Archive | July, 2012

3–52 Weeks: Week Three: How to Be on Holidays

19 Jul

Quote:  When we are unable to clearly identify what is enough of anything, it can feel more and more difficult to recognize when to stop striving or grasping in our desperate pursuit of everything.  Unless we feel some certainty that our work, our gift, our time, our relationships, are, at the end of the day, enough, we may never feel permission to stop.  (Muller, 2010, p. 10)

In the Middle:  In the middle of all of this change and transformation that I am going through moving from one province to another in my 52 week adventure, comes a summer break.  I have one foot in Calgary, and the other in BC, and somewhere in the middle, I need to rest and have a holiday.  I have been going at it pretty intensely to pull all of these changes together for this move.  It is wise to step back and rejuvenate.  To do so, I have chosen to enjoy my new little cottage on Pender Island, British Columbia.  A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into finding and purchasing this place, so the time to enjoy the Gulf Islands is definitely during the summer.  However, knowing how to take a holiday is sometimes more difficult for some than others.  I fall in the former category.

I like Muller’s idea of taking a thermostat check in his book a life of being, having and doing enough (2010) that has us asking the essential question:  “Where is the signal from our body, our heart, our inner knowing, that tells us we have done enough now? (p. 10).  Mine has been turned off for quite some time.  My life has been taken up filling people’s wells and being given every indication that my work is never done, and never enough.  Being a caregiver in an underpaid and under-appreciated profession such as teaching, I have been conditioned to give relentlessly, even when I am tired, and even where the results may not be worth the effort.  We get into this profession because we are caring people, and we are often taken advantage of by people who give too little back.  Often we lose sight of what is really important in our own day to day lives.  The question becomes, “How are we filling our own wells?”

In answer to Muller’s question of how do we know when we have or have done enough, I believe that we know when we have had enough when we are truly present in the experience and are satisfied by what we are experiencing in the moments that surround us.  I have a niece visiting from Calgary, and she is busily planning the next thing and then the next thing, and so on, with perhaps the worry that if we are not always busy, we might be bored on this little island of paradise.  I have to remind both of us that we do not need to do all of it to have a rewarding experience.  If we do not get to all of it, we will have time tomorrow.  And, if we don’t get to it tomorrow, we can focus on what we really want to do most tomorrow.  This has been a bit of re-learning for both of us, as we navigate the precious week together, but it has reminded us of what really counts.  We need to find what is important and authentic to us in the lived experience.  As well, because it is our holiday, above all else, we need to know how to relax and enjoy our time together.

Watercolour Painting:  We have been focussing on water colour painting.  If you know anything about this type of painting, you know that it takes time.  First, we need to spend quite a bit of time deciding the subject of our art.  Then, there is the initial sketch.  Next, there is the first very soft wash of background highlights and colour.  After this, there is the next set of colours that move us into the foreground.  Each layer of paint has to dry, and within the sessions, there comes a time of quiet contemplation.  My niece is learning the patient art of painting in this fashion, and she sees that the urgency that we sometimes live in our lives cannot be played out in painting.  Otherwise, it comes out too fast and the colour is too wet–too dark–intense.  It leaves us nowhere to paint next when we try to do it all at once.  Writing is similar as the living between drafts affords us time to listen and reflect on the words that are carefully constructed to articulate exactly what we think and feel.  All fine art teaches us this patience to live in the middle of our drafts, just as I am learning to live in the middle of my experience moving from Calgary to BC.  I am, right now, living between washes, and waiting for the next set of colours to bring my picture to life.

Pender Island:  For now, I am on holidays on Pender Island.  This island is where I have come back to over and over again since 2002.  Having travelled quite a bit, and always being satisfied with seeing new places just once, Pender has always been different.  Pender Island is a place where I need to come back.  This homing pigeon instinct was a clear indication that this island is a place to set down some roots. It is a place of Orca whales, bald-headed eagles, porpoises, deer, racoons, and other wonderful wild birds and beasts.  The temperature is mild, and the forests are full of lush greenery.  The culture is simple and satisfied with itself, and there is a sense of abundance.  All of BC seems hit with a recession at the moment that drives people away to other places during the winter; however, Pender Island has a special quiet to it that calls us all back.  It is quiet except during thunder and lightning storms like the one this past week that made the whole cottage shake as if there was an earth quake.  It has dozens of beaches, and perfect places to sit, sun tan, and contemplate next steps as I have been doing throughout the week.

Lesson:  If we want to feel that there is enough happening in our lives, we need to be present in the experience so that we understand when we are truly satisfied.  When we do so, our inner thermostat tells us that we are happy, healthy and very much alive.

