4 min read

paint-268221_640Sometimes innocuous things scare me.  Poetry was one of those things.  My fear dates back to high school when we had to read poems I didn’t understand, composed of elements I didn’t understand.  Iambic pentameter comes to mind.

Even though poetry scared me, I was still drawn to it.  So to overcome this fear I went to a poetry workshop put on by the public library – Mindfulness and Poetry with Melinda Burns.

I loved how Melinda explained that mindfulness is “moment to moment non-judgmental awareness” and that poetry “puts that into words”.  Basically, a poem is “someone really paying attention to life experience.”

Melinda introduced me to free verse poetry.  It didn’t have to rhyme and I didn’t have to know the meaning of iambic pentameter.  All of a sudden a form of expression with a large number of unknowable rules had no rules at all!   A poem didn’t even need punctuation.  How wonderful!

In her poem, How to Write a Poem, Melinda says to:

Forget everything you know about poetry

and remember this:

the poem is inside you …

Listen for the words that

lift the veil to the other world

where you know what you know …

I wrote my first poems that evening and they lifted that veil for me.  I’d been feeling really down for a few days and not sure why.  Before we started writing our poems, Melinda asked us to do an exercise where we wrote down things we had noticed in the last few days – ordinary things we had seen or heard or smelled.  The one that stood out for me was the pastel colours on the cover of a book I had been reading for several days.  I chose that book cover for the subject of my first poem and that poem shed some light on why I was feeling so down.

The book was filled with stories about the author’s life and recent losses.  It was well written and I was quickly immersed in her world.  Her personality and sense of humour were similar to mine so it was easy for me to take on the heavy energy in the book.  The author’s world had become mine.  I was carrying her grief and her frustrations.  And from that low place I seemed to have no trouble finding examples from my own life to fuel my sadness.  Misery loves company and I was able to find lots of company for my literary induced misery.

Writing those poems helped me access the inner knowledge of where my sadness was coming from – someone else’s life – someone else’s losses.  Even though it felt like mine, it wasn’t my sadness at all.  However, just knowing the heavy energy wasn’t mine didn’t release it.

Fortunately, I have been working with a gifted teacher, Kelly Pritchard, and she led me through a guided meditation to release the energy.  She guided me to ask myself “What is standing between me and feeling fine?”  It felt like something heavy and sad weighing down on me like a heavy, grey, wet blanket.  She asked me to get quiet and first ask myself “Is this my energy?” and see how that made me feel and then ask “Is this someone else’s energy?” and see how that felt.  The heavy feeling went away in response to the first question and came back in response to the latter.  It was clearly someone else’s energy.  With Kelly’s help, I pictured myself connected and rooted to the earth and sent the heavy energy that wasn’t mine permanently back to the earth.  I felt lighter almost instantly.

I’ve spent the last several months cultivating getting quiet and listening.  Opening space to hear what my body and spirit are trying to tell me.  Now I have poetry to use as another way to get quiet and listen and a powerful meditation practice to use when I’m feeling out of sorts.  Thank you Melinda and Kelly!

The Book Cover by Lisa Ivaldi

Which book to read next?

I love this moment

Full of promise

New ideas, new perspectives


I love the colours on this one!

Beautiful pastel lines on the cover

Such a joy to behold 


So glad to be finished

the beautiful book filled with sad stories

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


3 min read

Photo of sky

If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything in several months.  I’ve been trying to write posts but I haven’t been feeling inspired.  So instead of forcing myself to decide whether or not I should continue with the blog; I am choosing to take my own advice and give myself some space and the permission to do nothing right now.  No decisions.  Pause.  See what feels right in the moment and where that leads me.

So here’s a reprint of my April 2016 post – No More Decisions:

How many times have you stressed over a decision – unsure of the right course of action to bring about the outcome you want?  Decisions can feel big, life altering, permanent!  A lot of thought and planning goes into them – a lot of agonizing over making the right decision.  That’s why I am no longer making decisions.  It’s too stressful.

I was at a talk by Sharon Lewis where she encouraged us to stop making decisions.  Instead she suggested we make choices and that we change them every 10 seconds if need be.  Choices are lighter, smaller, and easier.  If you don’t like the direction your choice is taking you, make another choice.  How freeing is that?

I’m a bit of a control freak, so I like to plan things out.  Many times I’ll get stressed trying to decide things that really don’t need to be decided at all, or sometimes can’t be decided.  For instance, my husband and I have been in a bit of a transition.  He was transitioning to autonomy from a 30 year career in government.  His transition prompted me to start thinking about my career future and what that would look like.  I thought I needed to make decisions, finalize my plan, and announce it to the world.

