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Authenticity, Awakening, courage

This is why what you have to offer is enough

Above my desk I have pinned up the following quote:

“Forget your perfect offering.”

You may recognize this line from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem and the line that follows is the often memed: “there is a crack in everything, that‘s how the light gets in.”

I am a big fan of Leonard Cohen’s music and poetry and when I listen it feels like all he offers is perfect. In Anthem he speaks of the imperfection of the human condition, and how it is through that imperfection that we find our redemption and our hope.

And such is the nature of Cohen’s work that in this song it also feels like he is speaking directly to me.  And so, I listen and I am inspired.

Last year I was lucky enough to see the Leonard Cohen exhibition on it’s last day in Montreal.  And one of the things that stood out to me was the story of how in order to have his poetry reach more people, to have his “voice” heard, (and indeed in order to continue to make a living writing poetry) he started putting his poetry to music and singing.

And – especially when he started – he was not a good singer.  Video footage at the exhibition of some of his earliest forays into music were cringe-worthy, but even then he sang with joy and with a gentle, almost wise smile on his face, knowing his poetry was beautiful – and that we were finally listening.

Forget your perfect offering – even in a crowded exhibition hall – he seemed to speak directly to me.

He was generous enough to himself and his art to let himself fail.

He stepped out of his comfort zone to ensure that he was seen, that his “music” his poetry was heard. To ensure that he could continue doing the work that was his calling.

He took a risk, did something he wasn’t good at in order to offer…to offer.

And so I remind my perfectionist self, who is sneaky, pervasive and crippling, who would allow me to stagnate and die inside the walls of my house – a healer hiding in the attic – to forget about being perfect, to forget my perfect offering.

I print off Leonard’s words and tape them, yes scotch-tape them, to the wall by the window. Purposefully not framed in a Pinterest-worthy handwritten script on canvas – just imperfectly there. A reminder.

In this way I remember, to forget my perfect offering.

To just offer what I have to give, to step out and be seen – to speak, to write, to stand in the circle and be counted – to bring it and trust that those who need it will hear it, will feel the genuine vibration of my love rising from my imperfect hands.  Hear the song rising from my broken and healing heart.

May you too know you have something to give – perhaps something you have long denied, or something you might let slip away – may you find a way to share it, imperfectly.

May you and I be brave enough to step beyond our comfort zones and sing.

The broken world needs all the love and light we have to offer.

Forget your perfect offering and bring what you have.

Bring it. It is enough.

Awakening, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

Wake up in the morning and laugh

I have often marveled at the intense emotions that are waiting for me immediately upon waking.  Over the winter, I would find myself waking up feeling angry or at least very irritated.  “You just woke up,” I would tell myself, “how on earth can you be angry already!?”

Sometimes my anger would dissipate in the shower or as I brushed my teeth, but often I carried it with me into the morning, and it would affect my interactions with my husband and my children as they went off to school and certainly it affected my approach to my day.

While I realize that there are all kinds of reasons why I might wake up angry, and that my subconscious could well have been dreaming its way through my anger issues as I slept, I still had to deal with this emotion and come to terms with it in the light of day.

So I fell back on meditation, on the principles of peace and Zen to guide me and I found this quote:

Let me give you a wonderful Zen practice. Wake up in the morning…look in the mirror, and laugh at yourself.
~ Bernie Glassman Roshi

As I read it I did laugh, and I realized how seriously I was taking my life and my anger and that this wasn’t really serving me.

While the anger just needed to be felt, it was what I was thinking about my anger that was the problem. I was…getting angry at my anger. I was taking it so seriously, and I wasn’t accepting that it was there, that sometimes you just wake up mad. And as I stomped through my days trying to deny it, I was just strengthening the grip of the emotion I wanted to be released from.

Laughing at myself in the morning has been oddly liberating.  At first I would look in the mirror and start off with a few “ha-has” and even that made me so aware of how serious I was.  And you have to laugh at yourself laughing at yourself in the mirror because it’s somehow so delightfully ridiculous.

