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Pressed:  One Week to the Wedding by Shelley Robinson

23 May

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Final Thoughts as a Single Person:  It is interesting how as I get closer to my wedding on December 19, 2015, how important the whole thing has become to both of us.  What started out as a simple “yes” to a romantic proposal has now required me to really take stock of what I value in a commitment of this nature, especially when it is not my first time around.  This time, I am heading into this marriage odyssey with my eyes wide open, and that makes it all the more interesting.

Some describe these last few days as wedding jitters and succumb to cold feet.  Others talk about it as this euphoric time of heady excitement and overlook the reality of what they are undertaking as a couple.  Interestingly, despite Chris and I having lived together before hand and having some life experience under our belts, I have been feeling a whole array of emotions from nervousness to joy.  Where before we both felt that getting married to each other was just a nice romantic gesture to “seal the deal”, we now see some larger value for each of us.  Perhaps we too have been indoctrinated, domesticated, and enculturated into a society that promotes this type of thing.  It has become evident to us that despite our initial non-challance about going through these traditional formalities, we do value the institution of marriage.

It has been interesting to watch ourselves evolve as we meet with the minister, go through the exercise of gathering our families in a small affair, and to decide how we want to commit to each other in a special sort of way.

Family Ties:   At first we were more interested in eloping.  The wedding seemed to be all about us this time.  However, when it came right down to it, we realized that where our families are all far apart, and disconnected from each other, this small affair might be the only time where they actually travel distances to meet.  Although this was not our sole purpose for marrying with friends and family, it became an important consideration.  Our children are adults, and our parents are getting older.  We grew up in different provinces, and our families have very little reason to know each other.  Therefore, we felt this a valuable opportunity to introduce them.  As well, we wanted to share this special event with our children, in particular, to model the value of this relationship experience.  We are learning that it is more than just an official photo opportunity.  It is a meaningful event that has forced us to really discuss our future in great detail and to ask our families to once again believe and support us as we make another commitment to someone new.

The Questions:    We decided to have a minister marry us.  We felt that there was a spiritual purpose in our marriage, and that a minister would be more apt to capture this essence of our union than a justice of the peace.  With this being said, we were careful about how that looked in a religious context for each of us based on our faith and beliefs.  The minister asked us some probing questions.  As well, we chose to do our own marriage preparation through some readings and questions, and the work proved to be both valuable, and challenging.  Again, this time around we recognized that part of marriage is romantic, but another part of getting married is very practical.  We were entering into a marriage of business, and at this age, impending caregiving of one or the other.  We have a window of a couple of decades before the “end is near”.  We both know that we need to use our time together wisely, and so our life priorities have been a focus of many discussions.  The link we found most valuable was the following put out by Nathan Cobb, PhD at http://www.nathancobb.com/support-files/marriagequiz.pdf.

Questions emerged over our past two months, and the really important ones in the last couple of weeks:

  • Love:  How do we meet each other’s love needs?  We talked quite a bit about hitting our love targets, and explored the idea of love languages:  http://www.5lovelanguages.com
  • Experience:  What do we want to do with our next ten years in the window of opportunity of our best health years together?
  • Time:  How do we want to prioritize our time?
  • Money:  How will we finance our lives together through sickness and in health?
  • Relationship:  How will we “do what it takes” to sustain a strong connection as friends and lovers?
  • Communication:  What works and does not work to help us align our thoughts and feelings together?
  • Self Help:  What work do we need to do to be our best selves so that we can be the best for this relationship?
  • Conflict:  How must we best address problems together so we are honest and respectful of each other?
  • Intimacy:  How should we live to insure that we cherish our intimacy together?
  • Employment:  How do we want to spend our final years before retirement?
  • Retirement:  What will we do when we retire, and how will we support our retirement years?
  • Prenuptial Agreement:  What happens should the unthinkable happen?
  • Celebration:  How do we celebrate and find joy in our wedding and honeymoon, and beyond?

What I have Learned:   It is really simple.  Marriage is a lot of work.  It requires telling someone that I will do what it takes to keep us loving, healthy, relationally functional, and financially viable for the rest of our lives together.  It is a big step for Chris coming our of a more than 25-year marriage; and a big one for me having only been married for a few years of my life, and a single mother for most of it.