However, forcing myself to make decisions about my future was causing me stress.  It felt like I had to decide NOW, even though I didn’t know the best course of action.  I finally realized that I didn’t have to make any big decisions.  No one was pressuring me, except me!  I didn’t have to decide to wind down my business on a certain date.  I didn’t have to make a proclamation and set my plan in stone.  It could just evolve naturally, one right choice at a time.  I could focus on doing what I want, what I have energy for, without ever having to stress over a big decision.  The pressure to decide was causing me grief rather than the contentment I thought it would bring.

I don’t need to make a firm decision about my career future right now.  Decisions are big.  Choices are smaller.  So, rather than forcing myself to decide – NOW – life or death; I am stepping back and making it smaller – what is the next right choice?  Not a forever decision, but a present moment choice.  If that choice doesn’t work out the way I hoped it would, I will choose again in 10 seconds, or tomorrow, or next year.

Enjoy the summer!

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Take it Personally

3 min read

How much time have you wasted worrying about why someone was seemingly curt or rude to you?  Ruminating about what you might have said or done that offended them?  If you are like me, probably too much!

I recently ran into an acquaintance who I hadn’t seen in several years.  My husband and I were leaving a movie theatre and she was waiting in the lobby for her friend.  I tapped her on the shoulder to say ‘Hello’.  I asked her how she was doing and if she was still working at the same company.  We chatted for a minute or two and she asked what I was doing.  I said I was still doing some administration work and trying to do more writing.  She said something about me being a good writer and I asked if she still followed my blog.  She said she used to but not anymore – change of email or something.  I paused to think where my business cards were so I could give her one.  But before I could say anything she curtly cut off our chat by saying, “Well it was really good seeing you again”.  I agreed and we parted ways.  It felt weird.

The incident kept popping into my head and nagging at me.  I felt like I had done or said something wrong to make her want to stop talking to me so abruptly.  I was so wrapped up in trying to figure out what I had done that I actually thought she cut me off so that I wouldn’t give her a card and encourage her to follow my blog.  In reality, unless she was a mind reader, she didn’t know I was about to do either of those things.  It didn’t occur to me that maybe the reason she ended our interaction so abruptly had nothing to do with me.

In The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests the reader think about the last time they had a conversation with a group of people.  She asks, “Would you be surprised to learn that the different members of your group were focusing on entirely different things?  One may have been so distraught by recent heart-breaking news that it was all she could think about.  Another’s heart was racing because his crush had just walked in.  A third may have had difficulty focusing on anything but the fact that his shoulder was in tremendous pain.  And another person may have been having intrusive thoughts about her next day’s appointment.”  Lyubomirsky points out that even though these individuals were “essentially in the same situation at that moment, each of them was residing in a separate subjective social world.”

Fortunately for me, my acquaintance took the time to drop me a note later the next day that put an end to my ruminating:

Hi Lisa, I feel bad about my quick exit from our conversation at the movie.  My most sincere apologies as it was great to see you. But, I had sobbed at the end of the movie and had not yet come back to reality, so to speak. I couldn’t be myself for some reason. Hope to run into you again.

Her illuminating note reminded me that I had forgotten the second of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements – Don’t Take Anything Personally – “Nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.”  I was taking it personally.

I hope I remember this incident the next time I start wasting time and energy fretting over what I may have said or done to offend someone.  Instead of blaming myself for some imagined slight, perhaps I will stop and consider that other people have stuff going on in their worlds that I am not privy to and that their behaviour may have nothing at all to do with me.

(I will be speaking on my blog Are You Holding Back? at the Business Professional Women Kitchener Waterloo dinner meeting on Monday, May 15 in St. Jacobs.  Hope to see you there.)

Posted in Perspective | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Authentic Communication

3 min read

I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty good communicator.  I’m a good listener and usually fairly competent at getting my point across.  However, after listening to an online talk by the late Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on communication, I realized that I may be a pretty good conversationalist, but I have much to learn about being a really good communicator.

According to Dr. Rosenberg, we all have needs to be met.  Authentic communication requires understanding both our own human needs and those of the other person, and satisfying them without criticism or judgment or putting your own perception on them.

