Forget Your Perfect Offering

There they are, glaring at me as if to rub in my face that the self-deprecating thoughts around my ‘2015 Writing Dought’ are well-founded.

Little graphics of calendar pages…”May…June…July…August…September…” all blank.

As far as this little statistics widget on my blog is concerned, I’ve done nothing, created nothing, experienced nothing, captured nothing, and shared nothing, when in fact, my silence speaks louder than any words I could articulate. There are stories to share, and despite my own resistance, I know full-well that our “Truth-Stories” need to be given wings, not tethers, if they are to serve their purpose. When they land in the right ears and hearts, they can build bridges, create bonds, and remind us that, though we may seem worlds and experiences apart from each other, there is a very vulnerable, human part of us that is longing to be seen for the beautiful, complex and fascinating creatures that we are.

One such example came across my path yesterday.

I spent the day teaching Yoga in a high school — four classes of grades 10-12 who take this particular course to enhance their athletic performance. The thought of me being the person to teach them (let alone challenge!) these highly physical teenagers was almost laughable, in my mind. (You may understand my hesitation a bit better by reading this post here…)

The early morning hours before the alarm went off found me wide awake, thoughts racing. My fear of not being able to give them what I would assume they were expecting (a workout) was high, but my knowing of what they most likely needed (relaxation) was deep. Even so, I succumbed to doubt, to the useless dialogue of “who am I to do this,” put my pajama-clad self in child’s pose on our bed and cried, all nerves as to how I could serve this group to the best of my ability.

When my tears subsided, I reached for a book on my nightstand that my Mum recently gave me, opened it to a page — any page — to see if any wisdom would surface to reassure me.

There they were — four lines from Leonard Cohen‘s song “Anthem” that reminded me what, all this time, I had been forgetting:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The part about the crack in everything letting the light in always gets the fanfare, but all I saw was that second line:

Forget your perfect offering.

Four hours later, nearly thirty Grade 10 boys who, upon arrival in the room, had been whacking each other with yoga mats, were now sitting in peaceful stillness so deep I was trying to figure out how to make it clearer that the class was over and the time had come for them to pack up, get changed, and move along to their next class. As they began to filter out of the gym, a quiet boy approached me.

“I just wanted to say thank you for the class…I don’t know if you’re familiar with the 12 Steps at all…anyway, whatever we just did made me feel really centered. I haven’t felt this centered in a long time, actually. I really needed that.”

In daring to give me a truthful micro-glimpse of his own imperfectness, what this young man unknowingly offered me in exchange for some simple, strong poses and a quiet relaxation were deeper lessons than he probably realized.

Perfection — in who we are, what we do and how we do it — is overrated. Offer whatever it is you have to share, from whatever experience it is you have to share it from, no matter how deeply you doubt or fear your inadequacy, or the likelihood that you may meet rejection or failure. Turn to your truth; offer it, if you can. Silence and inaction, though safe for a while, only keep us stuck and alone.

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How the mall taught me about what doesn’t matter (and what does) at Christmas.

Despite my efforts to re-capture my childhood effervescence around the approaching of the holiday season, I’ve found, with each passing year, an increasing sense of pre-Christmas dread. No matter what change or hardship may come, I have begun to cultivate a more profound awareness of how my circumstances are not permanent, and how, oftentimes, the discomfort and resistance I may feel in any given situation is one of two things: an indicator of something new burning its way into my world, or a lesson to be learned before I can proceed to the next chapter in my “Life workbook.”

Even optimists have their down days. Most days, the mess reveals itself to be beautiful design work in disguise. Other days, it’s just…mess.

It pains me to say it, but the approach of the Christmas season this year has brought the pessimist out of me. These last couple of weeks have been marked by unfortunate global and local events that cause my burning faith in the basic goodness of human kind to wane, and my despair over the injustices of the world to grow. I have found myself grappling with a dizzying lack of understanding around why bad things continue to happen, why unhappy, fearful people are giving us all greater reason to be terrified, why souls of all ages go missing and families are left to worry themselves sick…and why oh why has it become acceptable to go out to dinner with your child and have them sit in neglected silence while you give your undivided attention to your phone!?

