Tag Archives: compassion

the cult of positivity

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I’m sure I’ve blogged about this topic before, or carried on about it on Facebook.

I see constant anecdotes and photos reprimanding us…

…that if we were grateful enough, we would never be lacking for anything

…that while we are blowing hot air about our particular misery du jour, others are taking their last breath

…that were we to count our blessings, we’d realize how damned lucky we are and stop that complaining shit stat

And I get it. Some people never stop complaining, even when every little thing in their lives is the way you or I would wish ours to be – they are still snivelling bags of misery (and that does, in fact, get old).

There are times, though, that even if you are fully cognizant of the fact that people are starving in Africa and you happen to be fortunate enough to have sufficient food in your pantry to feed a whole small third world village for a month, you still feel pretty down about the things that are happening in your life and being reminded of that tidbit of information does nothing to spike up your happy meter.

Instead you feel even shittier for having your “first world problems” in the first place, and feel guilty for being so (apparently) ungrateful for what you have.

Here’s the thing. Inner unrest is almost always a signal that your intuition is trying to tell you something.

Sometimes it’s because you have stopped listening somewhere along the way and are functioning on auto pilot without really paying attention to what you are doing.

Inner unrest niggles when the situation you are choosing to engage in goes against the grain of your fundamental values and principles, and you are choosing to ignore the little red flags that are popping up as you are going along because you’ve gotten so used to being comfortable in your discomfort.

Then there are times when we go through some major transitions in life, and while we humans are certainly equipped to deal with transitions (seriously… we would have died out millennia ago had we not been an adaptable species), our instant-presto society expects us to pop up like a freshly thawed toaster pastry mere days after something life-altering has occurred.

That can be even the good stuff… a promotion, a newly-tied knot, a long-desired move to a new place, the purchase of a new home… or the obviously less positive stuff… like losing a job, having to move without notice, the end of a relationship, health challenges, children moving out (i.e., an empty nest), the loss of a loved one (whether expected or not).

All change, to some degree, causes an anxiety reflex. Some of it merely heightens our awareness so that while we are in a new situation we adapt as quickly as possible – but it is exhausting, even if it is exhilarating.

The more painful sort of change grinds us into the ground and pulls us along by the ankles through the raw and painful grieving process. There is much out there on the different stages of grieving, so I won’t discuss it in detail here, but what I do want to note is that the process takes inordinately longer than any amount of time typically allotted for it by our western society.

People are patient for a week or two (if that), but after that if your performance isn’t back up to pre-trauma speed, patience with your process starts to dwindle and whatever progress you might have made in the interim is largely interrupted by the added pressure that is now placed upon you to be back to “normal” again. Many people either have never experienced grief before, or have conveniently forgotten what it was like to be in its throes – sort of like the purported denial of remembering childbearing pain.

The key to survival is to seek out qualified support to help you over that hump, because once the funeral is over, and the condolence notes stop coming in, or you are two months in to flying solo after a twenty year marriage, people forget that things were ever different, and that can be hugely difficult to deal with on top of the ongoing grieving.

Whether the life change is big or small (and it’s all individually relative), self-care becomes primordial to the survival of our hurting soul bits. In the end, these very same things are what help me keep my sanity even when shit isn’t hitting the fan.

So… what to do?

1. Schedule in time for your Self.
Learn to gauge to what point you can push yourself before a melt-down is impending. It will change over time, and it will be a trial and error process for a while. If you feel that once a month you need to work in a mental health day just to stay sane, plan it ahead of time. It will be something to look forward to and the break in your normal routine something that will be akin to that light at the end of the tunnel when you start down sliding. The waiting between breaks will help you build up resilience and allow for the incorporation of healthy coping mechanisms in the meantime, which will make everything go more smoothly. Determine what your daily, weekly, monthly needs are, and have an action plan.