This idea of authentic communication became clearer to me one night when my daughter texted while I was reading a really good book.  She is living away from home and we communicate a lot by text.  I was enjoying my book, but happy to take a short break to see what she was up to.  We texted back and forth for awhile, but sometimes she would take so long to respond that I would stop staring at the blank phone screen and start reading my book again.

I like to text the same way I speak on the telephone – say hello, chat for awhile, and end by saying goodbye.  I didn’t realize it at the time but I was getting progressively more frustrated going back and forth between my book and our interrupted conversation.  Finally, after several bouts of waiting and texting, she disappeared.  No response to my last text.

About an hour later when she did finally text back, I asked where she was and why she stopped talking to me.  She said she was getting food and reminded me that I always tell her to put her phone down while she is eating.  She said there was no pleasing me – I get angry when she is on her phone and when she is not.

When I thought about it later, Dr. Rosenberg’s simple questions to help people understand their needs came back to me:

  • What is alive in you? What are you feeling?

I realized that she was frustrated because she thought I didn’t like her stopping to get food.  In reality, I was feeling frustrated because I thought we were in the middle of a conversation and I kept having to wait for a response.

  • What would make life more wonderful? What do you need?

Not having an interrupted conversation, that’s what!.  I need to know when our text conversations are over so I’m not waiting and getting frustrated.

  • What requests do you have?

The next day I texted her to let her know that I really wasn’t angry and what I had figured out – my request: “I realized I would just like you tell me when you are leaving our conversation.  Like when I say I’m going to bed now you know I won’t be texting again so you don’t wait.  Does that make sense?”

This wasn’t about one of us being or doing something wrong.  There was no blame, no judgment, no getting angry.  It was about taking the time to figure out what we were both feeling, what I needed, and then clearly communicating that need.  And because there was no blame or judgement, my daughter actually heard me, “Okay lol sounds good”.

That simple request has changed the way we text.  She now understands what I need and we say “going now” or “talk later” when one of us is leaving the conversation.   And yes, that small change has made life more wonderful!

Posted in Communication | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Are You Holding Back?

4 min read

Picture of Devil's Bridge, Antigua

My daughter has been applying for summer camp counsellor jobs.  She’s been a camp counsellor the last three summers, in addition to being a lifeguard and swim instructor during the school year.  Pretty darn qualified!  So why did she phone me to ask whether she should apply for a senior counsellor position or a lower intermediate position?  And why did I hesitate before encouraging her to go for the senior job?

Both good questions with one very revealing answer – because she didn’t fully meet 100% of the requirements for the senior position.  She met all the requirements except the first one, which she only partially met, and that’s what made me hesitate.  I got stuck on that first requirement and was leaning toward encouraging her to apply for the lesser job.  Fortunately, I had been reading The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman that morning and their words popped into my head.

I caught myself mid ‘hem’ (or perhaps it was mid ‘haw’) and told her that I was reading about a 1995 study conducted at Hewlett-Packard which found “…that the women working at H-P applied for promotions only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications necessary for the job.  The men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.”

I let all my doubt go.  She was probably 90% qualified for the senior job, maybe more.  I told her to apply for both positions and let the camp decide.  Why limit herself?  I told her that, based on what I had been reading, if she were a man in the same circumstances, she would probably apply for Camp Director!  She laughed and agreed and then applied for both positions.

The point here isn’t that men will apply for jobs that they aren’t fully qualified for.  The point is that most women don’t!  Studies have shown that women will hold back when they doubt themselves.  Men are generally more bold and will forge ahead, confident that they have the ability to learn the required skills to do the job well.

I haven’t yet finished reading The Confidence Code, but what I have learned so far has been enlightening.  The research and statistics show that in general, “It isn’t that women don’t have the ability to succeed; it’s that we don’t seem to believe we can succeed, and that stops us from even trying.  Women are so keen to get everything just right that we are terrified of getting something wrong.”

My daughter and I both hesitated about her applying for the senior position because we didn’t want to get it ‘wrong’.  We didn’t want her to apply for a position that she wasn’t qualified for or to waste the employer’s time.  By doing that, not only did we set unrealistic limits on her chances of excelling, we limited her chance of gaining more confidence in the future.

According to The Confidence Code, making mistakes and taking risks is behaviour “critical for confidence building”.  And it’s also a behavior that girls try to avoid.  Research shows that “when a boy fails, he takes it in stride, believing it’s due to a lack of effort.  When a girl makes a similar mistake she sees herself as sloppy, and comes to believe that it reflects a lack of skill.”

