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

Authenticity, Awakening, courage, Joy, Mystery and Magic

This is how a hug changed everything

I recently attended an Indigenous Peoples Drum Workshop at my local library.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I took my 9-year-old daughter, Madeleine, and we went with open minds and open hearts.  The workshop was informative, powerful and moving.  But that’s not what inspired me to write this.

After the circle, I waited to speak to the beautiful Indigenous woman from the Anishinaabe nation who had lead the circle with such power and grace.  I wanted to thank her for sharing her story, for sharing the traditions and customs of her people, and for the loving and deeply respectful way she held space for everyone in the circle.

And not surprisingly, as I spoke my words of gratitude, there were tears in my eyes.  And so, in mid-sentence, she simply opened her arms to me and gave me a hug.

And this was a hug that changed everything.

For this hug had no agenda.  

It was possibly and unexpectedly the most peaceful and profound moment I have ever experienced. I was lovingly and peacefully held in the arms of unconditional acceptance where there was space for me, just as I was.

To just be.

To be sad for all the reasons I couldn’t explain, to feel this outpouring of longing that seemed to always find it’s first expression in tears, to just be a person, a soul – held in complete and divine peace and understanding by another soul, in a library in Caledon.

This hug lasted for moments and it lasted a lifetime — until I felt a slow, healing calm taking over my body.

And as my tears subsided and we stood apart, and said goodbye, I noticed my wise daughter watching me.  She had been so uncharacteristically patient and still throughout the entire circle and its aftermath.

She said nothing, just smiled at me and took my hand.

I can tell you that in my work as a teacher and a healer and in my travels in this lifetime, I have experienced many profound moments of connection, of healing, of life-changing insights. And I have given and been the recipient of many loving hugs – as I hope you have also been.

But I have never had a hug like this before.  I have never felt so completely accepted and at peace. Or felt my fears, doubts, anger and anxiety just fall away.

It was as if – as we held each other-  we were both being held by something greater than ourselves. And we could rest there.

I realize now that I have been granted a glimpse into heaven, into something sacred or holy and larger than me or my life or my purpose or any of the things I think matter.

It’s as if I have been waiting to rest here all my life.  And the resonance of this hug hums in me still.  I am changed.

So now when I feel afraid because I can’t see the way, when I feel discouraged or impatient, or jealous or mean, I can call up the memory of that hug…and remember that even when I’m not actually being hugged, I am always seen, and loved – I am held.

We all are.

And that is the gift of the hug that changed everything.

“Held by another, held within by our own hearts, or held by a star – despite the pain and confusion and hopelessness and doubt – somehow we are already held. It’s not something we must earn or deserve or frantically search for. Held by the morning light as it comes into a room, by the song of the birds, by the imaginal world. Somehow. Already held.”
–  Matt Licata

 

Authenticity, Awakening, courage, freedom, Joy, Mystery and Magic

This is how I know I’m on the right path

I have recently had an emotional revelation about a certain area of my life, about a longing I have carried with me since childhood, and part of that revelation has been recognizing how the act of simply moving towards that longing has been transformative.

As a child growing up in Calgary, Alberta, I was fascinated by Indigenous peoples. I would even insist to my parents, frequently, that our family had Indigenous ancestry.  My mother assured me repeatedly, that to her knowledge, we definitely did not.  Despite this information, which at the time I found very perplexing, my fascination and longing for connection with Indigenous people and their culture, never really left me.

It may not surprise you to learn, however, that despite this palpable desire, as I got older instead of pursuing it, I learned to ignore it.

And I know I’m not the only one who has disdained all the gentle urgings of my childhood heart, and allowed it to be swallowed up by the beliefs and values of my family, my community, and my culture. I can’t tell you all the reasons I have hesitated to make any true connection with Indigenous teachings, they are many and are related to self-doubt, fear, and active discouragement from those around me which I allowed to stop me, to name but a few.

I can see that at this moment those reasons don’t matter.

