Animals and Nature, Awakening, Joy

Lessons from a dog and a worm on the nature of comfort

While out on the big, empty field down the hill from us – playing fetch with my energetic dog – I have been able to observe one completely fascinating thing she likes to do.

And it has to do with earthworms.

With her incredibly calibrated nose, she is able to find – every time we’re there – a worm hiding just under the grass of this immense park.

I know she has caught the scent of one because she will stop, mid-charge in pursuit of a ball, and proceed to delicately pull this worm out of the earth with her sharp front teeth. Sometimes she ends up chomping the worm in two, and happily swallows one half down.

The other piece of worm is daintily placed on the grass a few inches away from where it was discovered, and then the fun starts: Cici throws herself on to her back, on top of this hapless worm, with wild abandon. She wriggles and squirms and shimmies and rolls all over it until it is truly pulverized.

She gets up to check if it’s mashed up enough and – wanting the job done right – she usually throws herself back down on it and wriggles and rolls some more – just to be sure.

Then, when this joyful task is complete, she positions herself precisely and – stately as a queen – she pees on the worm.

And then she looks up at me, wondering why I’m just standing there and not throwing the ball – because now she’s ready – the Ceremony of the Worm is complete.

I have watched her do this for months, in all kinds of weather, with a kind of wonder, amusement, confusion and I confess – distaste – because I think she is convinced that we will love her new wormy smell as much as she does, and want to welcome her on the couch once we’re home.

She just makes me laugh. I think that apart from eating, this is recently her most favourite thing to do.

So here’s my deep insight about life based on observing my dog do this;

sometimes we just love what we love.

We do the things that bring us comfort even if they’re a little weird, the things that answer some need or call inside us. Things that are just about delighting in our own body, being an animal, and embracing the simple joy of it.

And just as I would never tell my dog to cease and desist with the worm rodeo (not when I see how happy it makes her!) –

I would not suggest that now is the time to deny yourself small, earthy comforts  no matter how “weird” they might seem to others.

Like drinking excessive amounts of herbal tea, or taking a hot bath in the middle of the day, or deciding to stay in bed all day and eat only buttered toast, or wearing your bootie-slippers to the grocery store, because, as Sheryl Crow tells us –

If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.

I will pause here for a moment to ponder the fate of the poor worm in this story – minding his own business on a blustery fall day. Which makes me want to end with this: embrace all the good little things in this life, for if this year has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you’re the dog, and sometimes you’re the worm.

Roll on, my friends, roll on.

Xo Shona

 

 

Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, courage, Joy, Women's Work

Life in the driver’s seat on the road to happiness.

Last week as I was rifling through an old handbag, I came across a tiny yellow plastic giraffe.  I smiled, as this giraffe immediately transported me back to a conversation I had with my friend, Roland, several years ago, when I was still commuting to my corporate job in downtown Toronto.

Roland and I had agreed to meet after work and when we ordered drinks, they both came with a small, plastic giraffe on the edge of the glass.  My giraffe was pink and it was cracked, almost broken in half, barely hanging on, much like myself at that time.  His was yellow and whole, and seeing that mine was broken he gave me his, stating “I think this one is meant for you.”

When I look back on this period in my life, I can see that I was deeply unhappy.

For whatever reason, I felt trapped in a job that was not satisfying, and I was commuting three hours everyday to get to and from that unsatisfying job.  The work and the commute were taking their toll on me and on my family.  I had so little time to spend with my young daughters. I had no time or energy left for my husband, who was facing his own challenges that I wasn’t even aware of.  Our marriage was in trouble.  I was in despair.

This wasn’t the life I had wanted.

I kept asking myself “how did I get here?” and “how do I get out of here?” I didn’t know how or where to begin to move towards something better, or even what “better” might look like. It was as if I had closed my eyes, or put blinders on, and had no vision for my life other than getting through the next commute, work week or month until my next vacation.

Although Roland knew only a fraction of what was going on in my life, he must have seen my misery, for he shared with me, with a kind of divine clarity, two very important things.

The Importance of Accepting What Is

First, in what initially seemed like a random conversation, he told me what his daily morning ritual was.  That when he wakes up every morning, he sits still and looks around and acknowledges everything he can see in his room or apartment.

He told me “I acknowledge everything I have and everything I get to do in my work and personal life.  And I acknowledge everything I am feeling, from gratitude to frustration, all of it.  Because I am responsible for all of it – good and bad.  These things are in my life because of decisions I have made.  I am grateful for all that I have and I accept responsibility for my life, everyday.  And if there is something happening in my life that I don’t like, then I begin by accepting that it’s there, that it’s in my life just as it is.  And only then, when I have accepted it completely, can I begin to change it.”