I thought that was enough of the world’s problems to feel through, but apparently I hadn’t come face-to-face with the tip of the iceberg yet — the place that has, somehow, become as synonymous with Christmas as Santa Claus:

The Mall.

It was a regular Friday night and I was feeling pretty good about life in general as Joel & I walked hand-in-hand, laughing at our usual weirdo banter. I wasn’t dressed up — jeans, winter boots, a blue long-sleeved t-shirt and a scarf. I very rarely wear make-up, so I certainly wasn’t made up for the occasion. This was meant to be a quick mission — in, out, done.

As we walked in the doors, I felt that familiar feeling of overwhelm ooze over me. Typically, the sheer amount of stimulation from walking into a mall (heck, even the grocery store!) makes me spacey and unfocused, but this was different. Christmastime at the mall is basically the mall on steroids. All I could see were strollers and arms laden with bags. There was a line-up into the jewelry store that snaked around far outside the paned glass entrance into the shop. Men & women alike were crowded over pamphlets, presumably selecting what charms or pieces of jewelry they would be purchasing once the security guard let them past the door. We wandered into a clothing store and I saw a pair of soft, knit leggings that I thought were pretty scrumptious. I checked the price tag, and they were $108. For leggings. A woman nearby stared blankly at the display table, quietly rubbing an over-priced scarf between her fingers. I wondered whether this was, in fact, the kind of gift that would make someone realize how much this person truly loved them.

Maybe my fault was in projecting how valuable these physical items might actually be to a person, or maybe it was letting the tissue paper-stuffed Armani shopping bags and the price of wooly leggings get my goat, but it didn’t take much to spiral from there. I felt a weakening in my spirit as I began to fight back tears and attempted to reign in an increasing feeling of helplessness. We were surrounded by STUFF, all around us, but yet we couldn’t find the small, simple item we were looking for. As we walked the halls from store to store, I reached for Joel’s hand. In one hand, I felt his steady presence, and in the other, any previous shred of appreciation and joy I had for everything about myself and my life when I came in the door began to dissolve.

Nothing felt like enough. I wasn’t well-dressed enough, pretty enough, successful enough, good enough… I even got as far as wondering whether I was completely deluding myself in even trying to make a go of creating a fulfilling, meaningful career for myself… Maybe it was time to banish any insecurity around what I feel other people might think about what I do, jump into the stream of corporate conformity and shelf my quest to bring greater peace, wholeness and wellness to humankind. From this vantage point in commercial mayhem, it was easy to believe that there was more value being placed on finding material things to shower upon family and friends than anything that enriches the grist of who they are. If anyone had cared to count, there were probably more people in the mall at that moment than at every Yoga studio in the city.

As I held the hand of the man I love, I knew that these negative thoughts were the true delusion, but something about this vortex made it harder to see that my thoughts were as false and impermanent as the gussied-up brick & mortar around me.

I truly believe that a Yoga practice is just that — a practice of honing our inner tools to put them into action when we experience challenge out in the world. I am also all for deep breaths and allowing emotions to be felt and honoured as they are coming up, but at this point, Joel knew that the best place for me to re-group and do those things more fully would be at a table in the food court, sharing a Blizzard. (And for the record, the seasonal flavour right now is delicious.)

As I spooned in mouthfuls of ice cream, my tears of sadness and frustration spilled out. I heavy-heartedly laid my mind’s turmoil out on the table while Joel listened and responded with deep compassion and understanding. The mall was near to closing, the crowds growing thin. If the mall had a sanctuary in that moment, it was the breathing space of the food court, at the small table in front of the DQ where there was Love, and a connection that not even wireless technology can emulate. I thought about a lovely compliment that my future sister-in-law paid me in a text message this Fall — that she admired my ability to keep perspective and see the positive in a given situation. Her words have fueled me to keep my eyes on the big picture as much I can, even if I feel my heart raising its protection level up a notch. Amidst my tears, I knew it was the feeling I had going into the mall, simply holding a hand and knowing I was ok in the world, that was more truthful than any single fear-based thought or doubt that my mind had created in that palace of excess.