Our first kick at the can involved a lot of hope, naivete, and steep learning curves.  Now, we have another chance to say “I do”.  This time, we have to develop the necessary marriage skills to be ourselves in the larger context of being a couple.  Both of us must unlearn, re-learn, and learn all of the things we will need to best be together as man and wife.  These are big steps for both of us, and as we get in the final stretch of the wedding, we see the enormity of the commitment.  It is best to admit that this is a scary proposition, but a valuable one.  I can never learn about relationships if I do not take on living one to the best of my abilities.  I am excited, happy, scared, and oddly calm, all at the same time.  How lucky am I to have this special opportunity to marry a wonderful man.

Source: One Week to the Wedding by Shelley Robinson

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Pressed:  EMPTY BEACHES by Chris Crawford

23 May

Source: EMPTY BEACHES by Chris Crawford

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Many things can be discovered by spending time on a beach in any country. Some of the things that come to mind for me are; level of happiness of the local people, family values and local social habits.

Shelley and I had a chance to experience this on our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. We spent two weeks there over Christmas and New Years 2016.  It was a welcome break in our crazy lives of planning and then having a wedding. During this time away we made a conscious effort to learn basic Spanish so that we could converse with the locals and experience the real Dominican Republic.

About an hour before we landed, I heard an excited voice say “pull out the travel book.  We need to learn Spanish if we plan on making it to the resort. ”  For the next hour, we went through the drills of learning a few basic phrases. Even in the customs line-up we befriended a  weary  traveller who spoke Spanish to help us learn how to catch a bus to Jaun Dolio beach.  I could not absorb as much as Shelley because I did not sleep on the plane.  She has the gift of being able to sleep the moment that she sits down. I should say lies down all oer me as I was the pillow for the five hour flight. Needless to say she was much fresher than I was when we arrived.

We made it through the Airport and picked up our luggage.  As we exited the airport, we were met with a barrage of taxi drivers and such.  All were eager to try and help us use their cab. Shelley Tip # 1, don’t let anyone grab your luggage. As it turns out, the friendly help would cost us a $270 USD ride to the resort. Shelley tip #2 they will haggle.  A simple Spanish of saying that is was “way to much”, dropped the price to $150 USD.  It was still to much for our liking, so plan B was executed — Public Transit.

We had the entire afternoon to make it to the resort and we used it to travel with the locals and see some of the country that the average tourist would never see. Three buses later, thanks to Shelley’s Spanish lessons on the air plane, we were dropped of in front of our resort. The total was thirty Canadian dollars for the both of us.  After the journey, a check in and good sleep was in order.

In the morning, we had a light breakfast and were eager to hit the beach and take a swim in the azure Caribbean sea. As we walked IMG_1541onto the beach, we noticed that hardly anyone was on the beach beyond the strip in front of the resort.  Three hundred feet around the corner and we had about a mile of tropical beach to our selves –Heaven.  It is very easy to lose track of time when all you see is the hypnotising surf of the Caribbean and the tropical winds moving through the palm trees.

Our second adventure was a self-guided trip into the old colonial zone in Santa Domingo.  More public transportation. Santo Domingo is the oldest colonial city in the Americas. Founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496.  He was the son of Christopher Columbus. We had an incredible day exploring all the old buildings.

After the day of exploring the old colonial zone had concluded, it was time to make it back to the Hotel.  Three busses and a slow trip through the heart of Santo Damigo during rush hour was all that it took to get back to the hotel. It was  a look into the real world of the Dominican Republic.  If anyone really wants to experiance any country and  know how the locals live, public transit will show you it in about one hour stuck in rush hour traffic. What a ride it was with people  hanging out the door of the bus and people stepping on at every stop to sell food to the the hungry passengers.

The real contrast for me on this trip has been the different people managing the crazy pace of the city to the construction worker napping in the shade.  Everyone knew how to move quickly, but all seemed to also know how to slow down.  For me, the time spent on the beaches was the real Dominican spirit. Locals spending time with their families on a Sunday with a picnic seemed to be their favourite pastime. Their only concerns seemed to be where to find a palm tree for shade.  We should all spend a bit more time looking for shade under a palm tree.

