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Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 51: Under-Graduate Milestones

22 Jun

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 51: Under-Graduate Milestones.

photo grad

Benchmarks for Success:  What is of interest to me is this idea of how we know we are making progress in life.  Are we getting ahead?  This idea that we can get from one point to another while accomplishing things and becoming better people as a result of our efforts, is a Modernist concept.  It relies on this philosophical pillar that there is a greater good to which we can strive and become better for our efforts.

I still buy into this line of reasoning, hoping that all of the “Sturm and Drang” in my life has been for some greater good.  I especially hope that my belief system holds some truth to it due to the fact that I shared this value system with my son who has recently graduated from university with an under-graduate degree in sociology in the Faculty of Arts.

Under-graduate Confusion and Ambivalence:  Undergraduate work can feel under-whelming.  These early academic years (to use an old expression) “separate the men from the boys”.  This milestone of convocating from a university with an undergraduate degree is supposed to symbolize incredible accomplishment where we feel that we have “arrived” somewhere that is significant, leading to somewhere else that will also be significant, and potentially even more important.  From this juncture in the road, we are supposed to have a clear vantage point from which to make choices upon which to base the rest of our life journeys.  In many cases, we catch glimpses of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it can be short-lived.

“Getting off the academic track” can be very unnerving for students.  We have been following so closely the institutional guidelines that tell us how to think and learn; when to do so; and how good we have to be at doing so in order to pass, that when we are relieved of these obligations, we can be left feeling confused and disoriented.  When we graduate, sometimes we are left with a sense of post-academic depression, realizing that all of our grueling efforts got us to a point where we still have more unanswered questions than when we went into the program in the first place. Degrees don’t guarantee jobs or success.  Unlike where we worked hard in the academic world to get a passing grade, life doesn’t hand out grades.  It simply looks at us blankly in the face owing us nothing for our efforts.

Looking Back:  Having gone through the academic world, which is both exciting and disillusioning, the first leg of academic work (the filtering and streaming years) can be a very institutional process that affords us very little “free thinking”.  Instead, we are indoctrinated into becoming good at “it”.  We become programmed to write and say the right things in order to be the best that our mentors believe that we can be within the parameters of the academic protocols.  We are groomed to achieve the status quo of high level critical thinking.  I loved it, but by the end of it, I hated it.  I remember graduating from the University of Calgary (my first time around), and as I packed up my bag of books, I looked back at the building and said boldly, “I will never go back!”

Next Steps:  The first steps after the program are the hardest.  They are like those first wobbly steps of a new born.  We wiggle around from one piece of furniture to another trying to grab onto something–anything that will provide some stability.  We are not secure enough to carry our own weight.  The time to embark out into the world on our own steam, with our own rules, takes incredible courage.  Where do we go next?  How do we afford it?  What matters most…first?  First things first, how can we enjoy the reality of our new found freedom when we are so worried about what comes next?  It is all very anxiety-provoking, but a very important experience, never-the-less.  We cannot grow and become our best selves until we truly are out of our comfort zones.  We need to stumble and fall, and then learn to wait.  We have to avoid that sense of desperation that forces us to grab onto the wrong things.  Instead, we have to be courageous and hold out for the best things that are yet to come.

My Son:  My son’s sociology program forces its students to think out of the box, and yet, when they are truly released into the world to think “out of the box”, it can be quite disconcerting for all of them.  He is truly wondering whether this degree was worth it.  It does not set him on any real practical and immediate track.  Instead, it just got him to think differently than he did before he entered it.  He got to learn that the world is not straight-forward, fair, or even relevant to itself.  He became a bigger thinker, challenged by his teachers, and his student cohort; and from this, he has accomplished a real cognitive milestone–the milestone of being a philosopher of his own learning, and as a result, a potential composer of a richer score of life.

He has the whole world just waiting for him to jump right in, but he needs to first determine who he is, and how to climb thoughtfully up the ladder to look over the edge at the next part of his journey.  Even though he is a little afraid of heights, he needs to climb to the top, set his eyes on the horizon and point outward.  Once he spots a landmark that can hold his gaze with his head, heart and spirit, he can begin moving ahead.  He may get side-tracked as he takes his next tentative steps forward, but our calling is always our calling.  He too will find his true calling through various means. And most importantly, he will begin to accept that he has never really strayed too far from being exactly who he has always been (perhaps a bit worldlier and wiser)…a very good man.