As down as I felt, I knew that I hadn’t lost my ability to see the silver linings, or to know in my heart what was really true.

Cliché as it is, I don’t know if we always remember that all the shiny baubles, new technology, or overpriced items of clothing don’t really take us to the heart of what matters, not only at this time of year, but all year-long.

photo(21)Maybe what appeared to me to be disenchantment over the Christmas season (and thus my entire existence and purpose in life, apparently!) was actually a re-framing of what we need to hold onto as truth in a culture that thrives on our fear of not having or being enough; that we need more of something — anything! — just to be happier.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my loved ones to stress out over giving me stuff, just as much as I don’t want to feel that putting something in their hands on December 25th is the only way they’ll know how much I value their presence in my life. That text my future sister-in-law sent me was a gift that keeps on giving. The way my husband looks at me and listens with his eyes wide and soft is something I never ask for, but receive without condition time and time again, even when my gaze drops from the horizon of greater knowing and possibility. The feeling I had as a kid on Christmas morning is now contained in the joyful embrace I share with my brother and his fiancée every time they come home, and in seeing my whole family share laughter and stories around the dinner table. My parents may worry about me more than I know, and love me more than it is comfortable for them to say at times, but I know that they will always see me for who I am. And no matter how much in-laws get a bad rap, I am blessed with a mother-in-law generous to the point that I don’t even know how to say thank you anymore, and a father-in-law who seems perfectly content just to hug & kiss me every time I walk in their front door; a sister-&-brother-in-law who, from a distance, teach me how a passion for the great outdoors is a direct line to what actually matters in life.

All this, without even scratching the surface of the friendships — old & new — that enrich my life beyond measure, the teachers and mentors who nourish my soul, the practitioners who inspire me to give simply by showing up, and all the strangers who, when I’ve smiled at them, have chosen to smile back.

Everything that has allowed me to grow wiser, stronger, more compassionate, joyful and peaceful this year cannot be gift-wrapped. It exists within a moment, a lesson, a touch, a word, a laugh, a story, a meal shared, a silence, a gesture of kindness, a breath, a sunrise, a knowing look or a starry sky.

The true joy and sparkle of Christmas lies in the hearts of those whose hands we hold, of those who give us the truest versions of themselves all year round, and in doing so, aspire us to greater light in our lives, knowing all the while that we always have, and always will be, enough. Just as we are.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m perfectly content to give Love this Christmas, and always.

Ugh, I GET this. Do you?

Ok, BIG “Honesty Moment.”

And to be fair, someone else probably coined that term, and probably says that they made it up.

I’m not going to claim that I did or that I didn’t since, really, it’s the most unoriginal (and literal) thing to call a moment of truth.

But sometimes “literal” is brilliant — that’s just what it is, a moment of honesty; those are the two words that genuinely come up when I am about to say something that I feel to be gut-wrenching-and-heart-gushing truth, or when I see something that draws up a neglected file of haphazard, half-processed materials from the recesses of my brain; from the messy file room of EVERYTHING that I have been thinking, worrying, musing, sorting, contemplating as of late…

And this is when the worry comes that I’ve ALREADY written about something to this effect (see Nothing Is Yours), and perhaps I am only triple underlining the fact that, no matter how hard we try to be original in this big, bold, creative world, we still find ourselves coming up short and re-inventing someone else’s wheel. And maybe I’m being unoriginal or predictable by drawing from a beautiful writer who I consider, at afar, to be someone who teaches me a great deal more about the world within and without us than she probably will ever realize (or ever intended to when she wrote her wildly successful memoir unveiling her journey into wholeness after heartache).