I was immediately captivated by what he was telling me.  I am sure I sat open mouthed as he went on, feeling like a stone had been thrown into the deep well of my psyche, an inner knowing inside me rippling out to greet the truth of his words. Roland had just handed me a gift, not just a plastic giraffe but a truth I had not thought to seek in a rooftop Milestones in Toronto.

Knowing You’re in the Driver’s Seat

And there was more.  Next, he looked into my eyes and said: You are in the driver’s seat of your life, Shona. Or if you prefer a different analogy, you are writing your own story.  If you can accept that the situation you are in is of your own making (based on conscious and unconscious decisions with both intended and clearly unintended outcomes) then you can accept that only YOU can find a way out of it…by making different choices.   Only you can determine what road you’re going to travel down from here. You are driving this bus.  You can write a new story.  One where you are happy.

And so, clutching my untouched drink with it’s broken pink giraffe, I had an epiphany.  And nothing was the same for me after that moment.
I opened my eyes.
I  began to wake up and see that only by accepting the predicament I was in, and my role in creating it, could I claw my way out of it.

As it turned out, there was a lot of work ahead of me, clarifying what mattered, and what I was willing to give up in order to have what mattered.  And even though some decisions were very, very hard, I reveled in the fact that they were my decisions to make.

I put my hands on the wheel, threw the bus into drive, and took an exit for a road I hadn’t traveled down before.

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
Mae West

I slowly made choices that were better for me and my family.  Although I took a massive pay cut, I found a job closer to home. In fact, I was able to walk my girls down our street and put them on the school bus and then continue walking to work!  For the first few months, I felt like I was on vacation, so much time had opened up in my life.

I won’t lie and tell you that adjusting to a reduced income was easy because often it was very challenging, partly because I didn’t really know how to prepare for it. What always brought me back from the brink of taking my hands off the wheel was remembering that now I had what mattered: time and energy for my children, time to talk with my husband, time to clean my own home and really appreciate it (now that the cleaning lady was gone) and time to think and dream and find myself again.  Time to have a vision for my life that was more than just surviving it.

I showed up for my drink with Roland all those years ago feeling buffeted by life’s circumstances, that life was happening to me and that I was at the mercy of forces beyond my control. But the reverse is true.  We are only trapped if we say we are.

Every day we can choose to create a different life.

We have the power, we really do.  I am not naïve, I know that dark times come to us all, and that hard, unwanted circumstances arrive on our door, sometimes without warning.  What you do in those moments though, what you choose to do in all the moments, is what matters. And while the reality of knowing you are in the driver’s seat is sometimes terrifying it is ultimately liberating.

I have carefully placed the yellow plastic giraffe on a shelf above the desk in my home office.  Giraffes, with their long necks, are creatures of remarkable vision who can see far, who can see all the paths across the savannahs. That giraffe marked the beginning of my awakening, when a wise friend planted in my heart a hope and in my mind a seed of possibility. He knew that the whole, yellow giraffe was for me, as a symbol of what my life could be if I had the courage to put myself in the driver’s seat and follow my vision of a better life.

xo Shona

“You are one decision away from a totally different life.”
— Mark Batterson

 

Authenticity, Awakening, Women's Work

How optimism is the antidote to positive thinking.

I remember as a child watching the 1962 movie The Miracle Worker, based on the true story of how Anne Sullivan was able to break through the young Helen Keller’s walls of silence and teach her to communicate.  While Anne Sullivan’s tenacity and love are clearly moving, this film actually sparked in me a life-long admiration for and fascination with Helen Keller.

Born in 1880 in Alabama, Helen Keller was rendered deaf and blind as an infant from what was likely scarlet fever. Thanks to Anne, Helen learned to communicate through sign language and eventually to read, to write and to speak.  We can only imagine how incredibly dark, confusing and lonely a place young Helen’s world was, until Anne Sullivan arrived on March 5th, 1887 – a day which Helen describes as “my soul’s birthday.” (theattic.space)

Helen Keller went on to become the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She gave talks and lectures all over the world, was the published author of a dozen books and an intellectual hero (certainly she’s my hero!) and one of the most celebrated women of the 20th century.

Who better to write about optimism than Helen Keller?