2. Practice radical self-compassion.
Like it or not, things will not always go according to plan. Something might happen that will throw you off kilter despite your best efforts. You may not, on a daily basis, be functioning at 100%. One of the best takeaways for me from The Four Agreements (if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it) is to do your best, whatever best means on any given day. On some days your best may just be to roll out of bed, get dressed and make it in to the office, while other days it will be to blaze through a week’s worth of work in a single afternoon. It may vary that drastically. Respect the variance. Respect your willingness to show up, in whatever capacity that you are able. Be gentle with yourself. Afford yourself the same compassion as you would extend to another in your situation. You deserve to be treated kindly, even by yourself.

3. Establish good boundaries.
People mean well… they do… but sometimes their “help” does more harm than good. Learn to be specific about your needs, if you ask for help with them, as well as to gracefully express when someone is triggering all of your defence mechanisms. Deftly extricate yourself from the situation or the ministrations and be sure to let them know to be more mindful of the way in which they communicate with you going forward. Relentlessly cut ties if they have a track record of not positively supporting you.

4. Have a support system in place.
Know who you can call on when you are on the verge of a melt-down. Have an escape route in place so that you can go some place private. If you are seeking the help of a professional counsellor, have your appointments set up on a regular basis in accordance with their advised schedule and make additional appointments if you feel you need them. If you need to be assisted chemically to find better balance, explore the most personally comfortable way in which to achieve it.

5. Spend some time, daily, checking in with yourself.
Whether that means doing it while sitting on a meditation cushion, as you move through the asanas in yoga class, during a walk around the block, while soaking in the tub or lathering up in a shower, when putting in miles on the treadmill at the gym, or at the table with your journal or art supplies. Make real or mental notes on how you feel, how you’ve improved in the last while and think about how you want to feel. Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map helps siphon down our focus to what she calls our Core Desired Feelings and keeping those in mind while we do our inventory check can pull us back to center even when we’ve skidded off the road.

6. Nourish yourself.
That means feeding the body, mind and spirit, daily. Plan meals ahead so that you take the guess work out of daily cooking chores – chances are you will be eating more healthfully or regularly. Take vitamins and minerals as recommended by your physician. Spend some down time with a book, crossword puzzle or other mind-feeding endeavour. Honour and connect with your spirit, in whichever way you feel most comfortable.

7. Move.
Spend some time getting physical. I have found that when I’m hurting emotionally my tendency is to avoid being embodied. I become this untethered soul hanging on to my bodily connections by mere shreds. Exercise gets the endorphins pumping and even if my heart is heavy with grief, my body feels lighter after it’s been fully exerted.

8. Rest.
Fatigue is a by-product of depression and the carrying of the burden of stress. Without adequate rest the body simply can’t perform its regenerative functions, whether for the physical body, the mental body or the emotional body. Eight hours of sleep is the generally established minimum, but more may be required during more taxing times. Honour your body’s signals and allow it the rest that it needs to heal itself.

Enacting these things may take some effort, especially at first. I know that when I’m newly grieving, I’m like a dazed zombie and barely functioning. If you have someone close to you (a spouse or a partner) who can help you over the hump, you are ahead of the game. Otherwise you may well have to wait until the fog lifts before you will be able to begin fully implementing these self-care steps.

But for the love of all things holy, don’t let the bastards get you down… you are worthy… you are worthy… you are worthy.

Adriane xo

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the beauty of candour

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 11.21.31 AM (click on image to go to video)

Yesterday (heh, who am I kidding… constantly, lately) I spent a good amount of time online reading content and watching vids. (To be fair, I am also creating content, too.) I absolutely love that there is so much accessible literally at our fingertips. And I get to do it with no pants on (#nopantsdance). Oh! How’s that for candour (or perhaps TMI)?

The video of Liz, above, speaks to me as a creative person, but she also has a way of demystifying celebrity to me. Jennifer Lawrence does much the same thing. They are real people, not fictitious characters in books or movies, and they lead real lives (mostly, on an essential level, just like yours and mine).

I think the cult of celebrity started with the term “TMI” – the pressures of offending no one – as a person in the public eye – creates a sort of bland homogeny that has people wanting to mine a little deeper to see what you really are about. (Well, and then there is Lindsey or Britney or Paris, who clearly we’ve already seen more of than we’ve ever wanted, but who show very little substance despite that, and we are still washing our eyes… but I digress.)

