Breathe Past it

Once upon a time in yoga class, we were laying in savasana and the instructor guided us to breathe into each part of our body. She advised that, should we have an injury, no matter how old, to breathe past it. Breathe past it to a time before the injury, when there was no pain.

Today I paid a visit to my home of nearly 30 years ago – the place where I came of age. I walked the surrounding familiar streets, stood outside my former apartment building, and sat in the green space behind it. And I breathed. I breathed past it all. Past 29 years.

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I breathed past disappointments in myself and others;

I breathed past “what ifs”;

I breathed past struggles, hurt, anger and all the other baggage-injuries that 29 years can hold.

I sat as I did as a 20 year old. Full of youthful confidence, strength and hope for the future.

I was just quietly myself.

How lovely. I found the essence of me.

Such peace.

Such healing.

I decided right then and there –  I am taking this me back as I leave.

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Relationships and The Beautiful Gift of Inquiry

I have once again found myself in the forgiveness realm. This is nothing new for me. Neither is it foreign to humanity as a whole. Either I am the one who needs to be forgiven, or I need to forgive. None of this is for the faint of heart as forgiveness carries with it a cornucopia of strong emotions. Nonetheless, I have found that healing only truly comes when forgiveness has occurred.

This is my current story.

I recently left a very difficult and hurtful friendship (I referred to it as an “entanglement” here). I tried to do it as gracefully as possible. Unfortunately, the other person did not take it well. We have known each other “forever” and I suspect she had grown very comfortable with the dynamics of our relationship. Truth is, it was very dysfunctional. In all honesty, I don’t think she likes herself very much. At any rate, it seems that she coped with her own internal dissatisfaction by projecting all the things she disliked about herself, onto me. I put up with this for far too long. Some reasons being:

I knew her since we were 11 years old, and I was so used to the style of our interactions, it took me a long time to realize how very unhealthy they were;

I truly cared for her. And I loved to “save” people. I believed that by constantly returning kindness for rudeness I would somehow eventually teach her to treat me (and others) better. This never happened. After decades, things were even worse. Which brings me to today’s writing on forgiveness (an addition to a former blog entry here).

After years of hurt, broken confidences and outright spitefull remarks, I finally had to be straight with my friend. I had to tell her the truth. I no longer felt close to her. I could not trust her. The friendship had been trampled on so much for so long, it no longer existed in my heart. I told her it was over.

And my friend reacted as I always knew she would – aggressively.

(Which is frankly another reason I stayed so long – fear)

A lot was said. Publically.

My friend quickly reacted by slamming me on facebook to all our mutual friends (and anyone else on her friends’ list). She wrote that she was now “free” of me. She described me as “toxic”. She indicated that she hoped everyone will come to realize how “toxic” I am.

I was hurt.

I was angry.

However,

I did not give her what she wanted – which was a public fight.

Instead, I turned to Byron Katie at The Work.

This was the attitude I started with:

“She should not have called ME “toxic”. SHE is the toxic one! SHE has treated me terribly for years! How dare she!”

Then I opened my mind to other possibilities, and I turned the above statement around.

“She SHOULD call me ‘toxic’ … how is this statement true?”

“How COULD that statement be true after ALL I have put up with!!!”

Well, I realized something.

I realized that I had allowed her to treat me in a shoddy way for decades (DECADES!) I began to understand that during all those years of allowing her to treat me that way, her brain has become wired to do so. I had originally believed that she would unlearn that behaviour. But, instead, it has become completely ingrained in her. It is now second nature. This is how she relates to friends. And this is not healthy. In fact, this is very unhealthy. And so it follows:

I am toxic to this person.

I have, unwittingly, encouraged in her, a very dysfunctional system of relating to others.

Understanding this has allowed me to let go of any residual anger and hurt; it has allowed me to move on from victimhood. It has freed me and forgiveness has become easy.

I wish my friend well, though from a distance.

I honestly hope she finds the peace that we all need.

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Yes, I Have Changed …

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Queen Street West, Toronto

I simply could not continue to survive in this world the way I was.

I’m surprised I lasted as long as I did.

Yes, folks, there is such a thing as being too kind, too giving, too compassionate, too forgiving and too loving.

It becomes too much when it is done without regard for oneself; when serving others is prioritized to the point that the giver’s own needs are sacrificed.

What follows is a state of being which is decidedly not spiritual. What follows is the definition of martyrdom. In my case, martyring myself to useless, superfluous and thankless causes.

Take it from one who knows, this mindset attracts the wrong people.  Interestingly enough, this mindset can also extend to attracting the wrong reactions from the right people.

Not a happy place to be in.

In my own personal situation, it was very easy for others to push the right buttons to manipulate me into agreeing with and doing things when my heart and spirit were screaming “NO”!

Simply:

allude to a lack of compassion or hypocrisy;

mention selfishness and sprinkle on a little guilt;

add a dose of “What will other people think?”

