Sticks, Stones, Elvis & Apples

When I was 23 or so, I worked at a Summer Drama day camp.

One of the lessons I taught the kids in my class that particular Summer was around the power of thoughts and the impact of words not only on others, but on our own self-concept and well-being. At the time, I believe there was a story from Elvis Stojko circulating about how he felt his own negative or positive self-talk had a significant effect on his performance as an athlete. I told the kids this story, then we would put the theory into action by pairing them up for an experiment to see whether Elvis (or whichever amazing athlete it was!) was onto something. ūüėČ

Kid #1 would stand strong, planting their feet firmly into the floor, their only task being to not let themselves be moved from that spot, no matter what. When they felt they were holding steady, Kid #2 would try to push them out of position.

During the first pass of the ‘experiment,’ they were to hold a negative thought they typically had about themselves in their minds and repeat it to themselves as they attempted to stay standing. They always fought SO hard to stay grounded as Kid #2 pushed…

No matter how hard they tried, none of them managed to stand in place for long.

In the second pass, they would hold a positive thought (or the image of someone they loved who they felt believed in them) in their minds. If they imagined a loved one, I encouraged them to visualize this person cheering them on, saying positive things about them. Kid #1 would stand their ground again, holding that positive inner space, and without fail, it took herculean efforts from the second child to push them off their resolute footing.

The “Elvis Day” always left the kids deep in thought, and uncharacteristically speechless.

Whether they were in the early stages of setting their own limited, negative beliefs about themselves (or having them set for them), or entrenched in the tumultuous brain chatter of their teenage years, this particular lesson was always an “aha” moment. It suddenly became very clear to the campers that the quality, tone and intention of what we say to ourselves and to others matters more than we can even begin to understand — that negative thoughts/words are the “sticks & stones” of the emotional/mental body, and that the wounds sustained from them can be very deep, with scars and imprints that last just as long (some, even longer) than their physical counterparts.

I loved seeing a startling reminder of this concept today in the form of Danielle LaPorte‘s 25-day Good Apple/Bad Apple experiment. What happens to an apple after you praise it for 25 days? Even more shocking is what happens when you talk smack to it.
Have a look-see (and be amazed) on Danielle‘s blog here.
It might be just the proof we need to do a little Spring cleaning on our thoughts, words and intentions…

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Showing Up

It is far earlier in the morning than I would care to be awake, the second morning within the bookends of this week that I have found myself wondering, “Really?! Now?! Can’t I just sleep?!”

I immediately think of my friends with babies. This is their norm, except the bonus is that when they wake up, they have the eyes of a sweet, innocent little soul to look into; I am sure I could promptly get the comeback that this early-rising of mine doesn’t involve someone needing something of me, or the cacophony that ‘needing’ creates, and at least I am waking to relative quiet, to my own thoughts…

True enough, I guess…

I am falling into that place of recognition and gratitude for the moments of ‘freedom’ where I will, one day, have the needs of my children at the forefront of my mind. I know the frustration of restless slumber (and early rising when there is no clear desire to do so) is strikingly similar across the board whether we have children or not, and being the baby-lover and wannabe mother that I am, I still haven’t heard a single one of my new parent friends say they look into the faces of their young early birds and wish that little smile wasn’t there to greet them in the wee hours. Like any other, parent or non-parent, I’d prefer to have some good sleep so l can live fully in the world and in the lightness of my own being. Until parenthood becomes my reality, what I am waking up to when I am called out of bed at what would be referred to as ‘ungodly hours’ (others would say this is some of the most ‘godly’ time of all) is far less tangible…and let’s face it, waking to the hamster wheel of ‘my own thoughts’ is not always what could be deemed a relaxing experience.

It may not be a baby crying out for me, but something else is.

In previous incarnations of this scenario, I would resist. I would lie in bed, my mind processing scraps of thoughts and seemingly unrelated emotions, tinged by an overarching shade of exasperation at the fact that I’m not sawing logs like the darling man in bed beside me.

Very recently, I’ve stopped resisting.

There must be a reason for this. Go with it.

Show up.

I have really come to appreciate that Yoga is labeled as a ‘practice’ – a commitment to coming to a mat with whatever you’ve got, over and over and over. As a student said to me yesterday, “there is comfort in consistency.” The container of the practice can look very much the same in some contexts, but the more I release expectation and surrender, the more I learn. It’s bigger than just learning, though. It’s experiencing something in present moment time, exactly as it is meant to unfold, with all its kinks, smudges, and glimmers of light.

When I come to my mat, I almost ritualistically ease back into child’s pose with a sigh (the comfort in the consistency), gather the steadiness of my breath, then start to move instinctively, with no real knowing of what might arise.

What if I do this in Life? What if I silently answer “Present” right off the top, open up… and trust?