Today, on the good old Facebook, this torchbearing warrior goddess of truth shared this:

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It hit me so hard that all I could bring myself to comment back to her was “Yes. This. Yes. Ugh. Yes.” Or something to that effect.

Original!?

NO!

Eloquent!?

HARDLY!

Authentic?

HECK YES.

Even our speechlessness can be the most truthful response of all.

I am certain A LOT of you will get this too, so naturally, I’m sharing it.

And now, trusting in my own words, I’d like to share something else:

Navigating this world from the space of my heart (and trusting my intuition) has made my life richer, more colourful and more meaningful. It has also made things both clear and confusing in equal measure. There are stretches of the journey where I feel well-equipped, strong, confident, hopeful, and absolutely in my stride. On others, I feel like I’m missing a shoelace on one shoe, short on snacks, tired, losing daylight, and needing to pause for an indefinite period of time to gaze up at the perceived Summit and wondering how on earth I ever thought I could get up there. There’s also the part of me that gets much joy out of seeing other awe-inspiring people succeed, witnessing them finding that place of flow and meaning in their lives, the space and clarity where everything is clicking. After all, they have earned it. I’ve seen them struggle and press on to be where they are, to realize their dreams, and they deserve every single second.

Another of part me just wishes I was up there with them already, bypassing the part that I’m working with, and coming up with mere scraps of clarity. It can feel like I’ve been asked to solve a Rubix Cube to proceed, and I ain’t NO master of the Rubix Cube!

The compass that guides me in my life will never direct me wrong. I know that to be true. On some legs of this journey, though, the needle begins to spin every which way, pulling me between what I know within myself to be more valuable and more lasting, and the realities of the material world. I have already answered The Call; I can’t un-answer, nor would I want to. I am 7 (maybe even 8) years deep into this particular answering and there is absolutely no turning back. I have chosen my work, and I would never wish to undo anything that has unfolded, or bypass the mysteries and beautiful surprises yet to come. For everything that I ever feel is unclear or uncertain in my life, there are many more things that I know in my bones to be true, good, and purposeful.

You can’t put a price tag on those.

We’ve probably all heard at some point that we are here to offer our unique gifts to the people of this world and to the planet we live on. I am fortunate to know some incredible people who have the best intentions to make lives healthier, happier, brighter, and more easeful… Lucky me, I am surrounded by this kind of light a lot of the time. But what if, by job description or title, what you do isn’t unique?

The other night, I had the immense privilege of helping out at Mastin Kipp‘s ‘Growing Into Grace‘ event here in Calgary. It got my week off with such an epic bang that I am reeling to piece together everything I learned and all the questions that have come up as a result… which are really an extension of all the questions I have been asking since I leapt to find greater purpose in my work life 3 years ago. I’m going to bet that the vast majority of the people in the room that night want to do some variation of what he does — write/blog, teach, speak, inspire, mentor, lead, and ultimately, change lives for the better around the world while having financial wellness that not only allows them to take care of themselves, but also to make contributions towards the betterment of others.

And if I’m even more honest, I would love nothing more than that myself, in my own unique way. (“Unique” meaning in knowing for certain what my capital-S Service is that I enrich the world with, and how I offer it. We’ve already acknowledged, even silently, that this world is practically being taken over by blogging yoga teachers. ;-))

Mastin told us that, before he began this ever-growing venture that became The Daily Love, he checked to see how many people do something to the effect that he does:

90,000 people (!!!!)

Later on, when I heard one of the ladies there mention this kind of work was something she felt she could/wanted to do, I felt any fragments of a dream I had created for myself start to dissolve. And why, WHY, would I do that to my own dreams, just because someone else was showing a sliver of confidence in their desire to create something more meaningful for themselves?!

I know in my heart that everything is here, that you can only truly be THERE by being HERE, and that THERE is really just HERE. 

Read: The treasure you are seeking is in this moment.