Perhaps Jennifer and Liz (similarly to me) suffer from a lack of proper boundary recognition, or a touch of Tourette’s (just kidding), but it is refreshing to see people articulately express themselves in a way that allows us to identify with their humanity yet still understand that we are separate and possibly different in many diverse ways.

On another note, I was having a discussion online with some folks about the art of conversation. The thread, of course, led to formulating a set of rules around how to engage in the process of exchanging ideas. The list is pithy, but: no interruptions; active listening; debating issues rather than attacking the speakers.

Personally, I didn’t take a public speaking class in school (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t offered, but even if it was, I would never have signed up for it – I was too shy). Debating is an art form and many of us don’t learn how to do it on our own (and learn as we go along through lots of trial and error). Some people debate not to gain better understanding of another’s viewpoint but to push through their own agenda. I have little patience for such conversationalists, because essentially they are not listening to what you are saying anyway – they are merely trying to shift your perspective to theirs (with a steamroller).

Communication is what all of our relationships hinge on. Articulating our thoughts clearly and really hearing another’s opens up the dialog to a greater insight into each other (and self, too!). It brings about a sort of compassionate understanding – a paradigm shift. Many years ago I attended a HeartMath workshop at my workplace in which a method called Freeze-Frame was taught.

The ability to shift our perspective from our own to another’s is invaluable to diffusing the intense emotions that arise when we are only viewing the world from our single perspective. Empathy arises. Compassion grows. And that’s a good place to start from when seeking viable solutions.

the season of giving

As some of you may or may not know, the position I occupied at my last job was “eliminated” and thus so was my income. I received a modest severance and because of this will not receive any actual Employment Insurance until the first week of February. For most of my life I’ve lived pay check to pay check. I’ve posted plenty of times about how my handling of and relationship to money, like most people who live in the western world, could stand for some improvement. It is an ongoing investigation and process, involving a lot of self examination and, subsequently, necessitating growth.

As some of you may or may not know, the work that I’ve been doing for most of my working life has been less than satisfying on many levels. While the way in which I’ve chosen to support myself has lacked much in the way of professional validation and stimulus, I’ve managed to support myself when I was alone, contribute to -at times more than half of- the household income during my marriage and now, as a single parent, largely support myself and my son, with my earnings. I want to acknowledge that my son’s father does contribute to our household, and without this contribution we would not be able to enjoy the lifestyle that we currently enjoy. The standard which we live in is largely the standard to which my son was born and the one which we’ve become accustomed to in this affluent north american culture in which we live.

By the same token, though, we haven’t had an excess of loose change, and many of the luxuries that were easily accessible during my married life are no longer a possibility. Every luxury has to be considered and weighed for value and worthiness, even while I was employed.

And, if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you also know that there have been some financial struggles in our lives, especially over the last several years since leaving my marriage. The loss of my newly acquired job in January 2010, soon after our move back to Canada, was a huge blow. Without any savings to speak of, the first month after being let go was brutal, and the struggle continued for months after that, while anxiously waiting for the EI checks to arrive and not being able to pay the bills (cell phone, cable, health insurance, furniture I had purchased on credit) that continued to roll in. There was money for food and rent but much of everything else fell by the wayside.

It took four months’ time for me to find another job, one that was not ideal but that certainly was a relief to obtain so that the looming bills could finally be settled, at least in part. Four months later I got into a car accident in which my car sustained lots of damage. Because it was considered my error, my deductible was $1,000, which I of course did not have, but in order to claim my car back from the body shop which held it hostage, I had to pay it. Robbing from Peter to pay Paul, I got the car back, but the hole that was left in the wake of this financial gap was something that I continued to struggle to recover from.