I wish I could say when I began to see the truth-telling mirror of Life and Practice, but I can certainly attest that, in the lead up to our wedding, there was a distinct acknowledgement of how futile it is to micro-manage and control — how we can set the foundation, the main plot points, but what unfolds from there is all up to the moment, that we need to be OK with that, and for extra brownie points, see that as being the magic. I used to be one of those people who tried to fit life into a box because it was a thing that we humans had to do. Doing so created an anxious need to know more, to know what’s next, and to be assured of all the details so I could feel at ease. Before I went to Bali, I remember pestering my teacher for as many details as I could as to how the whole week of training would go, what material we would cover, who I would be rooming with, blah blah blah. She gently called me out on my need-to-know-ness and did something really great that has radically changed my perception of how things can or should be:

She gave me enough to reinforce a strong, positive feeling in my gut, enough to get me from Point A to Point B safely and on schedule, and not nearly enough to cause my own expectations to ruin the experience.

Show up. Trust. Allow.

The result? Mindblowing. Changed my life. For real.

I’m not only seeing this yielding to uncertainty through glass-half-full, rose-coloured glasses, though I can attest that showing up with peace in my heart and nearly-zero expectations has yielded to some of the most beautiful, most connected and honest moments of my life to date. Just as truthfully, there have been seemingly normal, happy days that have been game-changers in more shocking ways than I could have ever expected. Regardless of their ‘tone,’ these events have shaped my life, each carrying their own lessons, wisdom and experience. I don’t regret them existing for a single second. They are my teachers.

Showing up, however, becomes much harder when things don’t go the way you planned, or when you feel like things aren’t going your way. Within the last few days, I have faced unexpected obstacles and that heave-ho of resistance, which, in the past, would have had me turning away from the horizon and feeling all my efforts were in vain; or contrarily, feeling I need to put on a brave face and just get to the other side, to a place that feels “better” than whatever is being felt in the Now.

These methods don’t seem to work so well for me anymore. As Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.” Before you see the other side of the forest, you need to face the trees…and sometimes those trees are knotted, scary, have crazy faces and sing creepy songs.

On Sunday morning, reluctant to get out of my PJs and greet the world, I took solace in Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent interview with Oprah. It was like the internet heavens opened up and, in the form of a Liz (some of my favourite people on this planet are Lizzes), what I needed to hear was dropped into my blanket-covered lap.¬† In their discussion around Joseph Campbell’s concept of “The Hero’s Journey,” Liz brought in the idea of “The Call” — that this “Call” may very likely come at an inopportune time, and when called, you are faced with a choice: refuse the call, or answer.

Refuse? Go ahead, but expect nothing to change.

Answer? Well…buckle up.

Back when I chose the path of Yoga practice as an anchor in a time of uncertainty and tumult, I was naive to the fact that I was committing to answering a call that would ring not just once…but over and over and over again. The physical postures still teach me and humble me to no end, but it is through the quiet, meditative practice of Yoga Nidra (and in particular, in the past year of working through my limiting beliefs in the space of that practice) that has required digging to untouched and sometimes murky depths. Each belief, each day, each scenario, each interaction, offers me the opportunity to either put up the blinders and stay stuck and safe, or to recognize the faces of my limitations and conquer them heart on, to clear space amidst the weeds, sow seeds of positive intention and be totally open to how they will blossom.

Now, I see with more clarity the nuance of what needs to Be and what needs to fall away for something better, what needs to be ‘slept on’ and what needs to be faced. I have also had to reconcile myself with the fact that, no matter what we may be working through, there is a time for being alone and processing your emotions without the filters, risk of judgement or lofty expectations from anyone around you. There is also, however, an immense strength and courage in being present in your community, in your tribe, simply as you are.

On Monday morning, once again awake before the crack of dawn and still not quite on the other side of my cloud, I felt a habitual pull to stay in my pajamas, to conquer my to-do list from the comfort of home and avoid human contact for one more day. Only 24 hours before this, this cocooning was my most potent form of medicine, but on this particular day, something was calling me from the other side of the haze. I gathered the bits of me I felt were intact, cobbled them together and promptly took them out the door for a long walk to the yoga studio to practice. When I walked through the door, I saw beautiful, familiar faces of those who, whether I knew it or not, were all fighting their own battles that day. I knew in an instant that I had made the right choice. We all rolled out our mats and showed up to what was.

Messy and true, “what was” was the gift.

“What was” was the doorway, and no matter what I may find on the other side, I chose to answer the call. I choose to answer. I choose to listen.

It’s Wednesday, October 8th, 2014. It’s 4:30 AM. Your eyes are wide open. Why sleep? Why not just be what you are: Awake.

Show up. Allow. See what unfolds.

What unfolds is THIS. What unfolds is here.

How will you show up today?

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Will this make you squirm? Or will you accept the challenge?

