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Blowing Out the Candles

candlesOn the eve of my 4o-plus-somethingish birthday, I cannot help but reflect upon the lessons I have learned this year. In theory I’m an expert.  In practice, however, that’s another story.

I do believe that the difference between theory and practice is the key to successful living though darlings, because bridging that gap is the difference between annoying should-sayers, and the people who shine brightly and inspire the rest of us.

Grace has been a concept I’ve wanted to put into practice  throughout the past few years. There are  times I have failed miserably; my birthday breakdown at a bar while trying to sort out my mother issues; my insecurity as a partner, my ability to maintain a positive attitude in light of the every day demands of living. Yah, I’ve failed a few times.

But I have learned a few things from all of that bluster, and I’m old enough to take the liberty of sharing them with you;

  1. I have spent way too much time on my hair.
  2. We allow ourselves to be led by a false economy and fabricated news. Does it feel right? Do it. Does it feel wrong? Don’t. The world would be a better place if we all followed the golden rule.
  3.  If you love your body, it will love back. At a certain point you realize your body feels better when you eat this and not that; when you do this and not that.  It loves water and apples and decadent butter cream chocolate from your favourite Chocolaterie. It does not like to listen to people incessantly rambling about fad diets or extreme routines. Love your body, let it gently communicate to you, and it will love you back.
  4. Kindred spirits aren’t terribly hard to find, but it’s terribly hard to be vulnerable enough to get to know one.
  5. Create things. Anything. Creativity is your human spirit making itself present in the world. Let it sing, paint, write, carve, stitch, bake….whatever! Let your mind wander and your spirit reveal itself.
  6. Do not let bitchy people ruin your day. Attitude is contagious – be sure to protect yourself.
  7. Nobody’s watching. Seriously. Just relax.
  8. Change is scary, but constant. If you can be excited through the fear, you have life licked.
  9. You need friends of all ages; older ones and younger ones, and people who transcend age. You need nurturing and affection and the awesome healing power of human touch.
  10. Flannel jammies, hot tea and a good hobby to keep you occupied are three simple things that are highly under-rated.
  11. Always, always, always buy the shoes.
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Beach Life: Bathing Suits for the Rest of Us

Sennett-Bathing-Beauties-1915_thumbI bought a bathing suit today.

Yes, I know it’s the middle of Canadian winter. No, I haven’t booked a sun-holiday…yet.

I’m debating the merits of an Irish romp with my sweetheart, or a solo beach holiday.

Either way I’m taking a two-piece bathing suit with me that would have made my mother convulse.

You see, I was raised by a woman who suffered extremely low self-esteem and did her best to pass that little nugget of twisted psychology on to her youngest daughter. That’s me by the way.

I grew up in a small town and lived at the beach. Winter, spring, summer and fall. Summer was my favourite. There was nothing better than swimming in the lake all day, the smell of malt vinegar on the homemade French fries that they sold at the little snack shack that would sometimes be lifted off it’s foundation and dragged with the tide when the spring water was high.

Somewhere out there is a photograph of me grinning a grin so wild and wonderful, that I have held that image in my mind for all of these years. It’s a moment of bliss I remind myself I’m capable of, even as an adult.

There I was, white caps at my back,  standing naked, proudly holding my bathing suit at arms length. My waist-long, blonde, pig-tails tangled with lake water and sand, just daring someone to try and get that wet, sticky bathing suit back onto my body.

I may not have been skinny enough, pretty enough, or worried enough about what people thought about what I wore every day. But I was wise enough. Typical of anyone who suffered childhood trauma, I was quiet and very observant. I was constantly tuned in to the tiniest nuance of mood, just in case.

At a very young age, I came to realize that no matter how thin, how pretty, or how well-turned out they were, there were a whole lot of unhappy women out there. And that unhappiness was ugly. Like, soul-deep ugly. Their fear of not being good enough came out as anger and jealousy, and missed trips to fun places. It stopped them from smiling. IT stopped them from going to the beach, getting their hair wet, or smudging their mascara. Their insecurity overshadowed everything. They  let their tummies and their thighs hold them back.

You see, before I even reached puberty I had decided that fat would not keep me from enjoying the beach. Or the snow, or going out to eat a delicious meal. Later on in life, I decided that fat would also not keep me from making wild, passionate love to the man I loved. Some crazy idea of being not good enough would not keep me from having fun.

Being an average looking woman would not keep me from savouring all of the wonderful bits of life, and it certainly did not make me less worthy of healthy curiosity and joy. In fact, I think this joie de vivre is one of the qualities that make many of us beautiful.

I will never be solicited for the cover of Vogue, nor will I turn the heads of men because I’m the ideal beauty. But I will turn the heads of like-minded people. These are the people who buy big, bright bathing suits, get their hair wet, and laugh with every inch of their sun-soaked, skin.