Long before our era of “positive thinking” and decades before any scientific evidence would appear on the health benefits of optimism, the remarkable Helen with love and grace was writing about optimism as a life philosophy.  “Her essay, simply entitled Optimism was originally published in 1903 and written – a moment of pause here – after Keller learned to write on a grooved board over a sheet of paper, using the grooves and the end of her index pencil to guide her writing.” (Maria Popova)

So I talk to my children about Helen Keller, the little girl imprisoned in silence and darkness whose actions and outlook show us all the way to the light.  And I focus on these two things:

1) How optimism will serve you better in life than positive thinking. Although not yet teenagers, my daughters have heard that it’s important to “think positive” and of course they struggle with this in the face of life’s day to day challenges – and don’t we all?  The plain fact is, that it’s simply impossible, and I would argue unhealthy, to be positive all the time.  In fact, in asking ourselves to be positive all the time, we often stuff down or gloss over the pain and reality of whatever we may be feeling – sadness, guilt, anger, frustration – they all have a place in our lives and are the emotions that help us to develop the skills to navigate the world as it is.

So often we leap into “raising our vibration,” into “fixing” a low feeling that we miss the opportunity that it presents.

Or, to put it more eloquently, in his poem The Guest House, Rumi explains:

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in…
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
Welcome difficulty.
Learn the alchemy
True Human Beings know:
The moment you accept
What trouble you’ve been given,
The door opens.

We have “pathologized the wisdom of the darker, lunar shades of the spectrum” says Matt Licata, we have labelled some of our emotions “bad” and “negative” to our peril.  And in our efforts to be always “up” and sunny and happy-happy we have forgotten the gift of hope – which can only be found in the darkness.  What do you need with hope if everything is always, already great?  To be optimistic is to have confident hope that things will get better, that it wont’ stay hard and dark, that things will change and shift and the sun will rise again.

Optimism: it’s what gets you through the hard, dark times which come to us all.

Few had to work harder or live through darker times than Helen Keller…and perhaps that’s why her light is so bright.

2. My children also know, that for me personally, Helen Keller is my talisman against crippling self-pity. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I allow myself to be inspired by her story.  Quite simply, it gives me hope. If she could accomplish what she did in the face of so many challenges, then how can I possibly think the odds are stacked against me?  I can see, I can hear, I can talk, I have been well educated and I am well fed and comfortable.  All that’s missing is a disciplined mind and a different perspective.

There’s nothing stopping us from living purposeful, intentional, happy lives except ourselves, our limiting beliefs, and our negative self-talk.

Helen Keller knew this and proved this better than anyone I know. And before I am accused of using Helen Keller as a way to “think positive” I can assure you that like you, I have bright days and dark days, days when I am not so proud of myself, days when I weep in sheer frustration and days when frankly I have no idea what I’m doing.  I have been speaking with a gifted Jungian therapist for 15 years because I know I have to explore what makes me uncomfortable, I know that what Susan David asserts in her Ted Talk is true: “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

I choose hope, for in the dark messy weeds of my issues lies the golden light of opportunity and redemption. 

Most days, I am more than willing to work hard at this because like Helen, I am not interested in a falsely positive life, I am interested in a real and meaningful one.

Helen’s ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her life was a superpower. People who heard her speak reported that they felt lighter, even happier after being in her presence.  I can imagine the golden glow of optimism that must have fallen from her like gentle rain on her audience.  How hope, like honey in her veins, kept her going in the quiet, dark but undoubtedly full and happy world that was eventually hers. Against all odds, and indeed because of those odds, Helen Keller was able to bring us the grace and beauty of her optimism.

I often believe that this is what is needed, in a world that seems to be growing ever darker, where we seem to have lost our way, where you could turn to the dark and let it engulf you — can we instead look to the brilliant example of a woman unconquered by darkness, who by the light within her shows the way to the light through optimism.  This is not the endless call to pretend all is well or to give up in the face of pain, but to acknowledge the dark and keep going anyways…with optimism in our hearts, following the light of hope.

xo Shona

Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, Women's Work

How To Be Beautiful…And It’s Not What You Think.

The swan has been haunting me. Coming to me in images, conversations, paintings, cards and books, in synchronicities.

While an actual swan has not flown out of the sky and landed on my lawn, her energy has come forth in other ways no less powerful, to teach me about the true nature of beauty.

How To Be Beautiful

One of the best-known stories about a swan is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, the story of a signet born into a family of ducks, who is cast out because the other animals believe such an “ugly duckling” doesn’t belong with them.

Wherever he goes, he encounters others who question his appearance and shun him for being different.