You are already living your purpose, whether it is your ‘job’ or not.  

HERE is IT. THIS is IT.

And then, some days, I feel like I couldn’t be more far away from where I feel I need or want to be, and HERE just seems to be a puddle of uncertainty and fog.

I am also learning that what falls away in our lives is just as important as what falls into place.

Grace.

What was never ours is giving us the gift of something greater…an opportunity. I wouldn’t call myself a religious person, but I’ve got my eyes on the bigger picture through it all. One definition of Grace is “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration.”

Regeneration. Re-inspiration. An opportunity to dig deeper, burn brighter, dream bigger, see clearer.

When you’re navigating rough seas, nothing feels better than knowing you are not unique in your seeking, that you are not as alone in your storm as you may feel. Being “unoriginal” never felt better than when you are facing life’s trials.

Be that as it may, what we DO need to know is that, though each of our situations may not look much different from the outside, our ability to be authentic about it, to summon our courage and tell our story… IS.

The steps along the path may be smaller some days, but they are still steps worth taking… And I’m going to let Liz close this one, because hey, I’m not going to re-invent the wheel, and her authenticity speaks loud and clear to me this morning:

“So whatever it is that you dream of doing (creating, traveling, loving, inventing, transforming) just do it. Don’t worry if you’re the 100th person to do it. Just do it, anyhow, and be sure that you bring the highest purity of intention to your pursuit. Act from a place of your deepest authenticity, and the rest of it will take care of itself…
And trust me, if you are authentic, you WILL be original.”

~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Why Shiny People Should Lose Their #@*%

Dear Jeff Brown,

You are the hero of the day. Did you write this (below) knowing that SO many people would feel like it was written specifically for them?

“I know we often want it all happy and positive, but that’s just not where much of humanity is. Many of us are overwhelmed with pain, undigested sadness, unexpressed anger, unseen truths. This is where we are at, as a collective. So we have two choices. We can continue to pretend it’s not there, shame and shun it in ourselves and others, distract and detach whenever possible. Or we can face it heart-on, own it within ourselves, look for it in others with compassion, create a culture that is focused on authenticity and healthy emotional release. If we continue to push it all down, we are both creating illness and delaying our collective expansion. But if we can just own the shadow, express it, release it, love each other through it, we can finally graduate from the School of Heart Knocks and begin to enjoy this magnificent life as we were intended. Pretending the pain isn’t there just embeds it further. Let’s illuminate it instead.”

~ JEFF BROWN 

When I read these words on Jeff Brown’s Facebook page today, they hit me hard. Everything in me wanted to share it.

Maybe it sounds geeky and hippity-dippity, but I have ‘rules’ for my Facebook ‘shares.’ I ask myself:

– Will this somehow make the world/someone’s life better?

– Will this help to forge deeper connections within the self and/or with others?

– Will this make people laugh (for all the right reasons)?

– Will this inspire people to be more honestly connected to their own humanity and the humanity of others?

If the answer is ‘YES’ to any of those questions, I’ll share the nugget.

When I witness what I did today — an instant surge of online connectivity simply through identifying with a powerfully worded & universally shared sentiment, an outpouring of honesty that says ‘I GET this’ — I know that “The General We” have touched on something huge and human.

Moments like that just can’t be swept under the rug and traded in for the newest funny cat video (oooh, I love those too…)

Let’s be honest: we’re not ones to share much less than our ‘best selves’ on social media. We have all done this, and we will continue to do it because, if you think about it, it has a really stunning way of showing us the overarching highlights of our life — the things that we’ll remember (and will want to remember) at the end of the day. Plus, it makes us look like we have perma-happy lives or are full of really unique ideas, which, for some reason, is really important to us. 😉

We do this in real life too. How many of you have been asked that all too common question “How are you?” and have answered with, “I’m a lost, god-forsaken, blubbering piece of mess and I have no clue how to get untangled.”

Yeeeeeah, probably not many, and if you did, the person who expected you to reply with sunshine and rainbows oozing out of your pores was most likely flabbergasted.