And now, once again, I am jobless. Jobless and truly wondering why the Universe continues to dish up this same meal for me to partake of. Someone recently, after I mentioned that I would not have any money flowing in to the household until the end of January (which I’ve now recalculated to actually be the beginning February) told me that this was a character building experience. Initially, I found the remark to be insensitive and flippant, making light of something that really was very serious and life altering in a way that only someone who has had the experience of being in the place in which I find myself to truly understand. The growth will occur, certainly, and will potentially yield a better direction – at least that is my hope. The choice, as always, remains mine to take, though everyone has an opinion on what that choice should be. And while I “trust” in the Universe, it doesn’t exactly deliver random and sizeable checks through my mail slot just because I need it.

The day that I had that brief exchange, I had been catapulted into complete deer-in-the-headlights mode. How was I going to pay for food and rent? Both my son’s and my birthdays are in January – they would be write-offs, certainly, in that we would not be able to celebrate them. I spent the night tossing and turning, stomach churning and cursing that I had to once again be mired by this burden that I could not seem to pull myself out of.

Finally, I did the only thing that I could think to do and asked my ex-husband for additional help, so that, in the least, I could pay my rent. To put this request into context, you have to understand that much of the strife within our marriage was one spurred by financial discordance. My issues with money. My inability to have enough self-mastery when I was emotionally bereft to come to grips with the management of the funds that he so trustingly put into my very incapable hands. To further frame that, you also should know that I never hid the fact that I had these issues. From very early on, in our conversations, I openly and with much candour disclosed that I was not good with the stuff, and told him exactly what happened with the stuff when I had it in my hands, especially when I was in crisis. He had his own issues with it. It seems that many of us have a rather unhealthy relationship with the stuff – I am not an anomaly, despite being made to feel so throughout the length of my marriage.

So, when I asked for help by requesting the very thing that was the bane of our marriage, it was humiliating in a way that I can not even begin to adequately express. I knew the thought processes which would run through his head when I asked. I knew that ultimately he would probably help, but not without a cost.

Last night, after preparing a very nice meal and sitting down to enjoy it with my son, we got into a discussion about jobs, job searching, how tight things would be for a bit, and that it would be a good thing for him to perhaps find himself a part time job as well, so that he could buy himself the nice things he’d like that extend beyond the necessities that I am able to provide. What he said floored me. He said that I shouldn’t rely on income from his job to supplement our household, and that my lack of an income was affecting others already, including his father. Firstly, I never intimated that I would be asking for his help in assisting with the household. However it was not what bothered me the most about our conversation.

The fact that his father discussed -even merely in passing- our financial arrangements with my son violates an unspoken agreement that I thought parents should have (certainly one that I thought we had), especially those who are no longer in a family unit, in regard to affording their children the semblance of a unified front, a sort of solidarity that despite there having been a rift that separated our mutual ideologies enough to necessitate a parting of ways, that at the core of our interactions and by virtue of our shared history (and joint interest in our offspring), there remained an underlying respect and genuine caring for each other’s well-being.

I resent that I am (or continue to be), whether overtly or subliminally, being vilified – by my ex-husband to my child – when I am in need of the most support. Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to be supportive of each other, and hold each other up rather than beat each other down? Furthermore, I have never spoken ill of my husband to my son, despite there being plenty of ways in which I could list his various failings both as a father and as a husband. We are imperfect, and thus we at times make choices that are not necessarily the best ones. In light of this, I don’t share my thoughts on these things with my son.

I resent that, while my son is too unformed in his own maturity to see it otherwise, his father is engaging in skewing his opinion of me, despite the fact that he does not live in our household (and is not even able to witness it in any proximate way) and is clearly not in a place to judge. Not only that; his lack of clarity not only in this case but essentially in regard to his own role and contribution to the success or failure of our relationship while we were married strips him of the right to comment in this case, but should he desire to comment, it should be to me and not our seventeen year old son to whom he should air.

It is easy to vilify someone, but much more difficult to embrace our part in the failings of an enterprise. For many years I looked to place blame outside of myself for many things, and at some point decided that the only way to begin to tame my demons was to finally accept them, own them and examine them. Sure, there were (are!) reasons for which I am the way I am that were outside of my control, many in fact formed during my childhood despite them not being formed in a way which engages enough life experience to be useful (then or later), and ones which continue to manifest even as mature adults.