This practice really highlighted how I had forgotten to be joyful (after all, this was a new day, a fresh start) and how I was strangling the fun out of my life.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THIS ARTICLE ON THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF LAUGHTER: LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE AND THIS FREE MINI COURSE: 30 DAYS TO GREATER CALM

I knew just how seriously I was taking my one, beautiful life because at first when I started laughing in the morning I would sometimes cry, which was also a cathartic release of my anger and a sign to me of how long I had been letting my tension around anger build up. It was such a relief to let it go.

So…if you’ve ever woken up mad, sad, irritated, or even full of joy, I can wholeheartedly recommend looking in the mirror and laughing at yourself.

It is one of the fastest routes to joy I have ever found.

xo Shona

This article was originally published in April 2019 at A Life in Progress. 

 

 

Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, courage, freedom

Self-reliance and the powerful medicine of the heron

Twice this week we have been gifted with the arrival of a magnificent great blue heron on the shore of this small lake.

We watched him walk through the fog on long legs, we saw him swiftly spear for fish, we watched him fly away on huge wings, flashing blue, a regal spirit-bird disappearing across the lake into the mist.

We were in awe, seeing the soul of this beautiful bird that came to our shore, a visit from a winged messenger.

I know now the art of connecting the appearance of a bird or animal with an issue I have been wrestling with.  On my mind these days has been a reworking of the expression of my authentic self, of letting go of aspects of myself that just aren’t true for me anymore – those things I do not want to take with me into the future.

So as I gazed at the heron I found myself remembering this: in past careers, I have been lucky to have had a boss or director who saw potential in me and wanted to develop it.  On at least three occasions I had a boss who wanted to groom me for promotion, who beat the drum for me, gave me opportunities, planned my upward trajectory with me.

And while this is something I was and still am very grateful for, when I look back, I see a revealing pattern. In each case, the person with the pom-poms was removed from the picture before the vision for my career leap had taken form.  In one case it became clear, after many years, that the person whose job I was being groomed for was just never going to leave that job, one director was let go due to corporate “restructuring” and another left for work in another city to be closer to family.

And in their absence I was left to wrestle with the fact that I didn’t really want for myself the dream they had for me.  I didn’t doubt my ability to accomplish it, I just didn’t really want it.  I didn’t hunger for it.  Without their enthusiasm behind me the dream just fizzled out.

And I think that’s why, each time, my mentor/promoter/boss was removed from the picture…to help me stand on my own and figure out where my true path lay.

To show me that I had to bring my own pom-poms and that to do the work required it had to be for something I was truly excited about, something I wanted to reach for.

Which brings me back to the heron.  It’s keynote message for me is about self-determination and self-reliance.

“Heron reflects a need for those with this totem to follow their own innate wisdom and path of self-determination. Follow what is best for you, rather than the promptings of others.” Ted Andrews.

I can see now that I am not traditional in my life roles. I don’t want to be.

I want to stand in my uniqueness, with joy and power, dignity and grace, and follow my own path, unapologetically.

Even aggressively if needed. The editing voice in my head says that the word “assertive” would be better received here, but the way the heron catches his fish is aggressive poetry in motion.

Because the heron, when he aims for a fish, is not messing around.  He is spearing with precision and speed, grasping the opportunity presenting itself, while strongly standing in the water.  He is not apologizing for who he is, he is simply his magnificent self.

He stands on his own.

This is his message to me about self-reliance, his medicine so gracefully given.

From out of the mist I hear him, on blue wings he tells me:  stop apologizing for who you are, stop explaining, stop holding back.  The way you want to live is not for everyone.  Shed the burden of others ideas of who and what you are or could be – for this muddies the waters.  To do this work you will have to stand on your own, root yourself into the earth and balance in the currents of life to recognize and seize the opportunities that are truly yours.