Buy the bathing suit, not because it’s going to turn you into a model. Buy it because it’s a tool in your tickle-trunk of living fully.

 

 

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A Night Owl’s Meditation Lesson for Morning People

no wormI’m not a morning person. Unless I’m the first one up when I’m in the great outdoors, marvelling at a sunrise, watching mist rise from a placid lake, and listening to the first call of the loons.

But that rarely happens.

So, I’m basically just not a morning person.

I am a night owl. The still darkness is rich ground to cultivate ideas and search out creative genius.

We all have a delicate balance of extroverted and introverted needs, and as a fence rider on almost every element of the Myers-Briggs assessment, I need as much time alone as I do surrounded by other fascinating human beings.

Morning people often insinuate that I’m wasting the day. They gently suggest that perhaps I’m a tad depressed, lazy, unmotivated, or accomplishing less than my potential. Morning people are wrong.

My very naïve beginnings at meditation have developed throughout the years, and my practice is now something I am aware of every day.

Waking slowly, at my own pace allows me to be quiet with the thoughts that come and go from my mind.

It’s easy to be aware of all of the thoughts that come to mind as your head is on the pillow waiting for sleep to wrap her arms around you. Unless you’re dog-tired, thoughts come fast. You can’t help but be aware of their presence in the quiet darkness of night-time.

Morning thoughts are different. These are the thoughts that come out quietly, like a hungry stray hoping for a leftover morsel. They slink quietly into consciousness and scatter as soon as you turn to thoughts of preparing for the day.

be the awarenessThis morning as I woke,I listened to the heart-breaking howl of the neighbours oft neglected dog.  The irony is that if some of my thoughts were sounds, they would have sounded like that baleful howling.

In the silence of my fluffy duvets, snuggled warm and safe, I had time to reach out and hold each of those thoughts gently, examine them, and then let them go.  At peace with my own self, I felt prepared to face the day, and share it with whatever the world had prepared for me.

My not-a-morning-person mornings are a simple pleasure, and a quality of life indulgence.  I have the peace to let my emotions and thoughts speak their truth, and the time to gently make peace with everything, both good and not so good. This is the value of meditation, practice, and the awareness of personal presence.

 

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Well Hello There Anger, You Curious Beast

rozSubtlety has never been one of my shining qualities, nor do I wish it to be. It makes for hearty discussions that can be uncomfortable yet rich. Being with people who can admit that they are afraid of the dark,  yet have the courage to explore it are the best kind of people.

I’m a fiery gal. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. I am not for the faint of heart or the timid.

But I’m also soft-hearted to a fault, and love nothing more than to take people in, feed them, make sure they’re safe, and take care of them.

For many years, like many women, anger was not my friend. It’s ugly, and doesn’t accessorize well. It chewed me up from the inside out, and boy oh boy, did I suffer for ignoring it. Once my practice matured, I was able to let it in, give it room to breathe it’s fire, and finally burn off the dangerous edges.

This post was inspired by my incorrect perception. Some might even say, I was wrong. But let’s not get carried away now my sweet little peaches. Being wrong is such a bitch and entirely not sexy.

The human smorgasbord of emotion is fascinating, with a little of this and a dash of that sprinkled through the entire menu. What I’ve discovered, and I believe to be true, is that the  plethora of negative emotions are all rooted in the muck of fear. To be fearless about exploring those negative emotions, well, that my darlings, is interesting stuff.

I will be the first to admit that relationships scare the hell out of me. Commitment is a word I actually had an issue saying ( it made me stutter).  Yet, I’m a devoted, loyal, stick-with-you-to-the-end friend and colleague. What gives?

Well, after years of learning and practicing, I came to understand just how healthy it is not to deny myself all of the ugly-step-sister emotions; anger, jealousy, shame. They are all rooted in fear, and we, as human beings all experience fear and the offshoots of fear every day.

After a thoughtful discussion with my sweetie last night about anger, communication, and perception, I came back to an article by Jules Shuzen Harris, Sensei; Uprooting the Seeds of Anger, (Tricycle, Summer 2012 p44-47);

We’re going to keep getting angry. It’s going to come up. It has come up in our lives before, and it will come up again. This practice is about becoming more mindful, becoming aware of how we are getting stuck. With care and work, we find ways to get unstuck. But we also know that the moment we get unstuck, we’re going to get stuck again. That’s why it is called a practice – we never arrive. So when you find yourself upset or angry, use the moment as apart of your practice, as an opportunity to notice and uproot the seeds of anger and move into the heart of genuine compassion.

This passage speaks to me of impermanence, the Five Skandhas, and the importance of self-compassion as we practice mindful living/self-awareness.