“When you stop living your life based on what others think of you, real life begins. At that moment, you will finally see the door of self acceptance opened.”
Shannon L. Alder

 

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Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 45: From Grief to Gratitude While Visiting Hollywood

28 Jan

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 45: From Grief to Gratitude While Visiting Hollywood.

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Angst on an Airplane:  Recently I flew to Hollywood for Christmas.  From my flight from Vancouver to LA, and into the first couple of days of my trip, I was riddled with the stress of my job, and the anxiety of a couple of personal matters.  I felt emotionally consumed by worry, and felt unable to escape some of it, even by leaving home to do so.   No matter how hard I tried, I was not able to shift out of my work gear, and into my holiday mode which I had been looking forward to for several weeks.  I found myself reviewing many of the negatives like a silent picture show in my mind.

Fortunately, I have incredible travel angels, and I landed in the world’s most interesting bed and breakfast called The Hollywood B and B.  It was filled with fascinating relics and art from all over the world.  The theme of most of this boutique inn was vintage America.  Anything and everything that tied into American film, music and art was residing somewhere on a table, wall or available space in this historical home.  This was an exceptional hoarders’ paradise because everything truly was beautiful, not only to the hoarding hosts, but to their guests.

Shifting Emotional Gears:  It took me awhile to recognize the signs of worry, distress, depression and exhaustion, but eventually I surrendered to it through rest and recovery.  It had been a difficult fall at work grappling with a traumatized school district just coming out of a strike, and where I was learning the ropes in a new organization on multiple levels.  As well, I was starting to feel some homesickness for my friends and family in Calgary.  Despite having many positive things happening in BC with work, new social connections and hobbies, I was not feeling very happy about my circumstances.  No matter how I looked at everything, it kept leading me back to this sense of loss and failure, even though I knew that logically, this was not the case.

After a couple of days of ruminating, I chose to go out.  I started exploring Hollywood Boulevard; Sunset Boulevard; The Griffin Observatory; The Getty Museum; the LA County Museum of Art; the Norton Simon Art Gallery; Pasadena; Santa Monica, and the surrounding area down to Malibu.  Somewhere in the middle of all of this, as I was learning to drive the six lanes of traffic, I started to shift gears from grief to gratitude.

Serendipity Works Its Magic:  When I first arrived at 2 in the morning, I switched on the light of my “Maverick Room” (likely called this because there were two decorated cow skulls on the wall which some might call artwork). I  figured out how to turn on the satellite television and the first thing that came on was a program about “fear”.  At first it didn’t seem to be very profound, but I found it odd that of all 886 channels, the one program that kept coming up was talking about this topic of fear that I was vividly experiencing at that very moment in time.  The people on this channel appeared to be experts on this topic, and the quote that stood out for me in their dialogue (and then became my mantra for the next few days of my holiday), was this:  “If you give faith to fear, you give yourself to the enemy.  If you give your faith to God, you give yourself back to yourself.”  It was a profound starting point of other little “signs” that good things would be happening on this holiday.

The Maze:  What I also started doing was counting my blessings, and I realized that there were many of them.  I realized that part of my dilemma was this idea of turning 50 years old in the new year.  As the days of the holiday counted down to 2015, I was feeling my mortality.

When I was looking out from the Getty Museum overlooking Beverly Hills, I realized a few things.  I had more to be grateful for than I would ever to be sorry about.  As well, I marvelled at the key life events that had happened over the last fifty years that had turned me into the person that I had become.  Most of these life events involved people supporting me and helping to launch me into new and important directions.

From this vantage point at the top of the Getty, I could look down and see exactly the right way to go through this beautiful foliage maze.  It was a bit like life.  When you are right in the middle of it, you cannot see which way to go.  However, when you stand back, you can see it all very differently.  I decided then and there that I was going to acknowledge the 50 people who had most impacted my life over my lifetime.