An opportunity he immediately taught me to grab is to share the healing medicine of the natural world with my daughters.  My youngest is as transfixed with animals and birds as I am, she has a natural way with them, and may she always treasure this gift.

And so I take this opportunity to be my authentic self, to stand strong in the swift flowing waters of life with the ease and confidence of a heron, that my daughters may hear their own inner wisdom coming forth and know how to answer it.  To help them unravel the medicine and mysteries of all the plants, trees, insects, animals and birds of this sweet earth.  While they are still receptive, before the noise of the world closes in.

My deepest gratitude to the great blue heron who has shared his powerful medicine with me, and sends me forward with more strength and determination and greater clarity than before.

Truly your sweet arrival through the mist was a gift.

Xo Shona

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, grief, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

How to help when you don’t have the answers

Last spring, my 12-year-old daughter said something to me that has been reverberating in my bones ever since.  She was struggling to cope with a group of girls at school who were being incredibly unkind to her, and I very much wanted to help her.  And so I was constantly jumping in with advice and solutions, speaking daily and at length about how I thought she should handle it.

Finally, she said to me: “Mom, I don’t need you to fix this.  I just need you to listen.”

And so, in the months that followed, I resisted the urge (on most occasions) to jump in and “fix” her situation and I practiced just being present for her, just listening with love and gentle curiosity, grateful that she wanted to talk to me about what was happening in her life.

Usually, I only offered advice if she asked, which wasn’t very often at all.  She really did need me to simply listen.

And this practice, inspired by my wise daughter, has actually changed the way I see my role not only in my relationship with her, but with everyone I know.

To start with it made me so aware of how often I tend to jump in and “help” everyone, offering unsolicited tips and strident words of encouragement and commandments in the face of their tears and turmoil.

I would feel their pain and want to talk them out of it, shepherd them through the darkness to the light.  I thought this was how I could help.

I believed this was the best I could offer…but it wasn’t.
I realized that I could be offering so much more – in fact, we all could.

Perhaps like I did, you believe that this desire to advise and problem solve comes from a place of love, but it is more often a result of what Matt Licata calls “an avalanche of our own urgent, anxious, fixing energy” that likely springs from an unresolved desire to fix our own lives.  It can also be a reflection of our discomfort with the chaos of strong emotions.

So I told myself this: Shona, if a friend comes to you in emotional turmoil and you wish to respond with love you simply open your arms and your heart and close your mouth unless you are going to utter kind and soothing words.

Over and over again I resist the desire to solve or resolve the other person’s crisis/challenge/pain – because I now know that unless they actually ask for my advice, that’s not what they’re looking for.

I know how powerful the act of being quietly present and attuned in the face of someone’s pain can be,  because I am blessed to have someone in my life who holds this space for me.

I have noticed the space that opens up when you feel like you are falling apart and someone simply listens to you with compassion. Not problem solving for you or thinking about what they are going to say to you next or analyzing why you are having this experience but REALLY listening.

Without judgement. Without rushing you to a resolution.

Listening not just to the words you are saying but to the unspoken depth of feeling emerging through the panic, grief, and confusion of the moment.

You are heard.
You are witnessed.
You no longer feel alone with your pain.

You are offered safe space to process what is happening, offered not a sermon but a sanctuary.

And in that moment, you are touched, even healed in a way that well-intentioned advice could never accomplish.

I confess when my daughter asked me not to fix but to listen, part of me was relieved. Because I simply don’t have all the answers and in this mad world, who does?

But I know what I CAN do. I know that no matter what is going wrong for her I can slow down and listen with love, I can welcome her words and her hard story and let her know that even if things are not ok, that that’s ok.

With my quiet, loving, compassionate presence I tell her: “sweet girl, you don’t have to heal or have it all figured out in this moment for me to stay by your side…I am here.”