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2–52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Two: Yes We Can Travel Solo

14 Jul


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Observations about Can and Can’t People:  Before I discuss my thoughts on travelling solo, there seems to be a key philosophical premise behind those who choose to travel on their own, and those who do not.  My topic seems to coincide with this observation, but it is only a trend I have noticed in conversations with people over the years around this topic.  I have observed in my life journey that there are Can people and Can’t people.  To distinguish these terms, Can people spend more time talking themselves into their highest life force activities rather than talking themselves out of these activities as Can’t people do. Disappointingly, I have met far more people who do the latter.  Can and Can’t people rarely get along as they spend most of their time convincing the other that “it CAN be done”, or “No, it CAN’T be done”.  As well, neither strong Can people or strong Can’t people are very popular as no one likes to hear either’s strong opinions about why things can or cannot happen. The motivator can be overbearingly optimistic although they have often positively touched particularly open people along their journeys. The defeatist is often dogmatically negative, although helping others to appreciate what they have and what they should safeguard in their lives.

Both have become entrenched in their mindsets somewhere along their journeys, as they need to be right in their belief systems. These mindsets are whom they identify themselves to be and probably have been influenced by being in the presence of their opposites at some time in their lives. Can’t people operate out of fear. Extreme Can people operate out of fear as well. Both trigger the other to believe more strongly in what they believe. Can people often live longer. They just simply believe they can. Occasionally, Can’t people live a long time too because they are simply too afraid to die. However, if you remove the FEAR out of the equation, you have less polarizing. Sometimes can tempers can’t and visa versa, and they understand a new perspective. However, most often like-minded philosophies work best together.

Solo Travelling:  What has this got to do with embarking on solo travelling?  The essential work of anyone wanting to have a one-to-one and intimate relationship with different places around the world is their understanding of their own limitations.  If we have self-dialogue that talks us out of wanting to take the plunge into the solo travel experience, we are likely going to have a more difficult experience.  We are either unlikely to go anywhere out of our comfort zones in the first place, and secondly, we are less likely open to the experience we do choose.  So, the first step of the solo traveller is to not only believe that we can do it, but to take the steps to make it happen.

It takes a lot of initiative, confidence, and resiliency to do that.  Many of us have excuses.  Our families need us.  Wouldn’t it be selfish to spend money on ourselves while everyone else stays home?  It wouldn’t be the same without being able to share it with someone.  The obstacles often seem insurmountable to some people, and they choose instead to sit enviously on the sidelines and watch other people take the steps of getting out of their daily routines to go somewhere else.  Married couples, in particular, often will not consider going anywhere without the other.  It would seem to so many married people like an abandonment or a betrayal, when the mere matter of time apart and distance can allow healthy relationships to grow and become even stronger.  When we allow ourselves to be independent, our ability to be interdependent in our relationships gets even stronger (Covey, 1989).  However, people need to trust that this is so.  They need to value it in order to make it happen.  They need to practice it regularly or they lose their awareness of its importance.

The risks seem high, but the rewards are higher.  The internal work is the biggest part of the whole experience of solo travel.  Some people might use this argument as an excuse to delay going anywhere as they would indicate that they need to work on their own “stuff” before they are confident enough to travel solo.  However, this is not my message.  In fact, all life experiences are not linear and in straight lines.  There are no real pre-requisites for travel journeys other than to be healthy and capable of handling (financially, physically and emotionally) the type of journey on which we embark.  For example, new travellers would be wise to go on longer more complex trips to countries where culture shock is more likely to happen for them, later in their travelling careers.  However, every destination has a continuum of what is easy and difficult, inexpensive or costly, etc. within its breadth of possibilities.  It is just a matter of choosing carefully, and modifying the experience along the way.  Waiting to travel is like waiting for life to happen.  The time to travel is now.

Trapeze Metaphor:  I often refer to the trapeze metaphor on which Blank (2004) has based her book Between Trapezes, where the best trapeze artists are those who do not cling to the wrung that they are holding as they prepare for their jump from one wrung to the next.  They do not fixate on what is below them in terms of their safety net that they might fall onto should their flip in between wrungs go awry.  Nor do they obsess over grasping the wrung waiting for them at the other side.  Instead, the best trapeze artists are those who embrace the “in between” that is that space of uncertainty between the wrungs.  They relish in the summersaults they execute into thin air with the absolute faith that the other wrung will be waiting for them at the other side.

Taking the Leap:  How true this is of our lives in general when we decide to take a leap and do something differently.  How liberating it is to not feel the need to drag someone along as our security nets.  So many times, this false sense of security in having a travel companion is an ever-present reminder that we may enjoy a truer meditative travel experience if we had only travelled lighter, and left some of our stuff out of our backpacks, and/or, better yet, leave an unwilling or less-motivated travelling companion at home.  Occasionally we are fortunate enough to have just the right person who is equally equipped and motivated to share an adventure with us.  This sharing a journey with a like-minded individual is also a special experience.  However, I would still encourage people to travel solo at key times in their lives as the experience of doing so on our own is very different than doing it in the company of another.  It challenges us to grow in so many important ways that can be distracted from by having people from home (even the very best travel buddies) who bring with them all that we wish to leave behind for a little while to give us some distance from our daily lives.  As well, when we bring someone along, we typically focus on making the relationship work with our travelling companions in the throes of the experience rather than the immersion into the travel experience itself.  Instead, we need to focus on the trip, and be very present in ourselves in order to savor all that solo travelling has to offer. 

