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.

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, Mystery and Magic, Women's Work

Standing up to who you are not

I recently made a trip to Germany, a place I had long yearned to visit.  Shortly after I returned, a client asked me if I’d had a significant spiritual experience there, since I’d had such a strong calling to visit that country.

And so I thought about what my answer to her question might be, and I realized that while there were moments in Germany that were truly amazing and awe-inspiring and fun, what was most profound and provided me with the greatest context for growth were the experiences I had relating to the friend I was travelling with.

Over the years I have noticed that my ability to be true to myself is forged through the pressure from other people to be the opposite of who I really am.

In ways both subtle and blatant, friends and family have tried to mold my behaviour and choices, and even outlined what work or career path I am best suited for, usually out of a sense of love or knowing what will be “best for me.”

They have often encouraged me to abandon my innate gifts and adopt highly rational, sensible, and systematic ways of doing things.  While I certainly can be rational and analytical and systematic, it brings me little joy.

The contemplation and eventual pursuit of some of their options always eventually created a feeling of deep sadness and restlessness in my heart.

I have several close friends who are accountants, including the friend I traveled with through Germany.  To be clear, I have nothing but respect for the work that accountants do, theirs is a skill set I lack but I absolutely appreciate how their talents help the world to run. So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that our styles of travelling were different.

Weeks before we left, she made a spreadsheet with dates, times, hotels, bus and train options, and all the costs.  The arrival of this spreadsheet in my inbox nearly paralyzed me.   Over-planning (and I can sometimes be guilty of thinking that ANY planning is over-planning) is something that can bleed the joy and spontaneity out of life, and certainly out of a trip.

We were (for the most part) able to talk and laugh our way through her spreadsheet, ensuring that she had enough planning done for her to feel confident, and that there was enough unplanned time for me to feel that we could live in the moment while visiting Germany.

This was one of the first hurdles conquered, as I am often guilty of staying silent and slowly allowing myself to get frustrated in situations like this.  We were able to see right away how we were different, and as it turns out, we traveled really well together, and we were eventually able to appreciate what the other brought to the table.

And so part of my insight was in seeing first hand and appreciating the times when planning really did make our trip better.  My friend was an expert at using her phone to find excellent restaurants (every time!) and to navigate the rail system.  We hit all the places we wanted to see, and I know we may have got no further than the airport in Frankfurt if it hadn’t been for her.

At the same time, when things didn’t go to plan, I was able to problem solve on the fly, without my phone, using a sense of direction to help us find our hotel, connecting with people who “I just had a feeling” wanted to help us when our train was cancelled.

But at times I struggled yet again with where I fit into a world that values and applauds the plan, the rational, the system, the map, the strategy, the schedule, the app, the efficiency.

Often in my life I have felt that what I bring to the table is lost, or not valued:  the improvisation, the spontaneity, the sitting quietly in trust knowing that the answer will reveal itself.  The joy of the big, wide, open unplanned path and feeling your way along it.  Knowing the journey through Germany and through life is going to take on a life of it’s own, if we let it.

That there has to be room for uncertainty in order for there to be room for joy. 

I have to appreciate who I am first, before anyone else can.

And then, right there in Germany, I realized, re-learned, remembered again, in the face of a force asking me to be something I’m not — that these are qualities that I have to appreciate and value in myself first.

And that the appreciation has to go both ways.  I can and do adopt some of the strategies that planners use in order to reach my goals and achieve my dreams, but I am learning to adopt these qualities as needed to support me in the pursuit of the work I love.  Like the subtle dance between my travelling companion and I to achieve a wonderful journey together, I know that the balance and appreciation for both the heart and the mind, for the intuitive insight and the spreadsheet, is key.

And my friend, who knows herself well, told me this: she could plan it all out and still hesitate, still not jump into action, out of fear of missing a detail or that something could go wrong.  I was the one who helped her jump, she said, who helped her trust in the moment and know that things would work out if we just took the first step.

And that little insight lit me up.

How I learn to define and remain true to myself has been through relationships with others who urge me to be the opposite.

This has certainly been an ongoing pattern in my life. And while I could feel frustrated and angry with the people I thought were trying to thwart my true expression, they were actually gifts.

They helped me to hone and define exactly what is important and exactly who I am by identifying who I am not, and for them I am eternally grateful.

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