I have spent much of my life attempting to deconstruct the reasons why I do things, to gain an understanding of what underlies my instinctive reactions and to gain enough emotional maturity to be able to lay new pathways, to rework those reactions in more beneficial ways. I could cite various and sundry childhood and early adult traumas which are partly at the root of these behaviours and the ways in which I’ve learned to cope with them. I have been alone and unsupported throughout this process, particularly in the context of my former marriage. I understand that we can only show up with what we are capable of (and I did, after all, choose the relationship), that despite our intelligence, knowledge and life experience, things continue to escape us. We are human, after all. I did expect, though, that after all of the things that we shared together, that there would be an underlying sense of compassion that imbued our dealings, post and prior to our parting, though seeing that if that would have been present in the first place, more than likely we would still be together.

So I leave you all with this. Even for a moment, try to imagine yourself in another’s place, not just as an onlooker but as you would if you were in identical circumstances, not in the context of your own life but the one in which they are in. What would you do? How would you feel? What, if anything, would you want someone to say to you or do in order to ease your distress, lessen your burden, share in your human experience?

Being kind costs nothing. Staying out of judgement, despite it being really difficult to do for some of us, affords greater connection with our fellowmen than it does to stand in judgement of them. Compassion is truly the only way for humanity to reconnect with itself, to cure whatever ails it, and much ails it.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  Romans 14:13

How many lovers does it take to screw in a lightbulb… and other musings…

What a crazy week it’s been. After being in the body shop for a little over a month, my car was ready on Friday. They called me on Friday morning to let me know, and of course I had to figure out some way to scrape together the $1,000 deductible. So it will be a very meager next several weeks indeed, until two pay cheques from now, as the next one will be gobbled up by the rent. Anyway… enough of my financial woes…

The good news is… I have a car again, with a half tank of gas.

I’ve been trying to work on some painting (without much success). And some writing (and aside from this here blog post, and a number of emails, those efforts have been largely unproductive). I’ve also been not particularly muse-infused lately. I’ve also decided not to beat myself up about it all.

I’ve been feeling really – tired – tired is the right word. Tired of many things, but mostly of my flailing about. I feel like a drowning man, thrashing around in oceanic murk, trying to avoid the inevitable pull of the deep, only to finally give in anyway, watching the last stream of my little air bubbles float upward as I sink to the bottom despite my best efforts.

I’m so tired of being broke.

I’m tired of investing so much time into things that bring me little (or no) pleasure or improvement.

I’m tired of feeling like I have no direction, or rather, of having lost my way (and question whether I ever had a way to begin with).

I’m tired of wanting something better but not being able to get to better by way of my own resources.

And I’m tired of wondering what better is, in the end.

I’m tired of thinking, even.

So… how to go about remedying the sources of all of this fatigue. Helpful suggestions are welcome.

My leg/groin strain is finally starting to feel better. I went to see the doctor on Wednesday and was given a prescription for Naproxen. Perhaps the healing was delayed because of muscles spasming and now that the pain cycle is broken, things are finally starting to right themselves.

I’ve recently read (and have previously ruminated on, via my own) blog posts that speak about how we as humans have become separate from nature and the natural world’s cycle of birth-life-death, decay and renewal. That we fear change and hold on to things long past their usefulness or for our better good. That the concept of long-term relationships is an unnatural adherence, requiring a prodigious (yet perhaps futile, by these accounts) amount of effort to hold on to things that are ever-changing. How monogamy goes against the very grain of the laws of nature.

Oddly enough, despite what we think (citing the notion that we feel we are unable to focus our affections on only one person) we naturally tend to behave in such a way, and the superfluous “others” tend to fall off by the wayside; shed themselves like so much dead skin from the snake’s back. Until a new fancy surfaces and our interest wanes. I muse (and amuse myself immensely) that we have the notion that we are able to sustain multiple intimate relationships when even one requires fairly gargantuan effort to keep things running smoothly. I mean… I barely have enough time and energy to get through my work week, figure out new and creative (and cheap) ways to relax during my time off, be emotionally and physically available to my son in a caretaker/mom capacity, and still have a bit of “me” time. Maybe others are better at multi-tasking than I am.