When I first sought out meditation practice and the wisdom of the monastic teachings at a local monastery, what I really was doing, was running away from fear. I thought that I was doing something wrong, and that being happy all of the time was what being a spiritual being was all about. But, surprise, surprise, the Goddess-of-Everything-Delightful was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Ick.

Denying oneself the full-spectrum of emotion is like plastering concealer over a nasty pimple. Eventually it wears off, and it just makes the problem worse.

Our daily practice consists in running away…We are afraid of the suffering that is inside us, afraid of war and conflits…But we do not want this fear to manifest, because it hurts, and so we repress it.  We try to repress our suffering and we invite other energies into our ‘lving room’ to fill it up so that the negative energies will not be able to make their appearance there…We should not adopt this boycott policy. On the contrary we should open our door so that our suffering can come out.  (Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love)

I have committed to my practice, and I feel it slip when fear enters uninvited, tracking mud through my heart. But I won’t pretend it’s not there. I will not kick it out, or wash away the dirty footprints without taking a good look at how it got in, and what I might do lovingly acknowledge it.

 

 

 

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Sink Or Swim; Nostalgia & a Little Shove

mylifeHolidays tend to make us nostalgic. Thank goodness that they’re officially over for 2015.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard, “2015 was a terrible year“. Wow.

I prefer to frame my year as a deli sandwich. The bread was delicious, but the meat of it was a little sour. In other words, the first and last thirds were great (as in; good enough), but the middle really blew.

How often as children did we say a year was terrible? We didn’t darlings. We just did the 10 second countdown to the new year and moved forward with joyful, curious abandon.

sufferingNow we yearn for the days when life was simple and  we still believed in magic. Friendships and family were taken for granted, and happiness was just on the other side of the screen door.

As adults, we tend to overcomplicate things. ‘Be kind and play fair’, seem to have gotten lost in the big, adult personal ethics playbook. And that just stinks. Because it hurts. Yes, people can be selfish and cruel, but they can also be kind, giving, and lovely to snuggle up with. Naked.

As human beings, we all want to be loved. We all need and want strong friendships, a true love with whom we can  share our most intimate selves , and bourbon. Ok, maybe the last bit is all about me, but whatever.

When we lose ourselves in the fray of losing the one person we fell in love with, we feel broken. I’ve been there. It hurts. It’s scary, and it puts a pretty harsh filter on our vision of the future.

Just this summer, I sat, sobbing on my friend’s front step, while she nursed my broken heart and damaged pride. I felt empty, hopeless, afraid and lost.

We live in a world that prizes the individual and yet makes it impossible to live without the safety net of community, family and friends. Yes, the great Western-way-of-life has unfolded into a wonderful cock-up of psychological dissonance. But what do I know? I’m just a girl after all.

I do know this. The holiday season has seen a lot of falling in and out of love; happy hearts and hearts that have been broken and need time to heal, relationships that are worn thin, or worn out altogether.

The beautifully terrifying part of it all, is that the only way to heal a heart is to live life. The very life that has tossed you like a small boat on a big, angry, ocean, leaving you feeling washed up and broken beyond repair.

Cling to curiosity. Let your friends lead you when you are  blinded by tears. Be wary of the seductive pull of too much sleep, lack of self care, and try to remember how good it feels to laugh after you decide to, ‘fuck it’.

As a quasi-Buddhist-lover-of-Christian-ritual, this speaks to me. You have two choices; get up, dive back into that same unpredictable ocean to wash yourself clean, or wallow in the sand getting burned by the sun and possibly gnawed to death by vicious, exotic fauna.

Sometimes you need a friend to role you back into the ocean. In some cases, you need a friend to drag you, kicking and screaming, back to life. It’s called tough love, and we all need it once in a while.

Nostalgia and wishing for a happily-ever-after is a waste of time.

havetimeYou and I both know that more than anything else, this is true; life is short and precious.

Take the time you need to sit quietly with your broken heart. Don’t run away from it, or deny it what it needs to tell you.  Take your sadness and swaddle it like a helpless infant. As difficult as this may seem, you will see that soon enough, you will be at peace with it.

Weep. Cry. Scream into your pillow…and as you take your last gasp of sobbing breath, get ready for a shove back into the ocean of life.

You’ve always been a beautiful swimmer darling. Always.

 

 

 

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Advice for the New Year

IrishBlessing8x10It’s time for the old year to retire.

He’s lounging in a smoking jacket with his slippered feet up, and a tumbler of bourbon to help clear the path of reflection.

New Year’s resolutions have always seemed a little silly, and a lot naïve to me. It’s the same with people who say they’re, ‘finding themselves’ or trying to figure out ‘who they are’.

