Help

3 min. read

Picture of an angel statue

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot in the media about how it’s okay to ask for help.  I found a rough version of my own story about asking for help.  I’d filed it away.  Now seems like a good time to share it.

A few years ago, our daughter was very ill and it took over a month to get to the cause of the problem and get the treatment she needed. Needless to say, it was a very stressful time for our family. 

We were doing everything we could from a medical perspective and it wasn’t getting us anywhere.  It was such a rollercoaster ride.  One doctor after another with a possible diagnosis and treatment … and then no improvement and sometimes even worse symptoms.  It was extremely hard seeing my beautiful daughter suffer so much.  Pain and tears almost every day and nothing I could do! 

It wasn’t easy to ask for help but I felt so helpless.  Just typing “Request for Help” in the subject line of the emails was hard.  I don’t know what I expected – people to say please don’t bother me with your problems.  But that’s not what I got.

I reached out to some energy healers I knew and they connected me to a Therapeutic Touch distance healing group.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in the power of prayer or energy, there was something beautiful about total strangers sending love and support to my daughter.  All of a sudden I wasn’t helpless.  I knew lots of people were sending love and positive energy to us.  I can’t even begin to tell you how comforting and supporting that was. 

Several people who received the distance healing emails contacted me directly because they recognized Kathryn’s name.  One person knocked on our door to say hello and see how she was doing.  Others offered to come and give Kathryn in-person treatments.  The love and support was amazing.  It helped me get through Kathryn’s illness, eventual surgery, and difficult recovery.

After Kathryn’s recovery and return to school, I went out to a women’s networking meeting.  I had been part of this group for over 15 years but that night I felt very out of place when I got there.  Like I didn’t belong there.  Other women talking about business and life as usual when I had just been through a nasty ordeal.  I was tempted to just smile and say “I’m fine” when asked, and keep my story to myself.  However, I decided to open up about my experience and I was glad I did.  Once again, the love and support were amazing.

In talking about “Communicating from the Heart”, Pema Chödrön1 describes how “Everything you say can further polarize the situation and convince you of how separate you are.  On the other hand, everything you say and do and think can support your desire to communicate, to move closer and step out of this myth of isolation and separateness that we’re all caught in.”  I realized that by sharing my story I let go of the isolation and separateness.  I communicated from the heart and I received heartfelt communication back.  I felt part of the group again. 

As Brené Brown2 says, “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”  I was brought to tears with gratitude and appreciation many times throughout this experience.  There is so much love out there.  People care and they want to help.  I am so glad I opened myself up and allowed them to help me.    

1 Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema Chödrön

2 https://brenebrown.com/the-research/

Posted in Communication, Life | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Comparison Envy

3 min. read

Picture of a lake

I’ve sometimes been riding what feels like an emotional roller-coaster this last year or so.  Super up one day and then plummeting the next, or sometimes even later that same day.

One thing that can bring me down is seeing happy, shiny social media posts of people doing fun and exciting things when the highlight of my week has been grocery shopping. I don’t want them to stop doing the cool stuff they’re doing; I just want to be doing something cool too. 

Comparing my grocery shopping day to someone’s fun, vacation day can be a ticket into a downward spiral of feeling sorry for myself and dissatisfaction with my boring life.  It can feel like everyone else is doing cool, fun stuff and I’m not doing anything.  I don’t like that feeling.  It sucks the joy out of life.  Comparison, as someone smart once said, is an instant recipe for unhappiness. Yup!

Sometimes I think that avoiding social media is the answer.  I wouldn’t be comparing myself to others if I wasn’t seeing what they’re doing.  But unfortunately, “Avoiding your triggers isn’t healing.  Healing happens when you’re triggered and you’re able to move through the pain, the pattern, and the story – and walk your way to a different ending.”1  

So how to change the pattern and get to a different ending?  I heard Caroline Myss2 say about a similar situation that “this moment is not about my life path, it’s about their life path.”  That really helped put things in perspective for me.  Often, I’ve been perfectly happy with my day until I saw what someone else was doing and, bam, instant recipe for unhappiness.

Caroline also said that we are “better served to bless what’s happening to them rather than resent it.”  So, I’ve been working on strengthening my empathic joy muscle, the ability to share “the thrill of another’s achievements and happiness.”3  

I recently heard news of someone starting out on an exciting adventure and even though I wasn’t doing anything remotely exciting at the time, I reminded myself that this was their life path and sent them love.  Just doing those two small things helped me create a different ending.  Instead of being brought down by resentment because their life looked better at that moment, I was able to feel joy for them and it actually lifted my happiness level.