And certain characters had me exactly where they wanted me – doing backflips and jumping through ridiculous hoops for their viewing pleasure.

As I look back, I see it was almost comical.

Until it wasn’t.

Until I was so exhausted, and so resentful and so burned out that I did not even resemble the original kind and compassionate person I started out as. All that was left was a threadbare, used up doormat.

So I changed.

I realized kindness and compassion are only authentic when they are first applied to oneself. And this is where boundaries began. Take it from me, there are some things we cannot do for others, because the resulting impact on ourselves is far too great for us to bear. Which brings me to the next point –

Sometimes we will disappoint people, and this is perfectly fine. They will survive it, and so will we.

In the same manner, sometimes we will be misunderstood. Also fine. Things generally become clearer as time passes.

Now we come to the hardest part –

Sometimes when we stand up for ourselves and exercise our right to say “no”, we will not be liked. Not always. But sometimes. I have come to accept this. I have no control over what other people think of me. Their opinion of me is their business – not mine. In the end, a “friendship” that is based on us not being our authentic self by saying “yes” when we mean “no”, is no friendship at all. Rather, it is an “entanglement”, in which both parties are better off without. (Trust me on this one. I spent over 30 years on such an “entanglement” and barely made it out with my heart and spirit still intact).

Over time, I have come to acknowledge that not all people carry positive motives in their hearts; that “acquaintance” is not another word for “friend”; that people can say one thing and in the end do something else entirely; and that, even those who are close, will sometimes make choices that are not in our best interest. I am okay with all of this. I have learned to look after myself and my own needs. This is my job to do. Nobody else’s. I truly am a “grown up”. Finally.

I still believe in love, compassion, kindness, goodness and having a generous heart.

But now, this is tempered with reality.

I  still am a “nice girl”.

But, make no mistake, I am no push-over.

My eyes are wide open.

The Dreaded “Shake Up” Call

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By this age I have discovered that change is the only constant thing about life.

Our bodies alone are always morphing into something new; over a 24 hour period we loose almost a million skin cells. We were born a  baby, grew to toddlerhood, then childhood, then teenhood, and finally on to adulthood.

These changes are reflected in our lives. Our priorities shift and alter as we pass through the various ages and stages.

And then, of course, there are the changes that are individual to our own personal lives. People come and go. Things that were once so important, become a distant memory. Busy houses filled with children’s laughter become a little quieter and a little more adult.

Sometimes life will take us down paths we would never have chosen for ourselves. We may become

unsettled,

disjointed,

uncomfortable,

confused.

We have experienced a “shake up” call. We become acutely aware that control is an illusion; that certain aspects of life are beyond our command.

What we do have control over, though, is our response to the various happenings life tosses our way.

I have found that when I let go of what I think my life should be, and I accept life as it really is, a tremendous space opens. I now have room to replant and revamp. I have room to enjoy what I previously did not envision.

I know that life sometimes brings suffering. I have suffered myself in the past.

But I have discovered something that has helped; a little shift in perspective that has added insight to what previously may have looked dismal.

I have learned that when I focus on “should be’s”, my life becomes a closed box. But when I open my eyes to the truth of what “really is”, I become free to enjoy and to create new things. And, yes, I also become free to cry things out, to grieve, to be sad. All feelings are normal and natural. I believe in accepting and embracing all emotions before they can be laid down and let go of. Only then are we prepared to truly move forward in peace and confidence. And we are always moving forward. We have no other choice. Time ticks by and propels us into the future whether we are digging our heels in, kicking and screaming or whether we are gently accepting the change.

By all means, I believe in holding on to my dreams. I fight for the future I want.

But I also know that it’s important for me to find ways to love the here and now. And I allow the here and now to assist me in shaping the future.

It’s in the choices I make right now,

It’s the way I endeavour to find beauty and lessons in the present moment,

It’s in those silent prayers of gratitude for what is, what was, and what will become,

It’s in letting go of the preconceived plans of how life should go and embracing the life journey that really exists for me.

By this point in life, I have faith in two things:

The first being my track record for successfully navigating any challenge (or joy, or crisis, or loss) that life has offered so far, is One Hundred Percent. That’s pretty good odds. Please remember that we are all working with these odds;

The second would be, I have complete trust in our Beautiful Creator*. I know that I may have one thing in mind that I believe is good and I believe I want. However, when I let go of what I think I want/need (and I let go of any residual bitterness, anger or resentment at not getting my way), I find I am led to a future that is beautiful beyond anything I could envision for myself. Please understand that I am not saying this facetiously. Some of the paths I have walked have been extremely hard. Yet pressing on has paid off.

At the end of the day, Life itself is gift enough.

In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity – Albert Einstein

*I respect every person’s interpretation of what “Beautiful Creator” would mean. To some, this may be “The Universe”, to other’s “God”, or “Nature”, et cetera.