After encountering a group of elegant white birds, the ugly duckling longs to one day be as beautiful as they are. At the end of a long cold winter, he sees his reflection in the water and realizes that he never was a duck, but that he is in fact a swan.

As Leta Greene reminds us: “The story about becoming beautiful isn’t about the ugly duckling becoming a swan; it is about the ugly duckling realizing it was a swan all along.”

This is an integral part of the energy of the swan.  In essence, she calls us to acknowledge our own inner beauty that was always, already ours.

But more than that, it is in this realization and re-claiming of our inner-beauty where the swan’s transformative healing power awaits.

The Power of Witnessing Our Real Beauty

To be clear, I am not talking about the beauty that comes from plucking, peeling, painting and pushing our bodies into an external ideal of beauty, but about the white-gold beauty that lies within.

In order to access or remember this inner beauty and light, we have to trust and accept what is. That is, we have to accept the body we have been given AND accept the light that lives inside us as our true selves.

Our culture teaches us, especially teaches women, to view our bodies as imperfect, and many of us have in fact been led to hate our bodies as though a body is all we are.

We become transfixed in front of the mirror by what is “wrong”, and we are so busy trying to improve and change our physical appearance that we have not time or energy left to improve or change the world with the power of our own true light.

In their Medicine Cards, Jamie Sams and David Carson tell the story of Swan’s journey into the dreamtime through a black hole where “I learned to surrender my body to the power of Spirit…because of my faith and my acceptance I have been changed. I have learned to accept a state of grace.”

Only when we witness and acknowledge this innate internal beauty in ourselves can its power transform us and come forth for all the world to see.

And I promise you it’s not just in some of us, it’s in all of us.

Once we know this, once we look beyond the surface and into the deep waters of our soul and see reflected there an image of our own true beauty, only then can we claim the power and the gift that Swan offers.

How We Come to Know Our Inner Beauty

What if, instead of attending to the outer, you attended to the inner you?

Entire industries have been built on the backs of our insecurities, on our belief that we are not beautiful just as we are.

We have spent fortunes on gym memberships, control-top panties, creams and lipsticks and all the while ignored the sweet internal call of the swan – drawing us to look at the beauty within.

Recently I have been experimenting with hearing and answering this call.

I worked in the cosmetics industry for many years, and during that time I wore lots of makeup everyday, I used a lot of creams and toners, I worked out, a lot. I groomed, all the time.

Now I sometimes dream about what I would do if I could get back all the hours I spent in front of a mirror.

There is nothing wrong with a healthy, fit body or taking care of your skin and hair. But for too long we have believed ourselves to be imperfect, that what makes us unique makes us ugly, that in our natural state we are not enough.

When We Let Our Light Shine We Give Others Permission to do the Same

And so with the swan’s help I am slowly remembering who I really am. I am returning to a more “natural” state and it feels like coming home.

I no longer insist on perfectly lined lips or perfect hair or a perfectly flat tummy because I am remembering that true beauty comes from a source inside.

And the more I know this and feel it in my core, the more it shows.

It shows in the light shining out from our eyes, our faces, and our words and even from the rhythm of our walk, from our easy smile, from our very being.

And with this light, you can transform the world, for “as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same” (Marianne Williamson).

Do not be obedient to the world that tells you that a thin body and flawless skin are all that matters, and do not believe the self-help industry that tempts you to believe you are broken beyond repair.

Answer the swan song in your heart that asks you to give up your life as a performer and be your true eternally beautiful self springing from a light that cannot be dimmed.

You may feel that I am romanticizing or over-stating the medicine of the swan, but Ted Andrews reminds us that “many tales involving swans end tragically, hinting at the primal life-changing power of beauty when released freely.”

Such is the case in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and in the term “swan song”.  As you may know, a “swan song” is the metaphorical phrase for a final gesture or performance given just before death or the end of a career. The term is based on the legend that a swan sings as it dies, this beautiful sweet song her final creative gift.

Swan asks us to die to who we think we are in order to become our true selves.

We Are So Much More than Our Physical Bodies

Regardless of how we may judge our physical bodies, we posses an inner radiance that attests that we are so much more than we appear to be.

Let Swan remind you of how beautiful you are, of how all else will fall away in the presence of your true, authentic, internal beauty.

She will show you how to be beautiful – how to transform into what you always, already are.

I would love to hear of your own encounters with swans and your own experiences of beauty. And, if you feel called to explore and express you inner radiance, I am here to witness and hold space for your transformation into your own beautiful, authentic self.

xo Shona