I don’t make resolutions any more. Not even secret ones just for myself. I simply try to find joy and silliness in every aspect of my life; work, parenting, friendship, love and yes, even housework.

If you are joyful, you become friends with yourself pretty damn quickly. Your body enjoys the kindness and you start eating and exercising  naturally. Your work becomes a calling, and your relationships are a calm ocean where you can relax and refresh yourself.

We are born knowing ourselves. We tend to allow expectation and adulthood fog the landscape. During adolescence we seek approval from people who value meaningless things, and often never grow out of it.

If you’re busy looking for the next ego fix, you certainly can lose track of who you are and what makes your soul smile.

Ah, but not I. I’m one of the lucky ones. Life has rocked my boat and I’ve sprung a few leaks over the years, but I’ve held fast to my convictions and personal ethic.

Being a better person means being  true to yourself, having the courage to do what’s right and not what’s cool.

Wishing you a joyful and peaceful transition into another calendar year. Be good to yourself, and choose joy.

Let the old year finish the bourbon and welcome the beautiful new year as the gracious, happy, loving lady that she is.

 

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The Niqab Debate; A Feminist Canadian Perspective

maninchapsI’ve debated whether or not to write this post.

Let me be clear, the Niqab is a political, social and emotional hot button, and our Canadian Conservative spin-doctors hit the nail on the head when they reeled in this red herring.

This is and is not a political issue. It is because it addresses the clusterf^@k that happens when church and state mix. It is not because we should be focused on the complete erosion of democracy that has been achieved by the Conservative government.

I am by no means a social conservative. I am, however, amongst other fabulous and wonderful things, a feminist.

As a woman, the idea that any faith or culture requires a woman to hide her body reinforces the grand debate about the inequality between women and men.

It’s all bullshit folks. Women, men, and everyone who lives in the spectrum between these binary ideas of gender, deserve to be treated equally according to their achievements, gifts and status as a human being.

This morning, sipping my coffee, I read a social media post, (read it folks- it makes a great point, the twitter handle is @manwhohasitall ), which emphasized how screwed up our culture is when it comes to assigning value to typical gender roles.

The title of the article was; If we gave fathers the same nonsensical advice we give working mothers. Here are a few of the more ridiculous quotes;

TODAY’S DEBATE: Is fatherhood the end for career men?

RISE & SHINE FRAZZLED DADS! Wife & kids asleep? Now is the time to declutter cupboard under the sink & snack on your open pores. ‘Me time’.

Working husband & father? Feeling overwhelmed? YOUR FAULT. Drink more water, get up earlier & dress in your ‘wow’ colours.

Now that we have established the double-standard that still exists for working women, let me dive right in to Canadian politics and culture.

People flee to this country because it has a reputation for being nice, for offering equal opportunity, and not allowing our citizens to slit one another’s throats in the street because of basic human rights such as gender, religion, or ability differences.

You know why that exists folks? Because we separate religion from politics.

Given that the history of the niqab as religious versus cultural choice is debatable, let me hit you with a feminist, Canadian, patriotic perspective; women are sick and damn-tired of being told what to do. As Canadians, we’re sick and damn-tired of people from other countries coming here and telling us that they want the same religious-cultural government that they fled from.

If your argument is that not being allowed to wear the niqab is a religious right, perhaps you can cover your face and symbolically demean women in another country. I would never dream of travelling to Saudia Arabia, wearing a bikini and whining about being persecuted for wearing it. It just doesn’t happen.

I wouldn’t mind if all heterosexual men were mandated to wear ass-showing chaps so I could size up my next pony-ride, but I doubt that’s ever going to happen. Because it’s sexist and demeaning.

I agree with Naheed Nenshi’s latest article in the Globe and Mail which talks about Canada being a country of hope. I do not agree with starting down a slippery slope of mixing church and state via the not-so-subtle misogynistic tradition of devaluing the feminine in the name of religion, a la Niqab.

Don’t give me the ridiculous argument about Hallowe’en or Newfie Mummers. It’s not the same and you know it. You know why?  Because females and males participate equally in both. Because no one shows up at airport security, in a courtroom, or in any other situation with their face hidden. It’s a slap in the face of every woman who has ever had to fight to vote, be legally considered a person, been paid less than a man for the same job, the list goes on and on.

Yes, mandating an uncovered face would be telling women what to do, and men too. It’s also telling citizens that we are all accountable for our actions, that hiding behind religion or cultural traditions which symbolically treat women as the property of men will not be tolerated.

Like it or not, allowing the niqab to be worn in public flies in the face of women’s rights in North America. We have worked damn hard to achieve the reduced level of inequality that we have now.

Misogyny cannot hide behind a veil. Instead, that veil screams to North American women that it is alive and well.