How many of you have said you’re “good!” “fine!” “great!” and the perennial favourite, “really busy!”??

(Remember, I say this, because I am guilty of ALL of this.)

In a recent friendship-as-mutual-therapy conversation with a dear friend, I saw how those of us who strive to show our ‘shiniest selves’ as much as possible have a very hard time when we fall short of our own expectations of being, well, shiny. Even worse, when we fail to show anything less than that shiny side to others, we feel like we’ve let everyone down.

What happens when the ‘shiny, happy, steady people’ feel tarnished? Worn out? Confused?

 

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‘WAIT’ by Vancouver artist Kelly Clarke.

In sharing our less-than-perfect moments, opening up our own vulnerabilities and truly hearing the vulnerabilities of others, something amazing happens:

BOOM. Connection.

The inspiring Brené Brown has devoted years of her life studying vulnerability, but it never ceases to amaze me how real this idea is until I see it come to life right in front of me.

When we share our imperfections, what we perceive as our ‘failures’ or ‘shortcomings,’ we create the space for the most honest form of human connection.

Now, I’ll admit I’m pretty new to the process of living compared to, say, a centenarian who went through world wars. At the end of the day, my life could be touted as being fairly uncomplicated and not nearly as riddled with past deviance as the guy smoking the joint at the bus stop admitted to me today. (Such a nice guy! That’s another story for another time.)

The thing is, I’ve felt old since I was a kid. My 8 or 9 year old self was VERY much looking forward to being in the vicinity of my current age one day, and in this particular phase of life.

Case in point, my childhood best friend and I (we are still friends to this day, which is a true gift) didn’t play ‘House…’

We played ‘Mothers.’

Yup, two 10 year old girls pretending to be happily married to our respective ‘husbands,’ then spontaneously pregnant and contentedly rubbing our bellies, then giving birth to our plastic dolls, and once that was done, having ‘coffee’ together as we rocked our respective babies in our hand-me-down Snuglis (once inhabited by us as infants) or child-sized doll carriages.

At age 8 or 9, with our childhood games of being a wife and a potential mother aside, I wouldn’t have anticipated that my vulnerable, ’emotional’ moments at age 31 would feel not too far off from that of, oh, a 9-year old.

This weekend, my husband and I went over to my in-laws’ place for dinner. On the way over, I acknowledged that I was feeling a healthy combination of tired, borderline anti-social, mellow and just not quite up to snuff. (I love people to bits but I’ve gotta start owning my Introversion!) We had barely been in the front door not more than 60 seconds when I broke down, and let’s face it, there’s no graceful way of breaking down…

Why the insta-tears?

Well, it was because my mother-in-law eagerly suggested that we should pop across the cul-de-sac to meet the sweet little 3-year old girls that live across the way.

In the most polite way I could muster, I lost it. The way I dissolved was as if I had been asked to take care of newborn sextuplets with explosive diarreah on the eve of the apocalypse. And you know what I said? (Here’s the kicker.)

“Sometimes, I just need to not meet new people.”

Great, I thought, so now on top of coming a bit unglued, I am being unfriendly AND unwilling to meet new people…who are 3 YEARS OLD. We used to play MOTHERS!! I LOVE KIDS!

I may have felt for a split-second that I was showing ‘weakness,’ but I knew in my heart that I was 100% being true to EXACTLY where I was in THAT particular moment. Not everyone is comfortable with breaking down in front of their family — this wasn’t a cushy moment, and this wasn’t even the first time I’d ever cried in front of my in-laws! I took myself for a long walk and reminded myself to detach from the mental process of why I was feeling the way I felt. Instead, I shifted my focus to all the messy, vivid sensations of how utterly uncomfortable and undeniably right it had felt to ‘come apart’ the way I had — not the story of “Why” 20 minutes ago or 5 years in the future, but the realness of what was running through me NOW. In reality, I knew that I hadn’t come apart. I was claiming my honest feelings in order to become more whole. Who I was in that moment may have looked less than shiny, but I had been, and was being, totally and utterly true to myself, tears and all.