Cool.  An instant recipe for happiness.  I like that ending much better.

1 Vienna Pharaon, www.newyorkcouplescounseling.com

2 Caroline Myss, www.myss.com

3 Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence by Daniel J. Siegel, MD

Posted in Life, mindfulness, Perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Curious

3 min read

I haven’t been journaling lately, but last month I had no choice.  I felt like I was going to explode.  Or maybe implode.  I’m not sure which, and it really doesn’t matter, because according to a quick Google search, the results of both are bad and will leave you “equally unhappy with your lot in life.”  Yep, that’s how I felt, unhappy with my lot in life.

What was I so unhappy with?  Let me quote my journal, “I feel like I’ve aged 20+ years in the last two.  I feel ancient.  I feel decrepit … yoga poses I used to like and do fairly well now hurt and look pathetic.  I hate this!”  I think you get the picture.

After a page of ranting, I remembered what I’ve been reading in Tara Brach’s Radical Compassion.  She describes a tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion when challenging feelings arise.  I was definitely having challenging feelings arise.  Could I explore the four steps of Tara’s RAIN meditation?

  • “Recognize what is happening;
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate with interest and care;
  • Nurture with self-compassion.”

My journaling helped me to recognize what was happening and be with the experience.  It didn’t feel good.  I’m having some physical issues right now and I’m grieving the loss of how my body used to be.  I want my pain-free, stronger, more flexible body back, and that “wanting” is causing more suffering.  Tara refers to this as the second arrow.  The actual physical discomfort is the first arrow and the wanting it to be another way is the second arrow.  Suffering on top of suffering.  Fun!

Okay, step three, investigate with interest and care.  Be curious.  Instead of cursing because I can’t move the way I want to, could I look at what is available to me right now with playful curiosity?  Like in Harry Potter when he is shopping for his wand.  The first wand he tries blows a whole wall of boxes onto the floor.  “Apparently not” Mr. Ollivander calmly observes and chooses a second wand.  “Perhaps this” he wonders before Harry blows up a vase and flower.  “No, no, definitely not – no matter.”  He chooses the third and final wand saying “I wonder.”

Could I bring that same kind of gentle curiosity to my body?  If trying to move a certain way isn’t possible, could I calmly think “apparently not, no matter” and modify the movement to what is available to me – no judgement – no anger – no second arrow? 

And step four, nurture with self-compassion.  Could I just be with what it feels like in this body with its current limited range of motion?  Experience that.  Not in sorrow for what is no longer available, but in joy for what is currently available.  Love that.  Nurture what is with self-compassion.  The same as I would for someone dear to me.  I wouldn’t push them to do more or condemn them for what they couldn’t do.  I’d offer them love and support, not a second arrow.  

So, my knees and my shoulder still often hurt.  And my yoga poses are still sometimes limited.  But my spirit feels much better after working through RAIN.  I feel more hopeful about the physical therapy and exercises I’m doing.  And living in playful curiosity about what my body can do in this moment is much more enjoyable than living in judgement and anger about what it can’t. I wonder …

Posted in Behaviour, Communication, Life, mindfulness | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

I Would Never Do That!

3 min read

I recently read Untamed by Glennon Doyle.  When I finished her story called rules, I shook my head and said to myself “Sad, I would never do that!”  Right – I would never do that – code words for STOP, LOOK AGAIN, you totally do that!

Glennon’s story was about a friend who was told by the instructor at her first hot yoga class that no matter how hot she got or how she began to feel, she could not leave the room.  She suffered through the 90-minute class feeling so terrible that she threw up as soon as it was over.  See, aren’t you shaking your head and saying “Sad, I would never do that”? 

I smugly thought that I would have listened to my body and left the room when I started to feel ill. However, a few days later I was participating in an online meditation retreat.  I had a comfortable set-up on the floor and I was fine when the 45-minute meditation began.  But then my knees started to ache. I knew that part of mindfulness practice is to not move if you feel a sensation.  Rather, investigate the sensation or feeling and watch it change and eventually pass.  It’s part of training the mind that everything is temporary – this itch, this ache, they will pass just like thoughts will pass.  I don’t have to react to every fleeting thing.

The problem was, the ache in my knees was not passing.  It was getting worse.  I knew there was a comfortable chair just a few feet behind me.  When I opened my eyes, I could see it in the reflection on my computer screen.  I really wanted to change positions and sit in that comfortable chair for the rest of the meditation.  But I didn’t, because the general rule is to not move during meditation practice.

And then it hit me, I WAS that woman almost passing out in the hot yoga room.  I wasn’t listening to my body at all.  So, I mindfully got up and shifted to the chair to relieve the pain in my knees and continued with the meditation.  No one cared.  No one even knew – they all had their eyes closed!  And I got the benefit of the meditation without constantly being drawn to the pain in my knees.