But this life is a great experiment, and I long ago earned the title of Absent-minded Professor (coined as such by my mother), so I’ll go on experimenting, regardless. She was also the one who used to tell me not to ride two horses with one ass (when I was spreading myself too thinly, and not accomplishing any task with any great measure of success). And I have always mostly done what my dad always told me not to do, and did things the stupid way (as opposed to the smart way), learning best from my own mistakes (rather than those of others). But I digress.

Are humans basically fear-based creatures, having separated (perhaps even elevated) ourselves from the “natural world” and its impermanence–its cycles of birth-death-renewal? I think, perhaps, that if we run on the premise that all is meant to end or change, and that whatever we are experiencing in This Moment is doomed, then we don’t live fully. We live with the notion that this moment is not worth investing in fully, because it will be replaced by another one, shortly, and it may be better, or it may be worse, but it will definitely be different. It’s the ADHD phenomena afflicting humanity on a grand, emotional, scale. It smacks of nihilism and hedonism. It’s the epitome of blasé. And if it works for you, great. But does it, really?

I think, personally, viewing life in this way does a great disservice to the process of watching (or experiencing) the evolution of something (a relationship, for example). The evolution is never given a chance to develop because the focus is only on the now (the new?), not much effort is invested into it, certainly not much thought is given to how to make a joint collaboration unfold into something of greater potential over a period of time. I’ll use a big word here: trust. It’s short, really, but weighs on many of us.

It seems to me that there is always a sense of self-preservation present–an unwillingness to remove the governor–to really take the risk of something being good, despite the perceived cost, because there is an underlying notion that it will all go to pot, eventually. Better get it while the getting’s good. It seems to me that the same fear that plays on one human’s need to cling also plays on another human’s need to not cling. Same fear, different coping mechanism. It is the inability to relax into trust. It is my struggle, and many others’ as well, it seems.

This striving for something greater than the sum of its parts is what pushed humanity onward to reach great heights. It’s what has kept the species alive and has made us thrive. Evolution happens (in nature) over the course of a very, very long time. Small, tiny little incremental changes occur, so that they are almost imperceptible unless looked at with a keen and knowing eye, in retrospect (mostly). It seems to me that perhaps we ought to heed the natural laws in their entirety, and embrace the very things that have elevated us above the rest of the animal kingdom–our ability to discern and measure and hope and build and work together coherently and collectively–for the betterment of a greater whole. It is our compassionate nature, and our ability to link our hearts with our minds (and each other’s), that elevates us to the top of the animal kingdom.

I find it laugh-out-loud-funny that, in our misguided sense of spirituality, we can in one breath claim that we are all One and yet also claim that we are all Alone in the end. I am guilty of having made both of these postulations, sometimes in the same discussion. Others have as well. So how do we reconcile this sense of duality, this separation and yet Oneness that we all experience to varying degrees, at varying times? Is this the tug-of-war between ego and soul? Why should there be a war at all? If we can’t get our own parts to reach a sustainable state of peace, how can we hope for the Rest Of The World to follow suit?

This idea of being “alone” has led to most of the environmental and socio-economic issues that plague humanity. Perhaps it is because of our short life spans. This allows us to unconscionably shit in our own backyards because who cares what happens in a century (or on the other side of the same globe upon which we live)? We’ll be lucky if our kids will be around to see it come around. Besides, in the meantime, a very large meteor can hit us (or a mega-volcano could erupt) at any time, and send us into the next ice age or perhaps to our fiery demise. Or maybe beings from another galaxy, universe or dimension will want to take over this cesspool we’ve created and finish the job if we haven’t done it ourselves.

In the meantime, I need to find a ladder so I can reach that lightbulb…