My Top 50 People:  Who would my top 50 people be?  I had so many people to be thankful for, but I decided that I would narrow it down to the key change agents in my life journey.  These were people who had made a substantial shift in me physically, emotionally, intellectually, and/or spiritually.  My family automatically came to mind…then my doctors who had operated on my feet, knees and shoulder (so that I could move easily)…and then my mentors who had helped nominate and support me through my career–all of this started to come into focus.

As I was considering this list of names, I went into the gift shop, and there on the gift shop stand was a postcard of the very maze that I had just been looking out over.  It seemed to represent the maze of my life.   I decided to buy all of them!   When the shop owner carefully counted them out, there were exactly 50 cards which matched the exact number of my gratitude mission.  I spent the next few days jotting down names and making decisions about who I would write, and what I would say in each card.  Then, while I sat each evening in the dim light of the bed and breakfast while listening to some lovely guitar music and sipping hot ginger tea, I began to write.

Re-focussing:  No longer was I thinking about my worries and challenges.  I was thinking about my life in technicolor gratitude.  Important memories were coming back to me, and I was making some significant revelations.  I was connecting the dots.  Had these people not entered in my life at key times, my life could be very different than it is presently.  My good fortune in life was a result of a series of spiritual interventions of key people along the way.  In each letter, I decided to include a quote by one of my favourite authors, Marianne Williamson who I have been reading recently because as I am in the mid-life that she so graciously refers to as The Age of Miracles (2008):

It takes a decade to understand the basic nature of spiritual principles, another decade while the ego tries to eat you alive, another decade while you try to wrestle it to the ground, and finally you begin to walk more or less in the light.  Anyone who thinks a spiritual path is easy probably hasn’t been walking one…In A Course in Miracles, light is defined as “understanding.” What a beautiful thought, that to see the light is to understand. (p. 28)

I was starting to understand on this trip to Hollywood where people’s dreams came true, that my bright lights were coming from within.  Perhaps it was fed by the music from the wonderful music of the singer Olita Adams that I heard on New Year’s Eve at the famous Catalina Jazz Club, or it was the riveting comedians at the Laugh Factory that snapped me back into happiness; I’m not sure.  However, I have a feeling that what helped me to get my bearings most was travelling.  Again, by finding another vantage point from which to see my life maze, and to know that there was an entrance, a path and an exit, I felt reassured.  It was just a matter of taking the time to appreciate that everything was going to be alright because everything had already been alright.

Happy New Year 2015

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52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 45: From Grief to Gratitude While Visiting Hollywood

28 Jan

IMG_8180

Angst on an Airplane:  Recently I flew to Hollywood for Christmas.  From my flight from Vancouver to LA, and into the first couple of days of my trip, I was riddled with the stress of my job, and the anxiety of a couple of personal matters.  I felt emotionally consumed by worry, and felt unable to escape some of it, even by leaving home to do so.   No matter how hard I tried, I was not able to shift out of my work gear, and into my holiday mode which I had been looking forward to for several weeks.  I found myself reviewing many of the negatives like a silent picture show in my mind.

Fortunately, I have incredible travel angels, and I landed in the world’s most interesting bed and breakfast called The Hollywood B and B.  It was filled with fascinating relics and art from all over the world.  The theme of most of this boutique inn was vintage America.  Anything and everything that tied into American film, music and art was residing somewhere on a table, wall or available space in this historical home.  This was an exceptional hoarders’ paradise because everything truly was beautiful, not only to the hoarding hosts, but to their guests.

Shifting Emotional Gears:  It took me awhile to recognize the signs of worry, distress, depression and exhaustion, but eventually I surrendered to it through rest and recovery.  It had been a difficult fall at work grappling with a traumatized school district just coming out of a strike, and where I was learning the ropes in a new organization on multiple levels.  As well, I was starting to feel some homesickness for my friends and family in Calgary.  Despite having many positive things happening in BC with work, new social connections and hobbies, I was not feeling very happy about my circumstances.  No matter how I looked at everything, it kept leading me back to this sense of loss and failure, even though I knew that logically, this was not the case.

After a couple of days of ruminating, I chose to go out.  I started exploring Hollywood Boulevard; Sunset Boulevard; The Griffin Observatory; The Getty Museum; the LA County Museum of Art; the Norton Simon Art Gallery; Pasadena; Santa Monica, and the surrounding area down to Malibu.  Somewhere in the middle of all of this, as I was learning to drive the six lanes of traffic, I started to shift gears from grief to gratitude.