What I am grateful for now, 3 days later, is that instead of being flabbergasted at this unexpected unravelling, my mother-in-law hugged me, followed by my father-in-law… then my husband hugged me and kissed me on the forehead. They all met my feelings with compassion and promptly scooted me out the door for nature therapy.

No one made me go meet the 3 year olds that day, even though I am sure they are adorable beyond measure. Instead, I sat and stared at the subtle shifts of the clouds that hovered in the bright, blue Sunday sky, and felt the sun wash over me.

They say ‘in every life a little rain must fall.’ Sometimes, it’s a deluge, and not even a sunny day is immune to a downpour.

Where I live, we like to talk about the weather. So in meteorological terms, here it is:

Even the shiniest of people need these clouds. We need these clouds to break wide open to even begin the process of getting a piece of our sunshine back. No cloud ever withholds the rain. And if those you love can see YOU clearly through all forms of weather, then, by golly, it’s your lucky day.

Shine on.

Have a ‘Nice’ Day

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I made a commitment that I would be honest and, dare I say, more vulnerable in what I had to share. I want it to be a nugget that has been aching to be spilled out, even in the event that only one person reads it, let alone identifies with it. (Bonus!) And maybe, just maybe, what is straining to break through the gate and get out there isn’t necessarily ‘neat.’ A girl I met last weekend joked about the idea of ‘being good at life.’ If we were all experts at life, then my bet is we wouldn’t even be living on earth at all.

So if your mind & heart is totally organized in colour-coded folders when it comes to feelings and thoughts, rock on.

This is for the rest of us who dare to be messy and sort through the tangled threads that help to reveal all the most beautiful things we can find in being human.

While in training for a summer camp leadership position back in 2006, I was told (very kindly) by the trainer we were working with that he could see clearly that I “wanted communication to be tied up neatly with a nice little pink bow.” This was one of those moments that you know you will never forget. At that phase in time, I was going through a break-up with my now husband. Our 23.5 year old selves had experienced a block in communication, a confusing crossroads. I knew even then, in the deep recesses of my heart, that there was more; this was IT. But at 23.5 and on the threshold of being spat out into the big post-Bachelor’s Degree world (and in the fine arts, nonetheless), our visions of the future weren’t lining up.  Why? We couldn’t see beyond the hood of the car we were sitting in outside my parents’ house in the dark, let alone what the months ahead held for us. We were both nice people capable of a lot of love — we still are. At that juncture, we knew our relationship was on the brink of change. In a strange way, talking about our impending separation had made us closer, but I hoped we would be plunging to a deeper level of commitment.  At 23.5, getting married seemed, well, a bit soon.

In our total confusion as to how to move ahead, we moved apart instead…Nicely. As nicely as a break-up could be. We even tried to carry on as friends, which was a devastating experiment in facing broken love head on just as often as we did when we were together, with the expectation of saying goodbye casually; no romantic undertones whatsoever. Impossible. When he told me he was ‘over me,’ I responded with the hard fact that my love for him hadn’t waned in the slightest, that I had known from day one that we were meant to be. My truth, in a nutshell. In one particularly heart-wrenching night of trying to hash things out and hitting walls at every turn, I finally had nothing left but sobs. He held me in his arms, let me cry, and eventually broke the silence with another truth of his:

“Who knows, Al. Maybe one day we’ll look back on this and laugh.”