Today, I’m bringing you into what very well may be a realm of discomfort for you.

What¬†I’m asking may mean¬†you have to shift your perspective. Part of this¬†is just as uncomfortable and as much of¬†a stretch for me to accept as it may be for you, so before you even hear¬†what I’m asking, I want you to know that I feel¬†you. I acknowledge¬†you having to swallow harder, your thoughts to race a little faster as you narrow¬†your eyes, half-grimacing at me with skepticism and a touch of fear of the unknown. I know the feeling of having to choose the ‘harder’ path, to give your deeply engrained beliefs and your fist-bearing ego a run for its money. But life is¬†pretty short to stay stuck in our patterns, so…

Are you with me? 

First, Weather (again, the local fave topic!). Today¬†is¬†beautiful, right?¬†Spring-like, sunny, blue skies, birds chirping, above 0 degrees (hallelujah!)…¬†It’s hard to be grumpy when the sun’s shining, isn’t it? It’s easy to feel all is well¬†on a day like this one…

On the same token, it’s a day¬†edging ever-so-closely to¬†the end of a month where we are all poring over receipts, spreadsheets and slips of paper that sum up the last year in our financial lives.

Yup, Tax Time.

Last night, we did our¬†due diligence of trading time frolicking in the evening sunshine for sticking our¬†butts in a chair and gettin’r done.

It feels good to be finished, with all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed. What doesn’t feel pleasant, however, is¬†having that bomb dropped:

“Looks like you’re going to owe this year.”

It’s cause for celebration if we get a refund, but if we owe? It’s¬†astounding how¬†fast this can kill¬†your mojo, overpower you with panic and fear, or¬†make your heart feel as¬†though it¬†will stop altogether..

It was seconds into¬†that sinking feeling of ‘Crap…well, there go¬†some of my hard-earned dollars!’ where I caught myself.

How is my feeling¬†defeated, ‘victimized,’ and seeing this from the standpoint of ‘lack’¬†going to change anything, make me feel ANY¬†better, or furthermore, make¬†my financial reality ANY brighter?

As I gave my not-so-mathematically inclined brain a break from numbers and receipts, I saw that¬†the Weather page on my phone was showing ‘snowflakes’ for later on this week. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have long accepted that the¬†weather is something I have ZERO control over.¬†Despite my attempts to be as glass-half-full as possible on this subject,¬†it doesn’t seem to stop anyone in our fair city from cursing Mother Nature like she was doing this to us on purpose.

I hate to break it to you, but¬†it’s tax time, AND¬†it may snow/[insert any other unpleasant weather phenomenon geographically appropriate to where you live] this week. Just FYI.

And therein lies my challenge.

It would be EASY¬†to turn to your collective Facebooks, Twitters, friends, loved ones, pets, houseplants, the gods, or whatever you choose to vent or curse to, and say “F*** taxes. F*** snow in April. F*** my life.”

(For added emphasis, you could also¬†add a single “F***” at the end of the previous¬†rant. Some people really like that.)

Sure, F-bombs feel awesome to say sometimes, but here’s something HARDER:

Can you be grateful (yes, I said grateful) for taxes? Can you be grateful for blizzards (and I don’t mean the Dairy Queen kind)¬†in April?¬†I mean, ACTUALLY grateful. Not just glossing it over in an attempt to be Suzie Sunshine¬†about it, but REALLY TRULY grateful? As in gratitude that comes¬†from ALL of your¬†HEART, even if it feels a bit outside of your norm?

So, who’s with me? If you’re still reading, yahoo, because that might just mean¬†you’ll join me in doing the unthinkable:¬†I am unabashedly choosing¬†GRATITUDE.

I choose to feel grateful that I have had ONE WHOLE YEAR of being gainfully employed, and of learning and growing in the process. Even more to the point, the portion of income I owe tax on is one where I have spent time doing work that not only fills my cup but is, I feel, the highest form of service I have to offer.

 I have the luxury of paying taxes because I am working towards my own wild and crazy dream, no matter what that may look like. And after I pay those taxes, what do I do? I live in a house, where I woke up in a bed, with someone I love that I married out of my own free will (and who is currently eating toast that I can smell wafting up from our kitchen. Yes, even when I have to pay taxes, I will still eat, and so will he). And even if things got really sticky, I would still have people in my life who would catch me if I fell. That, in itself, is its own form of wealth.

And if/when those snowflakes start to fall as this¬†week ends, I promise not to¬†wish they were green grass and lilacs and see them for what they are. They’re snowflakes they are both beautiful and the epitome of impermanence, and they WILL make the grass greener in their own time.¬†We live in the Northern Hemisphere. Snow and cold WILL happen here.