Fortunately, we can “… change our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behavior at any age” and “… with diligent effort, we can all choose to expand our confidence.  But we will get there only if we stop trying to be perfect and start being prepared to fail.”

Will my daughter get the senior job?  I don’t know.  But she did get an interview with the camp.  They didn’t throw out her application because she was only 90% qualified for the position!  And even if they had, that would be okay, because now we both realize how limiting it would have been not to apply.

Hopefully, this will be a beginning step in changing the way we both think and in expanding our confidence in the future.  No more waiting until we are perfect or 100% up to the challenge, “what we need to do is start acting and risking and failing … if we don’t take risks, we’ll never reach the next level.”

Posted in Behaviour, Fearlessness | Tagged , , | 19 Comments


4 min read

Picture of handmade soap

Like most people, I have experienced profound, life-threatening fear over the years – meeting a grizzly bear on a walking trail at Lake Louise, spinning out on ice on Highway 401, a bomb threat on a commercial airplane.  So I get that fear – the “unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm” – is a warning signal to put your brain and body on hyperalert so that you can more effectively deal with the threat.

It’s a great system designed to keep us safe.  But what if fear is taking over your life?  What if you (and by you, I mean me) are so firmly rooted in your comfort zone that you are missing out on a larger life?  How do you know if you are keeping yourself away from actual threats or if you are just playing it too safe?

These questions all came up for me during a soap making workshop.  Yes, you read that right, a soap making workshop!  Making soap is a combination of science and cooking – two areas in which I do not naturally excel.  The instructor, Linda Boyle, explained the process and it sounded so complicated that I was ready to say forget it – too hard.  Then she talked about how the lye* we would use is a caustic and poisonous chemical that can badly burn skin, and I was ready to leave – too scary.

All of a sudden lye was up there on my fear list with grizzly bears and bomb threats.  Why did I sign myself up for a workshop that used materials so hazardous they could maim me?  If I had known any of this beforehand, I would not have registered.

Fortunately, the instructor was a friend and it was a small class, so my fear of leaving and looking stupid overcame my fear of lye.  As it turned out, the process wasn’t that complicated.  It was a beginner workshop and Linda walked us through it step-by-step.  The lye part was no problem as Linda had premixed it with water and we just had to stir it into the oils.  The light went on for me when Linda likened working with lye to making French fries with hot oil – I know hot oil can be dangerous and can cause nasty burns so I am careful!

After I got home with my beautiful handmade soap I started wondering, how much of life am I missing out on because I think things may be too hard or too dangerous?  This prompted me to take the advanced soap making workshop – the scarier one where you have to work with raw lye.

I know it sounds silly, but I really had to push myself to sign up for that second workshop.  I’m glad I did because although I enjoyed the classes, I realized that while soap making was no longer scary, it really wasn’t something I want to take up as a hobby or creative outlet.

Now it’s a matter of figuring out when I am avoiding something due to fear or if it is something that is truly not of interest to me.  I found a method I like from Dr. Valerie Young, author of Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, “One way to tell the difference is to imagine yourself as the confident, fully capable person you would like to be.  If the supremely competent you was faced with the exact same decision, how would she feel?  If you’re still averse, then you know something other than confidence or lack thereof is at play, and you have an opportunity to explore what it is.”

So thanks to Soap Making 101, I am now more able to tell the difference between something I might enjoy, if only fear wasn’t holding me back, and something I just don’t want to do.  In my mind that’s a key difference between living a small life and living an authentic life.  I don’t want to do everything, but I don’t want to miss out on doing cool things just because I am afraid.

(*The lye or sodium hydroxide combines with the oils to make soap – there is no lye left once this chemical reaction takes place.)

Posted in Fearlessness | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

The Blame Game

3 min read

Picture of a turtle on a log

My daughter recently caused an unfortunate incident at her work place.  She is a lifeguard at a pool and without thinking she packed her glass water bottle when she went to work.  The bottle fell off the guard chair and smashed into a thousand pieces causing the pool to be completely drained and closed for several days to make sure it was glass-free.

Because she broke the “no glass” rule she was given a two week suspension from work.  Even though the incident was unintentional, the implications were severe and they considered terminating her employment.  If it weren’t for the fact that she was a responsible and dependable employee, she likely would have been fired.

Needless to say, this was a pretty traumatic experience for my teenage daughter and she went through a whole range of emotions, including getting angry at her bosses for suspending her.  It took her a while to settle down and realize how her mistake had affected many people.  Other employees were not able to work and make money, public swimming and swim classes were cancelled, and some students were not able to have the in-pool classes they need for their coursework.  She finally progressed from a “not my fault, poor me” mindset to fully owning the responsibility of her mistake and the effect it had on others.