Because I have crossed over a self-made wall, to embrace something that seems to have been quietly waiting for me…forever.

So finally, after all these years, this past weekend I reached out to local Indigenous medicine woman who teaches the healing medicine of her people.

As I typed out a request to connect with her, tears started streaming down my face. They were the hot, messy tears that pour out like a waterfall, accompanied by snot and sobs.

I knew then that this longing in me had gone unanswered for far too long.

At last I was taking a first step out onto the path, trusting that “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears” (Rumi).   I do not know if or how I will work with and learn from this Shaman, and as I have just taken a first step I cannot see where the road leads, but regardless I have started the journey and the joy of it is singing through my veins.

And this is how I know that I am on the right path.  In taking action, in giving in to my heart and moving towards something every step felt like light, like healing, like love, like remembering, like coming home and like freedom at the same time.

If you feel moved, if something in you leaps to meet or to create an opportunity — then hold out your hands to it.  If a move towards a longing in your heart brings you to tears, trust this. There is your answer.

For when you move towards it and you are engulfed by an emotion so strong it seems to carry you like a tidal wave to your destination, there is no turning back.

You have found the way.  And you know it with calm certainty.

And as I walk towards what has always been waiting for me, I am filled with joy. I can literally feel a sense of peaceful aliveness humming around me, a vibration like an excited whisper from the trees, the sky the birds, the earth, my soul…she’s coming…she’s coming home to us.

Xo Shona

Note: I can’t write this without acknowledging that part of my more recent struggle to start to explore Indigenous healing traditions lies within the tangled history and prevalence of white privilege and cultural appropriation. Although I feel so connected and drawn to Indigenous culture, I wasn’t sure that I was “allowed” or would even be welcomed as a student of Shamanic practices.  My childhood instincts were lying beneath heavy layers of doubt, hesitation and even shame, which is part of the socio-political energies of these times.  And yet…this longing just won’t go away. It must be answered. And so I begin this journey with deep respect and love in my heart for both the sacred medicine and the Indigenous healers who are willing to share their wisdom with me.

 

Authenticity, Awakening, courage, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

How I found freedom in not being right

I have only recently come to terms with my pernicious need to be right…all the time.  I slowly started to recognize this tendency in me years ago when a particular person came into my life and mirrored the very same behaviour right back at me.  This provided fertile ground for conflict, as part of wanting to be right is its even darker side of insisting then that someone has to be wrong.  And there is just no kindness in that.

In my best moments, I can view this person with the same tendency as me, as a launching pad for growth, even a gift, for without them I never would have become so painfully aware of this part of my personality.

I would have continued to blindly go around making everyone feel small and wrong in order to serve my need to be right.

I can see now that no one was excluded: children, parents, husband, siblings, co-workers, even experts in their fields, at some point I would wear them down and make them concede…that I was right.  Now, because the need to be right has been flung back in my face so many times (literally EVERY SINGLE TIME I was with this person!), I have been forced to deal with it.

And I am flabbergasted at how long it has taken me to give up this habit but I persevere in the effort to let it go. I have an awareness now of when I am falling into “I am rightness” and I am slowly and systematically working on being kind rather then being right.

And I have noticed that, miraculously, as I made room for myself to not be right, it created space around the tension that had existed with this person for so long.

As I let go of the need to be right and – with a deep breath — embraced the possibility and reality that I could be wrong, this person became or certainly seemed less strident in their own need to be right.

It was like we were both stepping back and there was a buffer or a middle ground that offered a different way for us to relate that wasn’t about right and wrong.  The fact was, this person wasn’t pushing so hard to be right because I wasn’t offering something to push against. As often as I can, I just let this person be right…because it feels kinder than pushing back.

I can’t tell you it’s perfect.  I can’t tell you that I never feel the overwhelming urge to be right taking me over…but I can tell you that I am so much more aware of it now, thanks to the presence of this person in my life, and most of the time I can laugh at it and laugh at myself.

And so I’m not always right…but I’m free.

