studied and taught the topic for over two decades. From his research, Dr. Luskin has developed the Nine Steps to Forgiveness and used them to help countless people give up their grudges. Religion traditions have always told us to forgive but have never really offered practical steps as to how to do this. This is unfortunate, because according to Dr. Luskin, forgiveness is a skill that can be taught. It does, however, take practice. It often seems that we live in a culture that prizes the expression of anger and resentment more than the peace of forgiveness. Because of this, we often don’t take the opportunity to heal ourselves, sometimes from great emotional pain and the physical consequences that result.

DISCLAIMER: There are some hurts you may never be able to forgive.

You may have wounds that are so profound, that happened so early in life, or when you were vulnerable, or wounds where someone you loved was injured, that practically speaking, you will never be able to fully forgive. The hurt is too much a part of who you are. Various forms of abuse, whether to ourselves or those we hold dear, are often not completely forgivable. Progress toward forgiving can take years of growth and self-work devoted to reinforcing repeatedly the damaged sense of personal worth and power. Abuse makes scars in the brain, and some never heal. It is better to accept that we are neither ready nor able – and in some instances, not even willing to consider – to be forgiving than to pretend to forgive when we do not. I once wrote down a quote that speaks to this, but I have long forgotten the source: “Pretension only submerges our anger, and anger not expressed always hires a saboteur. This saboteur knows that in spite of advertising forgiveness, in truth it is but a rickety façade behind which rage is eager to launch a lethal ambush.” Before getting into Dr. Luskin’s Nine Steps to Forgiveness, there are some misconceptions that need to be addressed. Forgiving an offense means that you condone the offense. As an example, if your partner had an affair, forgiving your partner for the offense does not mean that you condone what he or she did. The affair was wrong, but you do not have to suffer indefinitely because you were betrayed. Forgiveness means that you have to reconcile with someone who treated you badly. For example, if you were the recipient of childhood abuse or were in a harsh relationship, you can forgive the offender and as part of that choice, make the decision to end or limit contact. Forgiveness is primarily for creating your peace of mind. It is to create healing in your life and return you to a state in which you can live and be capable of love and trust again. Forgiveness does not have to lead to reconciliation. It can also be helpful to remember that we can change our minds and that a decision to sever contact in the present can be revisited in the future. Forgiveness depends on whether or not the abuser or lying person apologizes, wants you back, or changes his or her ways. If someone’s behaviour is the primary determinant for your healing, then that person will retain power over you indefinitely. Forgiveness is the experience of finding peace inside and can neither be compelled nor stopped by another. As an example, you can forgive an ex-spouse for abandoning you and your children, but forgiveness in no way means you do not ensure that your children get the support payments to which they are entitled. Forgiveness and justice are not the same. You can seek justice with an open heart just as well as with a bitter one. Forgiveness means that we forget what has happened to us. Of course you’re going to remember your wounds. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to dwell on them or craft your life story in such a way that the wounds play a central role. Painful events can be life-enhancing experiences when we grieve and learn from them. Misconceptions addressed, here are the Nine Steps to Forgiveness: Know exactly how you feel. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what things about the situation are not ok. Then, tell a couple of trusted people about your experience. Make a commitment. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else. In fact, no one else has to know about your decision. Understand your goal. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person who upset you nor does it mean condoning his or her actions. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Practice stress management techniques. At the moment you feel upset, practice stress management techniques to soothe your body’s fight-or-flight response. There are all kinds of them at your disposal. Reduce your expectations. Give up expecting things from other people that they do not choose to give you. Recognize that you cannot control how others behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, friendship, and prosperity and work hard to get them. However, when you demand that these things occur when you don’t always have the power to make them happen, you will set yourself up for suffering. Look for another way to get your positive goals met. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt, seek out new ways to get what you want. A life well lived is the best solution. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty, and kindness around you. Amend your grievance story. Amend your grievance story to remind yourself of the heroic choice to forgive, and focus your conversation on what you have learned about yourself and life. If you are serious about learning forgiveness, spiritual growth will accompany you. The way of the spirit is to embrace life – all of it. Yes, we need to protect ourselves, but we often have the power to transform what is destructive in life. Forgiveness of others, and self, is an act of transformation and a high spiritual path. Spirituality and forgiveness are both about oneness. Any study of spirituality will find that at the core of the teaching of the seers and guides are paths for the practice of forgiveness. Spirituality is the name we give to uniting with all of experience; forgiveness is the name we give for humans coming back together. Without forgiveness, the life of the spirit is handicapped. If we are active on the path to forgiveness, we are making progress and are well on our Way.