My Magical Garden

Fourteen years ago this month, my hubby and I packed up our kids and belongings and moved to our dream home. This home has features that appealed to all of us: formal dining room (me), an acre of land to run and play in (our kids), and a big garage and driveway (hubby).

Our new property also offered lots of potential for gardens. And planting I have done. Lovely lavender offers a gentle welcome by our entrances and around our gazebo. We have tomato and pepper plants available for a fresh addition to summer salads. There remain plenty of trees for shade and privacy. Two tiger lilies replanted from a work friend’s garden, became very fertile and multiplied along the front of our home. All our gardens have done exceptionally well.

All, except for one, that is.

One small section of the garden by our front porch absolutely refused to accept any of my efforts of planting or seeds. No matter how hard I tried, this little plot of soil yielded nothing.

Not one to give up easily, I made enquiries at garden centres, googled on-line, added new soil, put down some mulch, etc. etc. etc. All to no avail. This little garden spot simply refused to cooperate with my efforts.

Finally, five years ago, I gave up trying.

In order to keep this section from looking completely bare, I plopped a potted strawberry plant that was gifted to our family, on the soil.

At the end of that summer, the summer of 2010, when I was cleaning the gardens for the fall, I noticed the strawberry plants had climbed over the pot, and made their way down to the ground. Not only that, a couple of the little green shoots had gone ahead and somehow planted themselves into the soil. “How interesting”, I mused to myself, as I carefully snipped the planted shoots from the pot, and continued with my late summer gardening chores.

When the spring of 2011 dawned, I was delighted to discover those little strawberry shoots had survived the winter. “They actually appear quite healthy”, I told my husband. “Perhaps they like this tiny garden spot”. So I cultivated and weeded the surrounding soil, but added nothing. I decided that allowing this little garden to grow in it’s own way, seemed like the wisest course of action.

And to my delight, those small strawberry plants grew and spread, at times yielding a few sweet fruits.

As the years have passed, our little strawberry garden has grown well, with plants spreading to fill the entire plot of soil that I once struggled so intently with. All that remains necessary, is a bit of weeding, cultivating and watering.

I guess this little garden had it’s own agenda. It’s transformation has left me amazed.

How lovely.

This morning I had some alone time, and was able to pause and ponder on this garden. I wondered if there was a spiritual lesson in all of this?

I recall my own journey.

At one time, coincidentally pre-2010, I was a woman who took her religion very seriously. I attended my Christian church every single Sunday. Rain or shine, sick or healthy, even when I was so weary I could barely roll out of bed – Sunday mornings would find me in church.

I adhered to a very strict bible reading schedule, making sure to touch on both old and new testaments upon rising in the morning, as well as adding a sprinkle of an epistle during the day, and a dash of proverbs or psalms before bed.

Always having been a book-worm, my reading became limited to solely Christian works – how to be a better Christian, how to be more loving, how to be holy, how to be a biblical wife … Unfortunately, with a full time job, kids and a husband, there was no time left over to read for the simple joy of it.

I was filling my days, trying so hard to be the perfect Christian lady. In my understanding, all these activities I was doing were like seeds that I was planting in my heart and spirit, to yield a beautiful garden for God.

But in 2010, change happened and I was challenged with some situations that I had never even dreamed I would face.

I checked in on my little Christian garden that I had worked so hard on growing in my heart. After all my hard work, efforts and diligence, I was disappointed to find that this garden was barren. It was yielding nothing.

I threw my hands up and cried out to God: “Why?!”

And somewhere within the silence that followed , I perceived a subtle answer.

“Relax. You try so hard to know Me. But I am always with you. And you have all of eternity to discover Me. Breathe, and let everything unfold as it should.”

In the years since, I have done just that.

What a journey it has been! I have found new ways to know the Divine in a natural manner as I go about my day:

– Through sharing stories and giggles over a bottle of wine with a then new and now precious girlfriend;

– Through walking my sweet puppy along paths I had previously never given myself time to explore;

– Through enjoying a young adult book series, all light and fun, uplifting and easy to read;

– Through taking a few extra moments to look a homeless lady in the eyes, and help her find the coin she just lost in the grass at a park by my work.

I have discovered so many ways to see and know God in the places and people I encounter during the ordinary moments of my day. These are the seeds that have planted themselves into my heart and spirit.

How lovely is the way this garden has grown itself.

Last week-end hosted amazing weather. I spent Sunday, garden tools in hand, cultivating, weeding and watering what has become my favourite little garden plot, filled with strawberry plants. To my utter surprise and amazement, a new little gift has emerged from the soil. Unexpected and unplanned, standing strong and proud, is a mysterious little tulip. “Now, where did you come from, little one?” I asked. “Never mind, I am so glad you are here. Welcome to our wonderful, mysterious, magical garden!”

I have found so much joy and peace in this.

tulip

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