This experience was important to me for two reasons.  First, it reminded me to take a closer look whenever I find myself having a strong reaction to something.  “I would never do that” is often a subconscious warning that I do some version of that very thing, and I know that it’s not good, and I want to pretend to myself that I don’t do it, so I don’t have to address it, and I can feel really good about myself, because “I would never do that!”.   Denial.  You get the picture.

It also reminded me to be kind to myself and listen to my body.  As my yoga instructor said today, “do what you need to do, not what I’m telling you to do.”  Her other phrase that I love is “if that is available to you today.”  Not all poses are available to every body, every day.    

So, I will practice mindfully listening to my body when it screams NO to see what it needs and investigating my mind when it screams NO to see what it may be trying to hide. 

Posted in Behaviour, mindfulness | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

From Rescuer to Coach

4 min read

I recently listened to a podcast called the Antidote to the Drama Cycle1 and it brought to mind an incident with my daughter.  It was snowing and an accident had closed a portion of Hwy. 401.  That’s huge.  A major highway closed.  I’ve been stuck for hours on a closed highway and it’s not fun.  My then 20-year-old daughter was planning to take a bus from Toronto to Waterloo via the 401 – at least a two-hour journey at the best of times. 

I went into mommy mode.  I told her about the accident and suggested that she cancel her plans to travel that night.  She, in turn, went into obstinate child mode – “I don’t want to cancel, the road should be open by now” and my personal favourite, “people are stupid and shouldn’t get in accidents.”  I didn’t feel confident that she was using her adult brain and fully understanding what she was getting herself into. 

However, in trying to help, I overstepped and tried to take control of a situation that wasn’t mine to control.  While I was on the phone to GO Transit and hearing that it was likely best to stay home if possible, she had already taken the subway to the bus station.  The situation turned out all right.  The bus driver took a slightly longer alternate route and she got to Waterloo safely.

The podcast discussed a model of social interaction and conflict called The Drama Triangle2.  The triangle is made up of three roles: persecutor, victim, and rescuer.  At times we can each take on a different role.  This time I took on the role of the rescuer and tried to put my daughter in the victim role.  I acted as if she was not capable of helping herself and tried to rescue her. 

Fortunately, there is an alternative social interaction model called The Empowerment Dynamic3.  This triangle is made up of three, in my opinion, healthier roles: challenger instead of persecutor, creator instead of victim, and coach instead of rescuer.

A rescuer, the podcast explained, is attached to the outcome (wanting my daughter to be safe) and they think they know what is best for the other person (staying at home).  A coach, however, sees the other person as resourceful and totally capable of navigating their own journey.  Rather than telling us what we should do, a coach asks questions when they see behaviour incongruent with what we say we want for ourselves.  Coaches hold us accountable to ourselves and help us find our own wisdom through questions, not advice. 

So, does that mean that I can never give my adult daughter my opinion or advice?  Dr. Harriet Lerner4 writes that “There is nothing wrong with giving another person advice (“This is what I think . . .” or, “In my experience, this has worked for me”) as long as we recognize that we are stating an opinion that may or may not fit for the other person.  We start to overfunction, however, when we assume that we know what’s best for the other person and we want them to do it our way.”

I overfunctioned in this interaction and my daughter was justifiably not happy with me.  Fortunately, I had some time to think about it and came up with a three-part apology:

  1. I apologized for overstepping my bounds and trying to take over when my help was not welcome and ultimately not needed.
  2. I explained that the reason I overstepped was that her initial childish response did not give me a great deal of confidence in her ability to safely navigate the situation.
  3. I asked her how I could handle a similar situation in the future.

We decided that I will give her whatever information I have and ask if she wants help with anything.  And then the situation is hers to do with as she pleases.  I walk away from it knowing that she is a totally capable and resourceful adult who will ask for help if she needs it.  We agreed that she will remind me when I overstep, remembering that I only want what is best for her and that I am adjusting to my new role as the mother of an adult.

Dr. Lerner5 says “We all do better in life when we can stay reasonably connected to important others; when we can listen to them without trying to change, convince, or fix; and when we can make calm statements about how we see things, based on thinking, rather than reacting.”  That’s what I’m hoping for in all my relationships – a coach when needed to help find our own wisdom and no one being afraid to discuss what’s on their mind.