I didn’t fully understand how difficult taking ownership was for her to do until I had my own incident while rushing to get to an evening yoga class on time.  It was the only thing on my mind – not being late again.  I missed the turn into the parking lot and ended up in the next driveway where I thought I could just turn around.  Unfortunately, it was the entrance into a large park with a one way road system that only exits at the back end.

The unfamiliar road through the deserted park was pitch-black and I panicked a bit.  I put on my high beams, locked the car doors, and hurried to get out of there.  Now, I was even more worried about being late!

Still hurrying as I neared the end of the park, I stopped abruptly at a stop sign and waited impatiently for a family who were approaching the intersection to cross.  They waved me on ahead of them, but as I turned out of the park the dad called after me, “and please slow down”.

He didn’t say it in an attacking way, but him confronting me, even so subtly, was still very upsetting and brought up several painful emotions.  Even though I knew he was right, my initial reaction was to get angry and blame him for yelling at me.  That felt much better than sitting with the rising embarrassment of being so wrapped up in myself that I had just driven too quickly through a dark park.

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön describes painful emotions “like flags going up . . . uncomfortable feelings are messages that tell us to perk up and lean into a situation . . . stay with our painful emotion instead of spinning out . . . into blame, righteousness, or alienation.”

I desperately wanted “a way to discharge pain and discomfort”, which is how Brené Brown aptly describes blame.  I felt very uncomfortable admitting to myself that I was in the wrong and had been fairly challenged on it.  I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had been so caught up in my own head that I was oblivious to others around me – and when I did consider them, it was only as obstacles getting in my way.

I get it now.  Although it was very uncomfortable for me to honestly “lean into the situation”, doing so allowed me to fully explore my actions, forgive myself for making a mistake, and most importantly, learn from the experience.  Spinning into blame, although it would have felt better, wouldn’t have afforded me the same learning opportunity.

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

If You Want to Be Happy …

3 min read

Chart from Matt Killingsworth Happiness Study

Chart from Matt Killingsworth Happiness Study

Last month I was driving on a lovely stretch of road surrounded by farm fields, trees, sunshine, and blue sky.  There was very little traffic and I wasn’t in a hurry.  I couldn’t help but feel great.  I was smiling and enjoying the scenery and congratulating myself on being in, and savouring, the present moment.  However, my next conscious thought was that my mood had totally shifted.  I was frowning and feeling concerned and frustrated even though nothing unpleasant had happened to account for the shift – same blue sky, same beautiful scenery, same peaceful drive.   So what had happened?

For several weeks, I had been taking an online course on happiness and had recently finished a segment on the link between mindfulness and happiness.  Mindfulness was defined as “a state in which your attention is not distracted by something other than what’s happening right now.”  The course referred to a mind wandering study by researcher Matt Killingsworth. The purpose of the study was to watch how people’s happiness goes up and down over the course of the day and to “discover some of the things that really have a big influence on happiness”.   Thousands of participants were asked three questions at random points throughout the day:

  1. “How do you feel, on a scale ranging from very bad to very good?”
  2. “What are you doing, on a list of 22 different activities including things like eating and working and watching TV?”
  3. “Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?”  (The participants thought about something other than what they were currently doing a whopping 47% of the time.)

The study found that people are happier when they are focussed on the present moment and paying attention to where they are and what they are doing – even if it is not the most pleasant task, like commuting to work.  People are least happy when their minds wander.  A big part of the reason may be that when our minds wander we often think about unpleasant things, which makes us less happy.  However, the study showed that even when people are “thinking about something they would describe as pleasant, they’re actually just slightly less happy than when they aren’t mind-wandering.”

And that’s what happened to me during my pleasant drive through the countryside.  My mind started to wander.  I was no longer focussed on where I was and what I was doing.  When I noticed the change in my mood I retraced my thoughts to see what happened.  I realized that, as I was enjoying the scenery, I passed a large garden centre which reminded me that I needed to repot some of my plants at home.  That thought led me to think of all the other chores that I needed to do but hadn’t got to yet.  No wonder my mood changed!  I went from enjoying a pleasant drive to stressing about all the chores I needed to do.