So perhaps you are relieved along with me, relieved to know that if you are a compulsive fixer that you don’t have to offer any solutions.  Because in fact that is not what is needed.

What is needed is just one moment of genuine, loving, quiet connection to change pain into peace.

We all have the power to be still and let healing come through us into the world, simply by being present with another, without judgement.  To hold a safe space for a friend or a daughter as they struggle to make sense of this messy, confusing but beautiful life.
To help them know that they are worthy and loved. To offer them, in your grounded presence, shelter from the storm.

When you are unsure of how to help — this is how.

Xo Shona

Awakening, courage, gratitude, Joy

How gratitude rises out of the ashes of grief — every time.

Gratitude continues to show up in my life in unexpected and sustaining ways.  This is how it carried me through a difficult chapter of my life, and how it continues to hold me in all the dark moments that have followed.

My father passed away almost 5 years ago at the great age of 84. I think he would agree that he lived a beautiful life, to which he brought his immense energy, enthusiasm and heart.

At the hospital, where he slowly died over the course of nine days, I lived in a dream, like I was walking through water and drowning in tears.   It took time to accept what was actually happening.  And as it slowly dawned on us all that this was it, I would walk the grounds outside the hospital.

It was during those walks that I found something unexpected — a feeling of deep and compelling gratitude.

As my father lay dying, gratitude wrapped its arms around me and carried me through those dark days of his dying, as it still carries me now.

And I knew even then exactly what I was grateful for.

For all the love he gave me, for all the ways he encouraged and supported me, for all the time he spent with me, for all the things he taught me.

For the way he lived his life, for the way he was dying with love pouring out of his tired eyes, still my dad.

I was also grateful because we were blessed to have a room in that hospital with a view of the foothills and mountains, which he loved.  We were blessed to have access to competent and compassionate nurses and doctors, we were blessed to have family and friends around us.

His final days were filled with love and abundance – we were so blessed and so grateful.

Gratitude carries me now through moments when one of his favorite songs will play on the radio and I am blinded by tears – and I recognize that what pours through me is grief AND gratitude…and even joy.

And the gratitude always points the way to peace.

It calms me.

I am grateful for the song, and for the tears, as it reminds me of all that was — all that was so beautiful, and wonderful, and all that still remains, that is also wonderful – the memories, the qualities of his that I know I carry in me, that I see in my own children, his grandchildren. It reminds me that love goes on – in so many ways.

And this somehow gives me hope.

That maybe grief and loss and suffering have a larger meaning.

That in this liminal moment where the two meet and live side by side – grief and gratitude – is the passage through, is the doorway into a greater world, a bigger heart, a more compassionate journey.

Where you learn that your heart won’t break but finds the capacity to heal. 

Where you learn that your heart is wider and deeper than you ever thought, and can contain the grief and gratitude at once…to allow you to be overflowing with sadness and love and thankfulness at the same time…to know your heart truly is full in a way that only loss can show you.

My grief, when aligned with gratitude, brings me to joy.  One cannot exist without the other, and while I may have once understood this as a platitude for the bereaved, I have now truly felt the joy born of loss come alive in my heart.

That if I may say, as painful as it was to watch my strong father slowly diminish in a hospital bed in Calgary, I felt then and still do feel this great joy in having had him in my life.  This deep joy for all the moments when I knew I was a beloved daughter, that this terrible grief flowing through me can only exist because the joy and the love also exists.

Grief and loss are the price of that love and joy – and so with gratitude I pay the price over and over again.

And this is the truth and the gift of gratitude born of grief: it is all things, it is the twisting, rolling, wrapping up of every strong emotion, it wants to move through you like a wave, like a howl, like a dove – it is a song of love and loss as old as the earth.  It is the wound and the healing of the wound…it is the singer and the song…it is the meaning of why we are alive.

It is why our grief and suffering has a meaning.

It is the meaning.

It is strength broken by strength and still strong.

Shona