Serendipity Works Its Magic:  When I first arrived at 2 in the morning, I switched on the light of my “Maverick Room” (likely called this because there were two decorated cow skulls on the wall which some might call artwork). I  figured out how to turn on the satellite television and the first thing that came on was a program about “fear”.  At first it didn’t seem to be very profound, but I found it odd that of all 886 channels, the one program that kept coming up was talking about this topic of fear that I was vividly experiencing at that very moment in time.  The people on this channel appeared to be experts on this topic, and the quote that stood out for me in their dialogue (and then became my mantra for the next few days of my holiday), was this:  “If you give faith to fear, you give yourself to the enemy.  If you give your faith to God, you give yourself back to yourself.”  It was a profound starting point of other little “signs” that good things would be happening on this holiday.

The Maze:  What I also started doing was counting my blessings, and I realized that there were many of them.  I realized that part of my dilemma was this idea of turning 50 years old in the new year.  As the days of the holiday counted down to 2015, I was feeling my mortality.

When I was looking out from the Getty Museum overlooking Beverly Hills, I realized a few things.  I had more to be grateful for than I would ever to be sorry about.  As well, I marvelled at the key life events that had happened over the last fifty years that had turned me into the person that I had become.  Most of these life events involved people supporting me and helping to launch me into new and important directions.

From this vantage point at the top of the Getty, I could look down and see exactly the right way to go through this beautiful foliage maze.  It was a bit like life.  When you are right in the middle of it, you cannot see which way to go.  However, when you stand back, you can see it all very differently.  I decided then and there that I was going to acknowledge the 50 people who had most impacted my life over my lifetime.

My Top 50 People:  Who would my top 50 people be?  I had so many people to be thankful for, but I decided that I would narrow it down to the key change agents in my life journey.  These were people who had made a substantial shift in me physically, emotionally, intellectually, and/or spiritually.  My family automatically came to mind…then my doctors who had operated on my feet, knees and shoulder (so that I could move easily)…and then my mentors who had helped nominate and support me through my career–all of this started to come into focus.

As I was considering this list of names, I went into the gift shop, and there on the gift shop stand was a postcard of the very maze that I had just been looking out over.  It seemed to represent the maze of my life.   I decided to buy all of them!   When the shop owner carefully counted them out, there were exactly 50 cards which matched the exact number of my gratitude mission.  I spent the next few days jotting down names and making decisions about who I would write, and what I would say in each card.  Then, while I sat each evening in the dim light of the bed and breakfast while listening to some lovely guitar music and sipping hot ginger tea, I began to write.

Re-focussing:  No longer was I thinking about my worries and challenges.  I was thinking about my life in technicolor gratitude.  Important memories were coming back to me, and I was making some significant revelations.  I was connecting the dots.  Had these people not entered in my life at key times, my life could be very different than it is presently.  My good fortune in life was a result of a series of spiritual interventions of key people along the way.  In each letter, I decided to include a quote by one of my favourite authors, Marianne Williamson who I have been reading recently because as I am in the mid-life that she so graciously refers to as The Age of Miracles (2008):

It takes a decade to understand the basic nature of spiritual principles, another decade while the ego tries to eat you alive, another decade while you try to wrestle it to the ground, and finally you begin to walk more or less in the light.  Anyone who thinks a spiritual path is easy probably hasn’t been walking one…In A Course in Miracles, light is defined as “understanding.” What a beautiful thought, that to see the light is to understand. (p. 28)

I was starting to understand on this trip to Hollywood where people’s dreams came true, that my bright lights were coming from within.  Perhaps it was fed by the music from the wonderful music of the singer Olita Adams that I heard on New Year’s Eve at the famous Catalina Jazz Club, or it was the riveting comedians at the Laugh Factory that snapped me back into happiness; I’m not sure.  However, I have a feeling that what helped me to get my bearings most was travelling.  Again, by finding another vantage point from which to see my life maze, and to know that there was an entrance, a path and an exit, I felt reassured.  It was just a matter of taking the time to appreciate that everything was going to be alright because everything had already been alright.

Happy New Year 2015

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