Pressed:  Taking a Running Leap by Shelley Robinson

2 Sep

Source: Taking a Running Leap by Shelley Robinson

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“I advise you to say your dream is possible and then overcome all inconveniences, ignore all the hassles and take a running leap through the hoop, even if it is in flames.”  Les Brown

Letting Go:  When fear has a death grip on your life to the point that it becomes impossible to breathe, it is time to change.  It often may appear easier to speculate what change might look and feel like by dipping our toes into its frigid cold waters and slowly acclimating to it while clinging to the edge of the dock, than it is to simply take the plunge.  Taking one tentative step after another before submerging into the glorious depths of a new life, often sounds something like this when we are having conversations with people about the “what if’s” that could happen in our lives:

  • “When I get these things finished, I can…”
  • “When I have enough money saved, I will…”
  • “When my partner is ready and available to change, I will…”
  • “When I know exactly what will happen wherever I go, I might…”
  • “When I am feeling really ready, I will try to…”
  • “When I have all of the education and/or qualifications that I will need to be very employable, I will…”
  • “When I sell or rent my home…”
  • “When my children move out…”
  • “When my pets die…”
  • “When I retire and have a pension…”
  • “When I get married…”

Change is terribly frightening, especially when we are sitting on the precipice between the past and the future.  Letting go of a pay cheque; a partner; a way of life filled with a false sense of security and comfort, just seems too impossible because even unsatisfying security is some type of stability never-the-less.  Even when life is life-sucking, soul crunching and/or dysfunctional, it can be more desirable than taking the risk of truly catapulting into a new life where we do not know nor can we control the outcomes.  It is often the devil we know that we will allow to govern our lives, than the one we do not know very well.  In this case, comfort, complacency, security can be the real evil in our lives preventing us from leaping through the fiery hoop to the other side.  The other side could potentially allow us to find our true callings, passions or valuable life experiences.

The Chicken and the Egg Catalyst:  So, what comes first?  The chicken (in this case, ourselves, taking the final steps towards letting go of an old life and embracing the new), or the egg (the promise or guarantee of something to which we can cling onto at the other side)?  Do we just leap without any guarantee of another side (a job, partner, financial security, an education…)?  Should we be reckless as our conservative parents taught us not to be?  Or do we wait for somethinganything to come along and propel us into a new opportunity where we can make a change with some sense of security?  Common sense tells us that it is the latter that is the wiser choice.  We need that little catalyst or motivator.  We will wait for some sign from some source, and follow it because it represents safety within the change we hope to adopt.

However, what if the wisest choice is to let go completely, and search for that which truly inspires us to be our authentic selves?  This would mean not clinging to our old lives, nor grasping for a solid new one; rather, it means leaping with faith.  The faith would be trusting ourselves, knowing that we are capable of thoughtfully discerning what we need as we move forward.  It also means having faith that we have the where-with-all to find a means to support ourselves (either in the solo or in the tandem leap) so that we will be okay in the end.  The trust comes in knowing and believing in our own capacity to land on our feet.

Reaching for the Right Stars:   So the question arises, what do we truly need in our lives?

I need to be creative.  I need to feel efficacy in my own life experience.  I especially need to know that I have voice in relationship to others.  Having self love and respect, and the love and respect for and of others is also paramount to whatever I do from this point forward.  Nature will need to be an essential part of everything I do.  I need to know what the rest of the world looks, feels, sounds, tastes and smells like.  And most importantly, I want to share this with someone special in a long term and committed way.  Therefore, my stars need to shine on those priorities and I need to align my sextant to these stars so that I can find my directions, and get my real life bearings.  The rest…will fall into place because I will be living my truth.

Pressed: Staying Forever Young Together

8 Aug

Staying Forever Young Together.

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Staying Forever Young Together
by Shelley Robinson, July 27

Eternal Youth: People are always wondering about how to stay eternally youthful. It would be the most wonderful thing to know what we know as more mature people while having a second chance at being and then staying young physically. People pay big money to try to freeze time.  In doing so, they hope to keep their relationships with others vital and vibrant. We often blame our aging for things like not being able to be leaner, mobile, adventurous, sexual and so forth. At the head of the Wurzburg Cathedral yesterday I observed to statues of two skeletons on the front doors greeting its parishioners with the text: “We are operating from dust to dust”. We come into this world as dust, and we leave the world in the same way. The topic is a depressing one for people, and so we do everything possible to delay this eventuality.

Fighting death a futile battle, but I believe that it is a good fight to stay fit and prolong life as long as possible, even to go as far as tricking the brain into believing that it is younger than it actually is chronologically. If we are only on this earth for a short while, then I believe that we should be on the earth in our very best bodies possible, living a life that affords us the optimal physical experience. How can this be done? I have been asked quite a bit on this trip about how I stay so young looking. When I met my Finnish relative for the first time, she commented that I looked like a young girl. It has been a flattering question because aging for me has been a relative thing for me over my fifty years. I would say that the answer is quite simple: live in moderation, and by God, have fun!