~~

1 Podcast series “Relationships By Design” with Dan and Carol Ohler – Episode 9: Antidote to the Drama Cycle

2 Drama Triangle

3 The Empowerment Dynamic

4 The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

5 The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Posted in Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Resistance

3 min read

 dragon

Last year I read a book called Resisting Happiness1.  I found the title intriguing.  Why would anyone resist happiness?  Doesn’t everyone want to be happy?  Well yes, but apparently resistance stands between us and happiness and the book promised to show me “how to recognize and conquer it” in my life.  Cool.

So, what is resistance?  “It’s that sluggish feeling of not wanting to do something you know is good for you, it’s the inclination to do something that you unabashedly know is not good for you, and it’s everything in between.  It’s the desire and tendency to delay something you should be doing right now.”

Not wanting to do something I know is good for me – yup, I do that.  Doing something that I unabashedly know is not good for me – uh huh.  The tendency to delay something I should be doing right now – hmmm, procrastination – really good at that.  I started this particular blog post over a year ago!

The book explained that “Simply naming, defining, and learning to recognize resistance in the moments of our days causes it to lose most of its power over us.”  I realized the truth of that simple concept one morning when I got out of bed and headed into the bathroom. I was tired and even having a shower felt like a huge undertaking.  I saw my dry brush hanging on the bathroom door and thought I can’t possibly brush before my shower today – I’m too tired and it will take way too much effort.  Ding!  That’s resistance.

Saying it out loud gave me the push I needed to grab the brush and spend the whole minute it took to dry brush.  It’s a small example but once I recognized resistance in action and named it, it really did lose its power over me.  It was easy to push past it to do something good for my body.

Now I notice resistance come up most days.  I’m too busy to meditate.  I’m not in the mood to write.  I’m too tired to floss my teeth.  So why does my brain do that?  Why does it tell me not to do stuff that I know is good for me?

According to psychotherapists Phil Stutz and Barry Michels2 it’s not just me and my brain. It’s human nature to want to avoid pain.  So, anything we deem as painful, we avoid.  And often just the thought of doing something equals pain – more pain than actually doing it.  We get caught up in “this will take forever, I don’t even know how to start this, I don’t want to do this” and then can’t move forward past the resistance.

Human brains are always looking for the easiest way to do things because conserving resources is essential for basic survival.  But lots of the good stuff, the rewarding stuff, isn’t always the easiest to do.  It takes some effort.  Recognizing resistance is a good way to stop for a moment and discern which activities are good for me and worth the effort.  Not flossing is less effort than flossing, but flossing is more rewarding than tooth decay.

I still give in to resistance sometimes.  I can’t always name the resistance and make myself start writing or meditating.  But I can tell you that ever since that morning I recognized resistance to dry brushing, that small task has become habitual.  It’s like my brain built a new neural pathway and now dry brushing is associated with easy, so I just do it.  And doing it feels much better than resistance.

1 Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly

2 The Tools: Transform your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

I Can’t Know

1 min read

Picture of Lisa walking on a curving path

A few days ago I woke up anxious about something.  Given our current COVID-19 state of affairs, I just couldn’t see how a particular scenario was going to turn out well.  I started going down a nasty path in my mind.  Basically catastrophizing.

Then the thought occurred to me that in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined this COVID-19 world that we find ourselves in.  So how could I possibly expect to know the outcome of my worrisome situation.

I can’t know.

It reminded me that I wrote a blog about this very thing – “There are just so many  variables that I can’t even imagine … How limiting to assume that if I can’t imagine it, it’s not possible!”

Now, when I start to get anxious about how things are going to turn out I remind myself that just because I can’t imagine it doesn’t mean it’s not possible.  I think about my experience in the blog and it helps me drop the worry and move forward.  I hope it helps you too.

Posted in Fearlessness, Perspective | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Now

1 min read

Photograph of flowers by Lisa Ivaldi

So still struggling at times.

Before the pandemic I was finding my way through grief and mourning.  My father passed away last June, my last living aunt died in January, and my eldest sister passed on March 10.

In many ways it felt like I had lost my past.  Who was I now in a world where so much of what I had always known was gone?

And then, with this totally new and surreal reality, it almost felt like I had lost my future too.  I can’t plan.  I can’t know what tomorrow will bring.  Of course, I never could know.  But based on the past I thought I had a pretty good idea.

So, what’s left?

The present.  Now.

COVID is forcing me to live in the now.  Exactly what I have been trying to do for years.  Cool.

Thinking about all this reminded me of the post Experience Your Life, but I didn’t realize how much until I reread it.  This moment is my life.  Not the past.  Not the future.  My life doesn’t start again when the pandemic is over.  My life is now.