BONUS: Find the Gift in the Mistake

It’s so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of criticizing yourself when you’ve made a poor choice or responded badly to a stressful situation. “How could I have been so stupid?” “I can’t believe I did that!” It’s important to show up for the challenges of life, take responsibility, yes, absolutely. But once that’s done, perpetuating the shame and guilt simply perpetuates the stress. And stress inhibits the functioning of the parts of the brain that could wisely discern what to do now. Much better to turn regrets into lessons. You can re-frame your mistake as learning:
  • This is what happened.
  • This is what I did.
  • This has been the cost.
  • This is what I learned.
  • This is what I could do differently going forward.
You can forgive yourself and move on.    

Sarah Ann

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

My great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Wheeler, was born in Abney, P.E.I. on February 22, 1879. The youngest of eleven children, Sarah’s time on earth was expected to be short. She was a tiny girl and according to the doctor, suffered from a heart defect. Sarah’s father died when she was only eight, and a few years later, she lost several of her siblings to TB. It was not an easy start. At eighteen, Sarah set off for Boston where she was hired to work as a maid. Her employers treated her well, and when she or any of the hired help needed to travel, they were chauffeured in carriages. Sarah quickly decided that this was the life to which she aspired – lady of the house. While in Boston, Sarah met Herbert Kielly, a clever, handsome, smooth talking young man who also happened to be from P.E.I. Herb told her that he was a medical student. Believing this was the ticket to her dreams, Sarah married Herb on July 25, 1900. Somewhat reluctantly, she returned with her new husband to Covehead, P.E.I. It was there that her dream life unraveled.

Sarah and Herb on their wedding day

It turns out that Herb was actually a fisherman. He was also a reckless drinker and scrapper as well as a story-telling, card-playing ladies man. All of this stood in stark contrast to Sarah’s Free Church of Scotland principles. Needless to say, the marriage was stormy, yet Herb and Sarah managed to produce three children. At the age of forty-four, Herb signed up to fight for his country in World War I. It’s speculated that he was trying to avoid Sarah’s general ire. While overseas, Herb didn’t see much action as a member of the cookhouse staff. True to character, he also contracted syphilis. In 1923, Herb decided to change careers, so he bought a farm in Stanhope. Sarah became a farmer’s wife whose days revolved around chores like raising chickens, churning butter, and milking cows. In fact, at eighty-eight, she was still milking the cows twice a day. Sarah took pleasure in both perennial gardening and berry picking, harvesting unbelievable quantities for the jams and jellies she sold. In the fall of 1972, at the age of ninety-three, she picked over two tons of cranberries for sale using a hand-held cranberry scoop. Considering the era, Sarah was quite progressive in her outlook. She didn’t believe that jobs should be gender specific, and she had no issue with the idea of mixed marriages. When given the right to do so, she began voting, always making sure she voted the opposite of Herb in order to cancel his vote. Herb died when Sarah was sixty-five. She never remarried and lived at home with her oldest son, Wendell. Wendell was a bachelor, but he did have a few girlfriends. One in particular tried her best to marry him. Apparently, Sarah never liked her and claimed that if that woman came in the front door, she’d leave by the back. Her hostility was probably due to the fact that Herb may have fooled around with the woman’s mother. At any rate, Sarah never had to worry about impending nuptials, because it’s pretty certain that Wendell was not particularly attracted to the ladies. Sarah was also known as Annie although she preferred to be called the former. Most of the community called her Mrs. Kielly, and some of the younger people called her Grandmother Kielly. I called her Grandmother. Grandmother was outspoken, sassy and intimidating. Like a lot of people, she made sarcastic comments about others in the community, and she liked to criticize the United Church. When my oldest brother was about two weeks old, Grandmother came to see him. After looking him over very carefully, she proceeded to tell my mother that she didn’t have enough clothes on the baby because his arms were cold. My mother ignored this and asked her what she thought of the baby to which Grandmother replied, “He’s no better than anyone else’s.” Yes, Sarah was sarcastic and not always nice, but beneath the crusty exterior, there was a good heart. As a child, I often walked to Grandmother’s house to visit. She was very kind to me and would always feed me sweets and dole out pocket change, enough to buy a good stash of treats at the grocery store. When I would bring her bouquets of mayflowers in the spring, I usually got extra money along with a yellow apple. Although Sarah had a fiery personality, one can only imagine that her shattered dreams, along with the constraints placed on women of her generation, contributed to her ascerbic nature. Sarah died at home, on June 21, 1982 at the age of 103. She was alert to the very end. Although she always said she didn’t want to be buried with him, Sarah was laid to rest beside Herb at the Stanhope Cemetery. Despite her wishes being ignored, I hope she’s resting in peace.    