I don’t think I fully understood the correlation between mind wandering and unhappiness until that moment in the car.  The change in my mood was dramatic and only happened because my mind wandered to a less pleasant place.  So now when I notice myself slipping into an unhappy state, I try to stop and step back from my thoughts so that I can discover where my mind has been.  Dr. Raj explained in the happiness course that by stepping back, you put distance between you and your thoughts and emotions which causes your thoughts to slow down and your feelings to lower in intensity.  Your whole system calms down and you feel more tranquil and less stressed.  So, if you want to be happier (perhaps up to 47% of the time), try to be mindful and keep your attention on what is happening right now.

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Experience Your Life

2 min read


We recently moved our 18 year old, adult, daughter into university in Toronto.  She is only 90 kilometers away but everything has changed.  We are no longer a cohesive three person unit.  We are now two separate entities.  We have our life and she has hers.  It will never go back to the way it was when she was a child.

Needless to say, this new situation brought up lots of emotions and thoughts for me.  It took me a day or so to run through them all.  It wasn’t pleasant at times.  Lots of crap came up – every mother related fear and worry you could think of, and maybe some extras!

What I finally landed on was that this was a Fear of Life coming up again.  For every exciting thing that was happening in her new life I could come up with a dozen reasons why it wasn’t safe and she should just stay home.  Now, I’m trying to look at everything through her eyes and not through my own perceptions and preferences.  My 55-year-old self wouldn’t like sharing a room with a roommate, but her 18-year-old self loves it.

This story – Experience Your Life – from Pema Chodron’s book Comfortable with Uncertainty – 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion reminded me to relax and allow her to delight in every new moment, while I try to do the same.  I thought I would share it with you.

“A woman is running from tigers.  She runs and she runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer.  She comes to the edge of a cliff.  She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds on to it.  Then she looks down and sees that there are tigers below her as well.  At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging.  She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass.  She looks up, she looks down, and she looks at the mouse.  Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Tigers above, tigers below.  This is the predicament we are always in.  We are born and sooner or later we die.  Each moment is just what it is.  Resentment, bitterness, and holding a grudge prevent us from seeing and hearing and tasting and delighting.  This might be the only moment of our life, this might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat.  We could feel depressed about this or we could finally appreciate it.  We could delight in the preciousness of every single moment.”



Posted in Fearlessness, Perspective | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Suffering is Optional

3 min read


“Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”  I really didn’t get it the first time I heard that quote.  I equated the two – pain and suffering.  How can you have pain without suffering?  Pain hurts and hurting is suffering.  How can suffering be optional?

I’m starting to get it now.  Pain and suffering are two different things.  Deepak Chopra explains it,

“Many people confuse pain with suffering. We have to realize, first of all, that pain is not the same as suffering. Left to itself, the body discharges pain spontaneously, letting go of it the moment that the underlying cause is healed.  Suffering is pain that we hold on to.”

I recently had the opportunity to experience the difference first hand.  My older sister was staying with us during a visit from England.  One day she woke up very ill.  She had a high fever and could barely get out of bed.  After talking to a nurse it was decided that we needed to take her to the hospital by ambulance.  I spent the whole day in the emergency room with her.  Waiting for tests; waiting to see the doctor; waiting for more tests.  A day in the emergency room is probably not anyone’s first choice of how to spend their day.  However, I resigned myself to the reality that this was where I needed to be and the day passed without much suffering on my part.  My sister was prescribed medication for an infection and we left with her feeling much better.

Good for me.  I accepted a less than perfect reality and didn’t cause myself suffering by fighting against what was.  Buddhist teachings say that suffering is caused by wanting reality to be something other than it is.  Bryon Katie describes it well in her book Loving What Is,

“The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is … If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark.  You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, “Meow.”

Fast forward three days.  My sister had gone to stay with our aunt in Scarborough.  She was starting to feel unwell again and had broken out in a nasty rash.  By the time I had picked her up and taken her back to the emergency room I had been sitting in the car for about four hours.  I was hungry and not in the mood to sit for several more hours in the emergency room.

I was in the exact same situation, the same emergency room, but with a different mindset.  The first time I was resigned to my situation, made the best of it, and did not suffer.  I accepted what was.  The second time I felt miserable the whole time we were there.  I was fighting my situation, I didn’t want to be there, and I suffered.  I forgot that suffering was optional.  I wanted my reality to be different than it was and despite my suffering that darned cat wouldn’t bark.

(Note:  My sister was diagnosed as allergic to the original medication and prescribed a new one.   She enjoyed the rest of her visit and is now back home in England.)

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments
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