I have looked very old in my lifetime at a much younger age, and I have looked very young at a much older age. The question of my aging is a matter of attitude and life experience at the time. I have watched myself shape shift from moment to moment when life joys or traumas cause my body to go through sudden metamorphoses. I suddenly look younger or older, depending on my belief of my age at the time. When I am tired, I feel old, and visa versa. Lately, I have decided to be younger, and I hope that it is coming across in the same way in how I project myself into the world.

The Logistics of Good Health: What I have learned most profoundly is that there is a direct correlation to my looking and feeling OLD when I am NOT eating, sleeping or exercising regularly nor well. As well, stress has been a huge contributing factor to creating these circumstances, or, perhaps, being a result of these circumstances. The spiral of poor health is a cycle of circumstances that we sometimes feel is beyond our control. Fortunately, I am finding that if I make positive healthy experiences my priority, that I have the ability to influence the rest of my life experiences through it. We all experience the world through the body as our temple, and we need to honour this special place in which we reside, regardless of the challenges that we each have in the universe.

This idea of being “meta-kinesthetic” that I wrote about in my research on the five meta-learning domains, seems to be of greater value to me the further that I proceed through my life. The “meta” self is always hovering above each of us to lucidly evaluate what works best in our lives. I have always been interested in what inspires or blocks us cognitively (thoughts), conatively (motivation), affectively (feelings), physically, and spiritually? The road to good health is an important experiential domain, but not an easy one. The path of least resistance is always clearly marked on the trail and can sometimes distract us from the best course of action. This idea of being disciplined to do what works best for our bodies, is a critical one.

Having a Relationship with Our Bodies First: Before we can have a relationship with someone else in these five learning domains, we have to have a relationship with ourselves first. When we know who we are and how we can best operate through body, mind and spirit with ourselves, we can offer it to the rest of the world. For example, when we are doing the good work for our bodies in this regard, we can let someone physically into our lives. Only when we can turn ourselves on sexually, can we truly turn someone else on sexually. It has not been until I have been older that I have truly listened to what my body has been screaming at me through its various signs and symptoms.

We Are What We Breathe and Eat: I coughed most of my life, likely because my body was inflamed. I breathed air and ate foods that kept me from breathing well. When our bodies and lungs are inflamed, the life breath that we need to take in and exhale moment to moment, is impaired. When we do not breath well, we do not live well. Good breathing is fundamental to a good life. The slow inhale and exhale that fills our body with restorative energy is the basis of our good living. Without it, we die. I was dying until I figured out that what I was breathing and eating were killing me. A high altitude, dry climate, polluted city, cold weather and other breathing variables were not treating me well in my native city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and so I moved.

However, I did not move before I learned from a wise naturopath that I had been eating wheat, dairy and eggs to which I had been having terrible physical inflammation reactions my entire lifetime (phlegm and restrictive airways). My blood work indicated extreme allergies to beef, wheat (all grains and gluten), dairy (not just lactose), eggs (whole egg), and a few other odds and ends. When I cut them out, the reaction was dramatic over time. My body shed some of its weight. I could start breathing without medicine, and I was more energized than I had been before. With that being said, the external variables were still coming into play, and so I decided to move to BC to be in a warmer climate, by the ocean with a less-polluted environment. The trees became my friends with their humidity and oxygen. The ocean granted me its salt water frangrance. By managing both my diet and my air, I had discovered a healthier place to live so that I was not fighting against my own limitations. Now the challenge for me continues to be how to minimize work stress. This dilemma is a big one for many people.

Being in Relationship: Even though Chris does not need much reminding as he is very healthy, I do remind him to eat, drink water, and sleep regularly. We all need reminding. When we are in the flow of our life experiences, we can sometimes lose track. He is often so busy wanting to experience the world very actively, that he forgets that he needs to tend to his body so that he can enjoy it. Just as I remind him of what his body needs, so does he with me. He puts vitamins in front of me, and promotes various types of good food ideas so that we are living leanly and staying fit. We both enjoy hiking in the outdoors, and we are convinced that the trees speak to us in very physical ways when we are out enjoying the energy that they give back to our world for us.  In short, we are both tree freaks!