Even in a freak Spring snow storm, I will see, above all things, that we live in a country with more space than we can handle, with human rights and freedoms, where I can walk outside and share a smile and a simple hello with our neighbours. I say these things not to brag or boast, but because this is most of our realities. If you are reading these words, it means you own a piece of technology, and no matter how essential our smart phones, computers and tablets have become, your smart phone is no substitute for a winter coat. For many of us, we see those snowflakes on the bright screens of our weather pages from the comfort of our homes, with either food in our bellies or a knowledge of where our next meal will come from. Others will only know a cold front is settling in when they see the snowflakes start to swirl around their shivering bodies as they huddle under an overpass.

So… can you do it? Can you thank your lucky stars that you have taxes to do/pay, and that there may soon be Spring snowflakes to catch on the end of your tongue?¬†Can you be deep-down-from-the-centre-of-your-heart grateful that the way you feel and react to these upsets¬†are just another indicator of your humanity? Can you recognize them as a¬†reminder that you are still being treated to the gift¬†of being ALIVE? Can you see that these things¬†are fleeting, and may offer their own form of blessing, even if, at first, they don’t appear to hold one?

When clouds cover the sun, and the wind starts to blow, and even that refund cheque has slowly dissolved into the ether…can you still be grateful?

Can you? Will you?

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What does your heart say?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to remember the earliest whisperings of our heart? ¬†All the things our hearts told our childhood selves that we had the boldness and bravery to follow through on IMMEDIATELY?

“Come on…you can walk! Do it! Or wait, Yes! RUN!”

“I really need you to eat this dirt so you can learn the meaning of ‘Yucky!’!”

“It’s ok. Just cry. And don’t worry if anyone tells you you shouldn’t.”

I’m certainly not saying that we all lack bravery and boldness now — in fact, I think it is the everyday acts of bravery, small or large, that are the most inspiring to us all.¬†¬†But we have all seen it as we’ve ‘grown up’ — the ways in which, over time, we become conditioned to be more cautious in our approach, to listen to the voices around us rather than the quiet voice inside. Experience has shown me that choices with far less reason behind them than you would expect (and a healthy amount of buzzing excitement) are typically on the path you are meant to follow, to bring you closer to that elusive P word…Purpose.

I can think, off the top of my head, of 4 things that I have done that were called into question and ended up being undeniably the most powerful choice for my own growth and evolution as a human being:

To travel to Morocco (‘It’s so far! It could be dangerous and they harass women there! It’s expensive!’)

To take a yoga training in Bali (‘It’s even further away! And it’s even MORE expensive to get there!’)

To subsequently [I hear it happens a lot after people do yoga trainings in Bali ūüėČ] leave a job surrounded by people I considered a ‘second family’ in pursuit of a change (‘So do you have another job lined up?’)

Then there was the 4th thing. A choice that, in order to explain the ways this moment changed all areas of my life — creating beautiful, ¬†criss-crossing webs of connection — would take an entire novel. (Or at least a novella.)

11 years ago today, I had a life-altering talk with my now-husband who was, at that time, my not-yet-boyfriend. We were sitting in a field on campus eating falafel and iced tea. He had asked me out on a date and my 20-year-old heart (which was admittedly, at the time, a bit hung up on another fantastic fellow) clearly explained his viewpoint on my ‘heart mess.’

He spoke so calmly and warmly, looking straight into my eyes. Cliche or not, I could truly see the depths of his beautiful soul. I’m sure he didn’t know at that time how his words would change both of our lives, but they did.”I can’t tell you what to do…The only thing you need to do is follow your heart. Wherever you follow your heart to, I know that’s where you’ll be happy. And as long as you’re happy, then I will be happy too.”

In that moment, the fog completely cleared. My heart spoke more loudly, and with more certainty, than I think it ever has:

“Him. It’s Him.”

Even greater than that, his words highlighted for me a scattered trail of synchronistic breadcrumbs. I had been told in acting class that week that when I performed, it unmistakably came from my heart. I had received an e-mail from my high school boyfriend about how I had always made decisions with my heart…and here was this wonderful guy, telling me to follow my heart and to be happy in doing so. It was in this moment that it started to become evident to me that my life was meant to be lived from that place. All the years before that in school, I thought it was about filling your head with knowledge, and trying hard to get good grades. Suddenly, I was being shown my greatest asset. Since then, my heart has not let me forget that it’s there. I am telling you this story today because my heart literally yanked me off my yoga mat, drew me here and begged me to put words to my feelings.

This moment eleven years ago continues to remind me of what the path of Purpose should feel like — a stirring in your heart that cannot be ignored…a quiet nod of ‘Yes’… a gentle nudge…a summoning of courage to take the leap…

It may not always be the easiest path, or the most practical, or one that everyone will understand. As far as I have seen, though, it is the most meaningful, beautiful, exciting path of all.

What does your heart say? Where will it take you today?

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