Eventually, we did. What got us to that point is an entire blog post within itself, but over the course of a handful more years, we re-built our friendship in a healthy way.  Through that process came many honest conversations which, somehow, led to a re-blossoming of a deeper love than we had experienced before. All in time, we moved in together, then eventually got engaged, and now married…

Last week, I read through my old journal from the year we first broke up. It’s amazing to read about this period from the other side. Our break-ups yielded some of the most direct, honest, intention-filled writing I have ever done. During that time, I messily expressed every confused feeling I felt. I also, very clearly, calmly and purposefully, expressed gratitude for all that was going right in my life, for all the things and people I loved, for every lesson I was learning, for every new person who entered my life and brought renewed light to my world… When it came to Love, I knew exactly what I wanted, and through all the hurt and anger, the part of me that was true to my gut (and my heart) never changed. My words were bold. At the time, his were too: “I’m not in love with you and I’m not getting back together with you.” Ouch.

But here’s the thing.

It was his truth. It hurt me to the very core of my being. (I’m pretty sure I felt the crack in my heart widen hearing those words.) As he would still say, “It was true… at the time.”

My truth was different. Even in the hardest conversations, my truth was that I loved him, and couldn’t imagine loving anyone else in the way I did, or being loved in the way he loved me. If there was any way to dispel my habit of communicating with neatly tied pink bows, it was with him, in this time, that I laid the foundation for communicating from a place of truth. Sometimes, what I had to say didn’t sound ‘nice.’ It would come out in a torrent of mixed emotions, or oftentimes, from a still, peaceful point in me that I had never experienced before. At least I was saying what I felt, what I meant, rather than stifling what I felt I couldn’t say.

I say all this to speak on communication, as well as a general state of being — the stereotypically Canadian trait of being ‘nice.’ I will always find the ‘nicest’ way to communicate a point. I will politely acknowledge a ‘wrong number text’ with a ‘sorry!’ and a ‘have a nice day!’ I will be pleasant in a situation that is frustrating, choosing the perfect words to not disturb any peace, or even just saying how I feel with the intention of being kind. I could argue that this benefits relationships in the long run. I say what I say in the way that I do with a long-term vision in mind: Am I going to wreck a relationship because I reacted rashly to someone else’s rash reaction? What’s the good in two people reacting back and forth at each other? Someone’s got to stay grounded while the other person flies off the handle, right? But at what cost?

In one of the most confrontational interactions I have ever experienced (over the phone, nonetheless), I simply got quiet, took the brunt of someone else’s anger, and then said something so genuinely nice and loving to this person that I was surprised they didn’t break down and confess that they had been horribly unkind. Yes, I chose the high road, but if that had been a fist fight in a dark alley, would I have let this person beat me to a pulp?

As of late, I’ve begun to see that ‘being true to myself’ is not always ‘nice’ for everyone. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel ‘nice’ for me. It can feel a bit like getting snow in the sleeve of your fleece jacket — bracing, uncomfortable and awkward.  It catches me off guard. I’m sure it still will to those who know me best. Like that classic movie scene,  where the lead character has given a passionate ‘call-to-arms’ (with standing-ovation-provoking bravado, of course), and you’re expecting the heinous boss to furiously pick it apart and fire their ass…and instead, they start an epic slow clap that ripples throughout the entire board room…

Yeah, like that. You say it… and then you hover there in nanoseconds of limbo, just waiting for the world to fall down around you, and for the person you spoke to to write you off completely. For.ev.er.

But the world doesn’t collapse. And the person is still there.

My truth is like a shaky toddler, learning to walk. It comes out a bit more raw and jagged than it sounds in my head. If, for some reason it hurts your feelings, I’m sorry for that. That isn’t the intention at all. I’m just learning to stand my ground. At 30. Whether we make it clear to everyone around us, or we just silently wish it for ourselves, we all have a burning desire to just be liked, goshdarnit. To be impeccable, to be everything to everyone, to be NICE and spew out perfection laced with rainbows and unicorns whenever we open our mouths. (Wouldn’t THAT be magical?) But as one of my dear yoga teachers told me once, if you are authentic and true to who you are, people won’t just like you, they will love you.

Go forth, truthful ones.

Be lovable in a way that re-defines the normal ways you aim to be adored.

May you be truthful and authentic to no end, and may you be loved deeply for it.

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