When we are cranky or unsure of ourselves, there is almost always a definite connection to what we did not do that day in terms of eating, drinking and sleeping well; and as well, any hormones (time of month) or fatigue from work. I believe that 90 percent of the troubles that we have experienced together (and for the most part, we have very few big troubles), I can attribute to our bodies having been depleted at the time of these minor relationship disconnections. What we do for our bodies, our bodies give back to our relationships ten-fold. Now, instead of delving too deeply into the angst of an argument, I just simply think, “When did we last eat?” Or, he suggests that we get into the woods.  I believe that it is always helpful to recruit someone to help us be strong and well, but not to put him or her in the driver’s seat of making us happy.

Last Thoughts: As a woman, I am both surprised and confused by my body on a regular basis; however, the closer that I pay attention, the more that I can work with it, and not against it. In turn, I can show Chris how to figure it out as well. This applies very directly to the physical domain, and one where we need to be very thoughtful of as we get older. Between the two of us, we can find ways to achieve some very positive and exciting physical experiences together. In doing so, I believe that we can stay young together for longer, and that will make all of the difference to our long term relationship. I want him to find me as physically attractive as possible for as long as possible because I find myself physically capable of being so.

Blake said that the body was the soul’s prison unless the five senses are fully developed and open. He considered the senses the ‘windows of the soul.’ When sex involves all the senses intensely, it can be like a mystical experence.

Jim Morrison

Pressed: And They Lived Happily Ever After

8 Aug

And They Lived Happily Ever After.

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And They Lived Happily Ever After: July, 2015

Shelley Robinson

Warranty Runs Out at 50: Sometimes it takes travelling away to see a new relationship for what it really means to me. Being on a trip to Hungary, Slavakia, Austria, Germany and Holland on a river boat cruise given to my sister and I by my parents to share with them, forced me to really take stock of who I am having just turned 50, and my new relationship with Chris. First of all, I had not counted on the first five months of our relationship to be when my body warranty decided to come up for renewal. Medical issues crept up on me from my bladder to shoulder to incredible work fatigue and now to a matter with my eyes. Chris had not counted on losing a position that he had quit a position for in Alberta in order to move back to the Comox Valley so that we could leap into this relationship with both feet; and, as well, so that he could become better connected with his family on the island.

However, I still see our new romance like a fairy tale. Like all fairy tales promise ” and they all lived happily ever after”, actually seemed possible for me in this new situation. I am interested in knowing what that actually means. I hope to explore that more with Chris who has agreed to document some of our journey together in order for us to make sense of it, and as well, to share our ideas with others who are learning about relationships.

Jumping Right In: Regardless of our life obstacles that seemed to jump out in front of us at every turn, Chris and I embraced our new dating relationship with a bit of wild abandon. We started with a romantic trip to Tofino. Here we explored the rain forests of the west side of Vancouver Island. Soon after, I took him to my little cottage on Pender Island where he helped me to set it up for the season. I was so pleased to share this little hideaway that I had been keeping to myself most of the time. Then we backpacked into the Elk River Valley, and experimented with our new hiking equipment. We planned how we would approach our next treks together, and more importantly, how we would lighten our pack loads. Trips to Victoria, Calgary and then again to Pender Island helped us to solidify our relationship by meeting friends and family. Words of love and forever were shared, and we started to believe in each other as a strong partnership that might enable us to approach our life dreams in new and dynamic ways.

The Peanut Gallery: Like all new relationships, there is always commentary from the gallery (family, friends, colleagues and other). Everyone has advice for the new couple, but more importantly, they want to make sure that Chris and I are incredibly happy. “Happy”, by the conservative definition, means being very very careful. “Are you sure?” “How do you know?” “This seems very fast.” These kinds of comments were anticipated, and surprisingly, despite a few cautionary tales, we were well-supported by most of the people that we cared about, despite a couple of disappointments. It seemed to be a consensus that at 49 and 50 we really had more to lose by not trying out something that we could see to be so very special, than by being laden with fear and speculation. Everyone seemed to say how lucky we were to believe that we had found our soul mates. “Taking on a new relationship would take hard work”, was the general theme of most conversations, and I was prepared to learn what I could from some of my married friends and family. It continued to surprise me that after so much time as a dedicated single person, that I had finally let down my guard to become a couple.