Posted in Fearlessness, Life, mindfulness, Perspective | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Struggling

1 min. read

Photo of The Floating Heads installation at the Kelvingrove Museum in the Scottish city of Glasgow

I’m struggling with this new normal.

At times I’m fine and getting on with my life – such as it is.  At other times I’m sad for no particular reason – just feeling sad.

Life has changed.  I didn’t choose this.  I can’t control this.  And I don’t know what the world will look like when it’s over.  At least before this pandemic I had the illusion of some control – and a steady supply of toilet paper!

And to top it all off, I’m feeling fairly useless.  Sure, I’m doing my part by staying away from others and following all the social distancing rules.  And I’m sending out loving thoughts and gratitude every morning and night.  But I’m not essential to society like health care workers and food providers.

Then a friend suggested that I could share my blog posts.  People are online now more than ever and they are looking for positivity.  So, in addition to writing new posts I will be sending out older posts that are relevant to the times.  I hope you find them as helpful as I am.

When I reread this post – Stop Paddling – I realized it was exactly what I needed to hear.  I can’t change the way life is right now but I can relax, put down my paddles, and go with the flow.

Posted in Behaviour, Perspective | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Loving Fear

4 min read

Photo of iron gate

I recently participated in a Writing and SoulCollage® workshop exploring the Shadow, “the realm of the unclaimed parts of ourselves, waiting to be known and received for the gifts and energy they hold”1.  I know – very cool right!

Our shadow is not just the negative aspects we try to keep in check or hide, like greed, jealousy, and laziness.  According to Melinda Burns, the workshop facilitator, “the Shadow contains all the unclaimed parts of ourselves, positive and negative”.  When any aspect of us (and we have them all) becomes out of balance, when we have too little or too much of it, it becomes a shadow aspect.

We did some writing exercises in the morning.  We wrote about the things we strongly disliked in ourselves and others, as well as people we greatly admire.  We can find our shadow by looking with curiosity at what we have a strong reaction to and asking “what do I need to see or learn here?”

I wrote about people who were selfish and greedy and caused harm to others through their behaviour.  I also wrote about people who were giving and abundant with love – think Mother Teresa and foster parents.  And when I put it all together to see what Shadow aspect I was drawn to, it turned out to be fear.

Fear is a large warm hug.  She wants to keep you safe – “Stay here with me where it’s warm and cozy.  No need to go anywhere else”.  Fear is welcoming and enveloping.  She feels safe.  Fear will distract you with stories of what could go wrong or how you are not equipped to handle life, while life plays on without you.  She wants no harm to come to you.  Fear is generous and loving.  She has your best interest at heart.  But she can’t keep you safe if you venture too far.

Once fear was personified through my writing it was easy to ask her the questions Melinda provided.  These two questions sum up my dialogue with fear. 

How and why in our history did you originate?  I’ve been around since you were born.  You were little and new to the world.  You needed someone to keep you safe and help you navigate through a confusing and unfamiliar world on your own.

What do you want/need from me?  Acknowledgement that I am here to help you.  That I love you.  That you have heard me and my warnings.  That you have weighed the situation and looked at the consequences.  That you understand the circumstances and can handle the situation.  I need to know you will be careful and keep yourself safe even as you move forward.  I need to know you have grown up and are wiser now and don’t need as much protection.  But that you appreciate my presence and all I’ve done for you and that you hear me and take my advice into account.  I need to know that you love me and you know I love you.  I want you to appreciate me.

This exercise was very freeing for me.  It helped me to see that having or feeling fear doesn’t make me a coward or weak.  It is actually just a part of taking good care of myself.  In fact, when I read my answer to the last question, I realized that it is exactly what I want for, and from, my daughter – the person I most want to protect and to be happy.

From this new perspective I could see that fear really is a large warm hug.  But like the parent of a growing child, the key is knowing when to let go – finding balance.  Because, when in balance, fear is love.  Self-love.  Not something to be hidden away and ashamed of.  But something to be listened to, acknowledged, and appreciated.

The challenge is letting fear keep me safe, but not so safe that it keeps me small or as Dr. Gay Hendricks2 describes it “trying to keep you imprisoned in the zone of the known, where you are safe.”  He suggests that “When you are feeling fear, breathe in the direction of the sensations … feel the fear in your body and breathe to embrace it … like you might greet a friend: you nod hello and then give him or her a hug … When you love your fear, you give it room to breathe, and this is often all it needs.”

Thank you fear.  I love you too.

1 Melinda Burns, Deep Play: Writing & SoulCollage® Workshop, www.melindaburns.ca

2 Conscious Living: Finding Joy in the Real World by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D.

Posted in Behaviour, Fearlessness, Life, Perspective | Tagged , , | 12 Comments