1–52 Weeks Begin Now: Week One: Leaving Everything Behind and Moving to Comox

14 Jul

Quote:  What makes us save some parts of our past and discard others?…Without attachment, the past would just simply fade away…Attachment is psychological.  It preserves the pain that still hurts and the pleasure that hopes to be repeated.  Being in the past, however, your mental storehouse is filled with a jumble of things that no longer serve you.  (Chopra, 2009, p. 199)

Week One:  A Fresh Start:  It is very easy to relate to a snake that periodically outgrows itself and sheds its skin.  What do we do when we outgrow our own life skin?  The snake rejuvenates itself, and by doing so leaves a scaly dry mass of its former self behind.  People operate a bit differently.  We tend to cling to all of the things that formed our identities and memories or kept us cocooned in safety.  Nature, however, has a way of throwing away its protective shells, and starting over again, or dying in the process of this transformation.  Penguins, for example, lose all of their water repellent outer feathers, and cannot swim as they moult. Elk regularly break off their protective antlers, leaving them vulnerable.  There is a cycle of rejuvenation, and predictably these animals, where successful in their change cycles, go on with their lives anew in a new season.

People talk ourselves out of fresh starts as if to suggest that by doing so we are “running away” from our problems.  Society also sells us the line that “Whereever you go, there you are” which equates to “why bother making a change?  We will inevitably stay the same.”  Or more classically, “What will I do without_____ if I leave?”  Fill in the blank with person, place or thing.  Ironically, if we are really honest, the nouns in our lives, including the proper ones, are generally indifferent to our choices unless our absence has a direct impact on their lives and routines.  Change is infinitesimal with acquaintances or colleagues, and normalcy is quickly re-established when we or these types of relationships change or leave.  People are usually in fond or obligatory connection for awhile.  However, the truly connected people stay connected, regardless of the distances or obstacles.

Moving or change is a quick filter of who and what really matters.  What do we pack?  What do we give away or leave behind?  Who came to say good-bye or made a gesture to make the transition a bit easier?  What made a genuine impact on us (emotional connection), and where will we find a way to re-integrate the truly meaningful stuff or people into our new lives?

The Fantasy:  There are many novels written about this fantasy of re-creating our lives or trading places with someone else, even if just for awhile.  Leaving everything and everyone behind holds a certain fascination for people because, like animals, we have natural instincts to revitalize who we are.  When we don’t, our bodies, minds and souls have a way of warning us that we are not being true to the need for these personal “upgrades’.  We ignore these instinctual red flags as we anesthetize ourselves with our routines and habits.  Instead, we need to be asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Is what I am doing with my life really vital to me?
  • Is what I am doing with my life creating more energy than it is costing me?
  • Is the fear of changing or leaving my present life preventing it from happening?  If so, is this fear the best motivation for staying in the status quo?

I am not particularly brave, although I am overcoming the vulnerability of losing my Calgary shell.  My son is turning twenty and we need to separate so we can both grow.  My job was simply too demanding and change was essential for me physically, mentally and spiritually.  I don’t have a significant other that I needed to cajole into a new adventure, nor did I need to leave behind someone due to unhappiness.  I just have a life that has been moderately satisfying, but is now ripe for transformation because “moderate” isn’t good enough for the latter part of my life.  The voice in my head calling out “Get out of here?” became too powerful.  I finally decided to listen.

Experiments with Truth:  My choice is to experiment with a new truth and push past the fears, as regret is a more daunting motivator.  It is time to explore the possibility that change can afford a re-invention of self.  I have hope that finding a new setting, with new tastes, smells, sounds and other can inspire a new way of being.  The growing pains are predictable:  loneliness, unfamiliarity, inconvenience, boredom, etc.  However, all of it is a matter of attitude and perspective.  Like travelling, there is always a new possibility around the corner.  I just have to look for it.

So, in the matter of three weeks, I found a new job, listed my house, explained to my son his new reality and started orchestrating a move to the West Coast where I have always “felt” right.  Is it whimsical?  Yes.  Is it filled with risk?  Absolutely.  Will I miss Calgary, the people, the life I had there?  For the most part, yes, although I have allowed it to define me for too long.  Will I be missed?  I like to think that we should not measure our pasts by how much people reach out and stay in touch?  I like to think that our memories store our relationships and experiences  just as they were meant to be pickled in our brains.  What is best is to move on and continue to forge new connections from what we have learned on our journeys?  If people keep in touch, that is a bonus.

Lesson:  Through change, we only tend to keep those things and people with which we have truly connected; therefore, creating authentic connections should form the basis of our work ahead.  My question for myself in this lesson is “What must I do to dedicate myself to that which is truly meaningful in my next 52 weeks and beyond and not fill my new life with minutia and obligation or things which pull me back to a comfort zone that is only moderately satisfying?”