Clean the Clutter

I have a gift. Or perhaps it’s a curse. I’m able to sense clutter. “That’s no gift,” you say. “Clutter is pretty obvious to the eye.” True, but my ability goes beyond that. I see clutter behind closed doors. You stuffed everything in the closet before the guests arrived? I know. How, you ask? I sense it. For me, clutter gives off a crazy, chaotic and unsettling energy. If your closet is cluttered, my chest tightens a bit. That’s why I’m a purger. I don’t like when my chest tightens. This is no joke. I’m serious. I’m not saying that I live in a house with bare walls, a couch and a table. I own stuff – just not too much. And if it weren’t for my husband, I’d own even less. But what’s the harm in a bit of clutter? More than you realize. Consider that researchers have discovered a link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels and a lot of household objects. As well, scientists have discovered that a cluttered environment limits our ability to focus. If that’s not enough, clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli, drains our energy, and creates feelings of guilt and anxiety. Plus it looks bad.

A bit busy

Clutter = STRESS.

And you know what too much stress does, right? If not, read this. Let’s not stop with stress. Clutter harms our health and well-being in other ways. Researchers say it causes us to overeat, makes us less generous, and reduces our ability to focus. Clutter also means dust, mold, and animal dander which we all know is bad for asthmatics and allergy sufferers. So if you’re less than tidy, is there hope? As a clutter-free activist, I can assure you there is. Here are some ideas for turning things around and benefiting your health in the process. Know that you can do it. You know those times you got busy and cleaned up a room or two, threw out some junk and donated the rest? Felt good, didn’t it? Imagine what it would be like to feel like that more often. Believe that it IS possible to live with less. Get rid of the excess. A drawer here, a closet there, and you’re breathing easier. Eliminate duplicate anything, dispose of the extra twenty-five ornaments gathering dust, give away books you’ll never read again, throw out anything past its expiry date, get rid of mateless socks, and donate every piece of clothing you haven’t worn in the past year. Develop new habits. Clean the kitchen after meals, tidy up a bit in the evening, neatly store out of season items, and do a purge every now and then.

(Photo credit: Colin Maynard)

Slow down on consumption. Try to limit your purchases. Before whipping out the plastic, ask yourself: Do I need it? Do I have a place to put it? Will it complicate my life? Am I buying it for the right reasons? Consuming less benefits the environment and saves money. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “stuff,” but there’s something wrong with too much of it. Uncontrolled clutter robs you of life. There are the obvious things like not being able to find your keys, but it’s the more invisible things, like the increased stress that clutter causes, which are the most harmful. Start small, tackle the clutter gradually, and you’ll soon see and feel the difference. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you for it.    

A Spiritual Approach to Aging

“The young and old are closest to life. They love every minute dearly.” – Chief Dan George

There was a beautiful, spiritual woman, a great Indian saint named Anandamayi Ma. Millions of people came to be in her presence because it felt so spacious, unconditional and loving. At one point, Paramahansa Yogananda said to her, “Ma, who are you?” She replied, “Father, there is little to tell. My consciousness has never associated itself with this temporary body. Before I came on this earth, Father, I was the same. I grew into womanhood, but still I was the same. When the family in which I had been born made arrangements to have this body married, I was the same. And Father, in front of you now, I am the same. Even afterwards, though the dance of creation changes around me in the hall of eternity, I shall be the same.”