A Second Look: What I am finding as I look at our relationship from a distance, is that I am learning more about relationships by jumping into one than by standing precariously on the edge wondering what it might be like. It has not been our first time apart given that he was in Fort MacMurray for work, and then I was in Austin Texas on holidays for some of our time together. However, being away from Chris until the end of the month, has forced me to really evaluate where I am standing in my head and heart in our new connection together. What is abundantly clear, is that I miss him very much. What I have learned through our exciting romantic encounters, and through some real life challenges are the following three things that perhaps I am only seeing now for the first time as an older person in a new relationship:

Sex is Important: At this age, if the sex isn’t good, it is telling of the relationship. Sex is the relationship thermometer of so many things. It is good to be with someone who has a similar intensity about the physical side of a relationship as I do. This means learning to be as creative as possible while understanding what makes the other tick in so many vital ways in and out of the bedroom. Sharing a strong sexual energy with each other is a spiritual connection for us, and it helps us stay very close in ways that words and actions are not always capable of doing otherwise.

Intention, Words and Actions: Follow-through is the foundation of trust. What has meant more to me than anything about my relationship with Chris is his commitment to do what he says that he will do. We have agreed to “say what we mean and then do what we say”. I cannot believe how this is playing out so well in terms of us trusting each other. When he says that he is going to do something, despite a few normal circumstances, he always gets things done. Perhaps this type of behaviour is a sign of maturity, but it was seriously lacking for me in previous relationships. When his words turn into actions, it feels like respect to me, and I believe that it encourages me to do the same for him in return.

Mind the Gap: One thing that we have agreed to do regularly is to “check in” with each other. When we speak about checking in, it is about connecting with each other in really deep and intentional ways. We ask each other questions, usually at the end of our day, to insure that we are close and connected. Sometimes these conversations have led us into some really interesting directions because we are forced to disclose how we are truly feeling with each other where we might normally have skirted over topics in favour of a good night’s sleep. We have also agreed to talk about things when issues arise and to anticipate and respond to matters where we feel that there might be a gap developing with each other. This has been our biggest joy and challenge together to learn how to do this together.

Reflections: In a nutshell, anyone can be in love, but not everyone can stay in love. Both Chris and I have experienced the devastation of failed relationships. It can be a humiliating thing to lose people that we believed we would stay with us in long term relationships. However, we both believe that we had the good fortune to learn from our previous experiences so that at this time in our lives, we can be sure to give each other our best. Chris is always telling me that he wants our relationship “to be extraordinary”. He also says quite regularly that he wants to learn to be the best boyfriend that I have ever had. What a wonderful thing to say to someone that you love.

I have much to learn to be the best girlfriend in return. I stumble over my humanness on a daily basis. I learn more about myself and Chris everyday, and I hope to continue to feed this relationship with grace and kindness wherever possible. We both believe that we have been given a special gift, and now we have the choice to decide what we do with this chance afforded to us by the universe.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

Albert Schweitzer

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

22 Jun

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

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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

 

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Fifty: The Top Ten Things I Learned in My First 50 Years

22 Jun

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Fifty: The Top Ten Things I Learned in My First 50 Years.

 

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Shelley’s Truisms

1. Time is everything. Do not take it for granted, and do not fill it with empty experiences that you will never remember. Make every minute of it create a memory for you and the people around you.

2. Love is a verb. Do not waste time on people who do not say what they mean and do what they say. Life is too short to wait around for other people to keep their promises. The little promises mean the most.

3. Solve problems, make decisions, and stop talking about them. Life is too short to sit around agonizing over things. Roll up your sleeves, and find ways to fix things right away before they become bigger. Better yet, look ahead and prevent problems before they happen.

4. Live with integrity. It is important to be able to look at yourself everyday in the mirror, and know that you take the higher road in life, regardless of how you are treated. Your character is measured by how you behave under pressure.

5. Live with passion. If you are not doing what you love with the people who matter, you are not living. You are simply living a life of obligation. Only do (where absolutely possible) what you love.

6. Make grand gestures. Who says Valentine’s Days don’t matter? All celebrations, whether commercially driven or other, matter. Celebrate everything often, and treat the people around you with big and happy gestures of love. Again, you are making memories.

7. Do Nothing:  The sweetness of doing nothing, or as the Italians say: “Il dolce far niente” is something that I still aspire to have more of in my life. Meditate. Slow down. Do nothing…often.

8. Eat well. Avoid foods that inflame the body. You know what they are. Just make the discipline to stop eating them. Your body will thank you for it.

9. Exercise in nature. Avoid institutional exercise, and get into the woods. The trees help rejuvenate our minds, bodies and souls.

10. Be Open:  Reach out to God through intentional living. Keep all of your doors open because when you keep your options open, good things happen at every turn. Be open to whatever he has in store for you. God is taking care of us.

Love, Shelley