Things I learned in 2016

Early January I remember reading a spirituality-related article about the course for 2016 and it stated clearly, it was going to be a year of Transformation. I took it to heart. And thus, started 2016 with optimism and excitement. There were goals to accomplish; thoughtful intentions set; a specific frame of mind brought to focus; and deliberate choices made to stay optimistic and work hard to overcome any adversity the year would send our way.

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And send adversity it did! 2016, the last 6 months of it has been nothing short of emotionally, mentally, and spiritually draining in a pretty brutal way. Through it all, here’s what I’ve learned:

Eat the donut

I get it, you’re eating healthy. You’re eating paleo, low-fat, no dairy, etc. But sometimes you’re going to crave a donut, a cookie, a potato chip. Eat it. Savour it! Enjoy it  and go back to “as you were”.

Let It Go

This probably isn’t what you think. It doesn’t mean letting go of negative thoughts or anything that philosophical. This is coming from a place of burnout from my professional and volunteer commitments. I haven’t been happy to be there, excited about the mission, or eager to participate actively in a long time. Over the past few months, I’ve toyed around with the idea of moving on. And it wasn’t until Bruno died, I realized life was too short to be committed to something I didn’t really care about anymore. I’ve finally made peace with moving on, determined I’ll find something else to commit my time to while contributing to the greater good.

Be kind & be fierce

“Please”, “Thank You”, “Excuse me”, are still magic phrases. Oh, let’s not forget, “Sorry”. I have to admit, I’m one of those over “apologetic Canadians” who over-uses the word for no reason other than to be polite. Crazy, I know. I’m not proud of it. Saying “sorry” all of the time made me feel meek and added to my struggles with letting go of guilt.

I’m learning to pepper “Sorry” with less frequency, only saying it when it’s appropriate and when I really mean it. I’ve also stopped using words like, “just”, as in “Just checking in…” to “I’m checking in….” And I’ve done away with, “I’m wondering if I could…please” to “Yes. I’d like that, please.” Being polite without sounding like push-over. I’m into it.

I’m stronger than i think

This surprised me the most. I am stronger than I thought I was. I’m going through some my darkest days, saddest moments, and greatest heartbreak. But somehow, underneath it all, I have my breath, determination, gratitude, and love. And that’s more than I could ever  hoped for.

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Hello, Autumn!

Photo by, Flash Alexander

Photo by, Flash Alexander

I’ve always prided myself as a Fall-Winter person. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to really enjoy and appreciate summer! Mostly because, I love having my feet and toes free and uninhibited by footwear that often makes everything feel trapped and sometimes sweaty. Lately, as I relish the comfort of wearing another light and airy maxi dress, along with the little things like sitting outside on my deck enjoying the warmth and breeze, I’ve grown sad about summer being over. Sshh, don’t tell anyone!

But it was during this morning’s yoga class I was reminded that as of today, at 10:21 a.m. in the Northern Hemisphere, Fall has arrived! And with today’s mindful, heart-opening practice, it gave me pause to think about why this is again, my favourite season: shorter days and longer nights; cool, crisp air (sweater weather); brown, orange, yellow, and red hues everywhere; the sound of leaves crunching beneath your feet; crackling bonfires and hearty, savoury stews and roasts to eat! With that, I was reminded that it’s a unique time to reflect and let go what is no longer serving us. It’s also a time to celebrate and share with others, a time to gather warmth and rest, to prepare to be reborn again in the spring!

Maybe I won’t miss summer too much. 😉

My dogs, Sophie and Bruno enjoy the cool, crisp air too!

My dogs, Sophie and Bruno enjoy the cool, crisp air too!

Listen to me! (Part 2)

I used to fancy myself a great listener. After all, it was my job to teach it for 7 years! Back then, I was teaching young people how to be conflict mediators, peer teachers, peer helpers, etc. But it wasn’t until about 5 years ago, when I started anti-oppression work as a facilitator, that I learned what it really meant to listen. Turns out, being a facilitator isn’t teaching per se. It’s creating a safe space that allows people to dialogue, share, and work towards something positive that might inspire change. I’m still learning how to master it. But all I can tell you is, listening and being present can move mountains. I’ve seen it inspire young people to take steps towards creating change. I’ve seen it in the soulful expression on a young person’s face when they’re able to share something personal in a safe space. I’ve even felt a shift in my own relationships when I stopped talking and listened more.

THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO UNDERSTAND. NOT TO BE UNDERSTOOD.

-HARLAN H.

My friend and colleague, Harlan is amazing! I was observing him facilitate a diversity program with 50+ high school students, all of whom were vying for a time in the spotlight to share their perspectives on concepts of prejudice and diversity. The conversation started veering to what I can best describe as, “students trying to one-up each other”. You know, when sharing becomes a contest to see who can claim the market on pain and suffering.

True to his brilliant facilitator style, Harlan paused the discussion and reminded the group, “This is an opportunity to understand. Not to be understood.” That’s all he said. Twice. They are high school students after all. Soon enough, the tone of the discussion shifted towards expressing a little more empathy. It was powerful and I was lucky to have witnessed it.

So, that’s exactly it. Listening is an opportunity to understand. To learn. To empathize. To share an experience and even connect with another person. Often, we forget this because we’re so caught up in making our own voices heard. But the good news is, it’s a process and there’s always space to be better, more thoughtful, and empathetic. Here are some things we can do to help ourselves become better listeners:

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