Anandamayi Ma

I’m aging. I have been since conception, but now it’s happening in the conventional sense: the gray hairs, the facial lines, my body losing out to gravitational forces. I’m not going to lie. I’ve given passing thought to cosmetic procedures that promise to outwardly delay the process for a while longer. Cost aside, the main reason I don’t delve into this territory is that it scares me. Despite the assurances of safety, I still can’t get my head around the concept of injecting toxins into my face. And thank you very much, but I don’t need someone slicing into my breasts to restore the little bit of perkiness they once had. Still, I wish I could really mean it when I say, “I’ve earned every one of these lines.” I have, but that doesn’t mean I want them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to have made it this far, I’m grateful to be alive, and I realize a lot of people don’t have the privilege of living long enough to deal with the ravages of time. I would never go back to being in my twenties or thirties – not a good time in my life – but I do miss the smooth skin and tight tummy. There’s no doubt, despite knowing better, that I’ve been influenced by our society’s obsession with youth and beauty. Plus, it’s not always easy to come to terms with the idea that you don’t turn as many heads as you used to (not that this was a regular occurrence). When I know my ego is getting in the way, I often try to take a spiritual perspective , particularly with situations I don’t like. I’ve started to do this with the process of physical aging. Looking at it from a spiritual perspective, I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole process may just be designed to teach us about ourselves as souls. I’ve discovered that as we age, we’re given many opportunities to practice letting go and to shift our perspective from ego to soul view. And if aging doesn’t do it for us, then the next stage, dying, certainly will. I like to think the soul (or consciousness) continues in some form, and if that’s the case, the soul doesn’t age the way the body does. Is this to say that aging and dying are trips of the ego and of the physical manifestation? Maybe so. And perhaps this also means that the soul is merely watching – birth, existence, aging, death. The older I get, the more I feel there are advantages to adopting a soul perspective on aging. As I do this more, I find that I’m becoming more accepting of the changes in my body. I’ll admit this isn’t always easy to do, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, I suppose the process of discovering the soul perspective is a spiritual quest for each of us. Certainly, though, we can look at what’s presented to us, listen to our hearts, and go with whatever practices feel right. There are things that can help. It’s useful, for example, to have things around that awaken our faith: pictures, books, stones, sacred quotes or anything else that helps us to access our inner depths. Meditation, mantra or prayer are also helpful, because these kinds of practices quiet us and help carry us through the moments when aging-related changes are happening. We don’t have to go on clinging to the past, buying into a cultural myth of the Youthful Me, hanging on to who we used to be. We also don’t have to go on identifying ourselves with that being who’s changing, seeing the aging process through those eyes. If we can just quiet down and look a little more deeply, we see that right behind the identity that’s so caught in the story line there is someone else. Just behind all that drama is a place of mindfulness, a place of the witness. It is a part of us that is purely calm and composed, watching the whole story unfold. That is the soul, untouched by time and forever ageless.

Hitting Reset

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

This past December, I had my annual physical. The result: excellent health for which I’m grateful. Despite this, the doctor told me that although my “good” cholesterol is excellent, my “bad” cholesterol is higher than last year, still in the normal range, but just barely. He also noted that I was twelve pounds heavier than last year. When I groaned, he was quick to say that my weight was in the normal range, and he was actually happier with my weight this year because the year before, I’d been a bit too light. You see, the year before, my husband had been dealing with significant health issues, and I was dealing with anxiety to the point where I had no appetite and difficulty swallowing food. Of course, I lost weight. Thankfully, the situation normalized, and I relished – a bit too much – my newfound ability to eat. Since many of my clothes were too loose, I took advantage of the situation and indulged in French fries, chips, chocolate, and “Pepsi, no ice.” At the same time, I focused less on healthy cooking, ate too much animal protein, and started slacking a bit on my exercise routine. No wonder there was a change in my weight and cholesterol levels. Along with the fact that my pants were tighter, the conversation with the doctor served as a wakeup call. I decided that in the new year, I’d hit the reset button. In one of my recent blog posts, I wrote that 92% of New Year resolutions fail. I decided that I wasn’t going to be part of that statistic, meaning I had to figure out a way to get back to my healthy ways and do so in a way that would keep me committed. I thought about it for a while and talked to my husband about the plan I was formulating. In early January, I had a coaching session with my personal trainer, Doris. I came clean on what was going on and shared some ideas I had for getting back on track. Together, we discussed and firmed up my plan.