Free in the presence of this person, as I never have been before, and free to appreciate the grace that exists in all the people I know and love who figured this out a long time ago – that they could step back and make room for me to be right, even when I was wrong, because they were choosing to be kind, instead of right.

Xo Shona

Authenticity, Awakening, courage, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation, Women's Work

My struggle to be grateful and how it changed my life

Six years ago, as I was preparing to leave my corporate job and struggling to figure out how and when and why it was all going to work out, I was moved to rekindle my life- long love affair with meditation.

In my struggle to have it all, and do it all (you probably know this story: I tried to work full time at a demanding corporate job, commute into the city, enroll the girls in every evening activity going, and have the perfect home and the perfect outfit) I had become so detached from who I really was and what I really wanted that I felt almost numb.

I knew that one of the easiest ways to reconnect with myself was through the peace and presence of meditation and that when beginning a meditation practice, one of the best ways in is through cultivating genuine gratitude.  I knew that living in gratitude would open my heart and guide my thoughts through the challenges that lay ahead.

What I had not anticipated was how difficult it was going to be for me to feel grateful…for anything.

So, faced with a troubled marriage, mounting debt, numbing depression and a career crisis (so let’s say it felt like my life was literally teetering on the edge of destruction) I sat and tried to connect with what I was grateful for. And it was so unexpectedly hard.  For so long I had allowed myself to focus on what was wrong: wrong with the house, with my husband, with my children, with their school, with the town I lived in, with my work, with the car, with my life, with everything.

I had allowed myself to get into the habit of looking for flaws, and so my life was always full of problems and nothing was ever good enough just as it was.

I rarely experienced the joy of just resting in the life I had built and embracing it with all it’s beauty and cracks.   I can only guess how difficult I must have been to live with at this time, for I can certainly see now how miserable I was making myself and probably everyone around me in my carefully honed pursuit of all that was not just so.

As I sat on my meditation cushion, sometimes with tears streaming down my face, wondering how in the world I had gotten so off course, I kept reaching for gratitude, because I was determined that I was not going to live this way any longer.

I started with things that seemed obvious, but which I unquestionably took for granted. I started with simply being grateful that I had a place to call home.  That my children were healthy.  That we had great neighbors and lived in a safe community. That I had clean water to drink…and coffee.  These are things we can so easily take for granted, but for many they are luxuries to aspire to.

And I kept listing and repeating in my meditations: “I am grateful for this…I am grateful for that….”  And it took a long time, literally weeks, to actually feel what I could identify as genuine gratitude.  I had really gone to the dark side.

I could list the things I was grateful for but it wasn’t reaching my heart.

In truth, for a long time my meditations went like this: “I am grateful for my home…but it needs new flooring and the front door needs painted and my husband hasn’t fixed the railing on the porch yet and here’s another thing about him that frustrates me…”  Yes — it was ugly. But still, I was not willing to live in my self-created darkness anymore.  Only I could dig myself out of this hole.

So I would replace my thoughts with: “I am grateful for my home, with it’s big windows to let in the sun, with it’s old turn of the century charm, which was restored and renovated by my husband, who worked hard at it and did a good job, and I am grateful for that too.”

And then finally, after weeks, probably months, of working at it, I started to feel the energy of gratitude in my body.  It was a gentle hum.  It finally reached my heart and opened it to all the beauty in my life.  Gratitude slowly lifted me out of the black hole I was in, it loosened the crushing grip of my negative thoughts.

Finally, it was gratitude that gave me the power, the light, and the inspiration to find my way forward.

To realize I already had so much in my life that was so good, and I wanted to cherish every single bit of it.

I tell this story in the hope that it may inspire you, if you are in a dark place, to reach for gratitude.  And also to remind myself of the strength and courage it takes to change – to change our thoughts, to change long-standing habits that no longer (or perhaps never) served us, to change our lives.  And to assert that no matter how long you’ve traveled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around.

With gratitude,

Xo Shona