Doris and me

Due to health issues, my husband is on a restricted diet. A lot of the food I can and should eat, he cannot. We each look after our own breakfast and lunch so there’s no issue with those meals. That leaves the evening meal, so we decided to take turns preparing supper during the week. On Saturday evenings we go out, and on Sunday, I usually do the cooking. I also decided to start doing some extra cooking on Sunday for the week ahead. Not only does it save time during the week, it gives me the opportunity to prepare more plant-based fare that I can use to supplement my husband’s cooking. He’s very limited in the plant foods he can eat, so understandably, he doesn’t cook a great variety. Having re-energized my food regime, I turned my attention to exercise. I’m going to say right up front that despite the myriad health benefits and how good exercising makes me feel, I don’t jump up and down with excitement at the thought of it. In fact, more often than not, it’s cold, hard discipline that keeps me showing up. I don’t get excited about brushing my teeth either, but every day, I faithfully brush and floss. I approach exercise the same way. Doris and I also talked about my exercise plan and what I had in mind, ultimately coming up with a formula I know will work for me. Left to exercise on my own all the time, I wouldn’t, so three days a week, I go to an exercise class at the gym. The music, instructor-led format, and group energy keeps me motivated although I’ll admit that sometimes I have to drag my butt out of the house to get there. A couple of evenings a week, I’m going to exercise at home. I have some free weights and a mat so I’m good to go. Doris is helping me to group some of the exercise programs she’s already developed for me into 45-minute sessions that can be done in my living room.  Top this off with some extra cardio on the treadmill or outdoors, and I’m golden. Does it still take commitment and discipline? Yes, but anything worthwhile usually does. I realize this is an awful lot about me, and I know you’re not me. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that you can make time for your health and come up with a plan to do so. You can experiment with various food regimes and physical activities and arrive at something that works for you. It all comes down to making a commitment, planning, and following through. Of course, what works for me will not necessarily work for you. You can figure out your own plan, and there are people with the expertise to help you.

Some of my healthy cooking

I can’t wrap up without offering a few tips so here we go. Start Small and Build – Eating a healthier diet and exercising regularly can be challenging, but remember, you don’t have to become a vegan tomorrow or run a marathon next week. Start eating more plant foods and try a short daily walk. Something is better than nothing, and progress builds on progress. Over time, as you start to feel better and stronger, you can challenge yourself just a bit more. Set an Intention –  If you set an intention, you give yourself direction. This helps to keep you motivated and focused. For example: I’m going for a brisk walk to clear my head. During this exercise class, I’ll be kind to myself and go at my own pace. When I go out with my co-workers for lunch today, I’m going to have a side salad instead of French fries. I’m going to learn pushups in order to increase my strength. Listen to Your Body – Your body talks. Feeling muscle burn during an intense workout can be a great thing. You’re taxing your muscles and getting stronger. Sharp pain or numbness, however, is a bad thing. Stop what you’re doing and get some help. That poutine at lunch probably tasted great, but by mid-afternoon, your body’s screaming, “Damn you!” as you slump over your desk. On the other hand, if you had the soup and salad, you’re probably feeling pretty darn good come 2:00 p.m. Ease Up on Judgement – Don’t be fanatical about diet and exercise. There’s no joy in that, and no one will want to listen to you. Eat a dessert, take an extra rest day if you feel like it. You won’t die. If you’re too strict or constantly stressed about diet and exercise, you’ll end up working against yourself. I love chocolate. I also like soft drinks, chips and French fries. I’ll continue to indulge in these things on occasion. Sometimes I like to sit on my couch and read or write instead of go to the gym. I’m not going to feel guilty if I choose that over exercise from time to time. The point is that I’m (re)committed to a healthy diet and exercise regime the majority of the time for the long haul. Your health is precious, so do what you can to preserve it. Eat well most of the time, do some sort of exercise a few times a week, and indulge yourself now and then. That’s a recipe for success. Start thinking about what you can do. Your body will love you for it.