A Slow Burn … and … The 2016 Christmas Chronicles!

It was such a slow burn.  It was so slow that it was almost imperceptible for years.  At times, I could vaguely feel the heat and on occasions I certainly sensed some scorching … but generally, I didn’t take much notice. I simply fanned all the flickers firmly out of my awareness.

It was an implicit and somewhat insidious pattern of behavior that developed so early on in my life.  My gaze was focused outward … my attention turned towards others. I was perpetually hurrying and scurrying to warm others … to make sure they were happy … endlessly endeavoring to earn their love and affection.  And I unwittingly thought that my efforts were keeping me warm too.  And, I guess they did … to some small degree … but those flames were also singeing the edges of my soul. Parts of me were slowly burning out.

strong-but-exhaussted

As a child growing up in a pretty dysfunctional home, I had erroneously assumed that if I could ensure that others were warm, cozy and happy (only ALL of  them) … they in return, would keep me warm and cozy too.  It didn’t always turn out that way. In fact, for the most part, for the better part of my recollection …  very few folks have actually noticed if/when I was left shivering. Not that anyone knew how I really felt. I always put a smile on my face regardless of how I was feeling. It might have been wiser to simply ask for help … but then again … the ‘strong’ ones don’t tend to admit when they we are cold.  No, we’re “fine”.  Arghhhhh.

Source unknown

As I discussed in another blog, part of the problem was A Tragic Misunderstanding on my part, but it’s always harder to see the picture clearly when you are inside the frame … even if you are a master’s level counsellor. Gah!! After decades of discounting, deferring and/or dismissing my own needs, I got to the point where I could no longer ignore the unfavorable build up of cold ash that was slowly stifling my spirit and snuffing out the bright light of my internal flame.  I was doggone depleted. And my usual efforts to toss another log at my internal flame flicker were simply not enough to re-ignite it anymore. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to warm anyone unless I took time to rekindle the embers of my inner spark.

Yes … as some wise soul pointed out … ‘you can burn yourself up trying to give light to others.’ And so … I decided I needed to take a break from my usual way of showing up in the world … both professionally (as a counsellor and life coach) and personally (as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, friend etc).  I needed to take some time away from tending to others (in general), and instead, focus upon finding more ways to warm my own charred spirit. I decided to call it my ‘sabbatical’ … because a sabbatical is when you take time away from your usual responsibilities in order to focus upon something else or learn something new.  I spoke about it more specifically in another blog entitled  The Gift of Personal Renewal.  Yes. I seriously needed to unlearn my default pattern of putting myself last.

In my profession, we are schooled about the increased probability of “burnout”, “compassion fatigue” and/or “vicarious trauma”  As a result, I have always protected myself from these potential perils by ensuring I get enough sleep, eating nutritiously (well — mostly!),  exercising my body (walking, yoga) and other forms of ‘self care’ (massage and reflexology and solitude) …  but it had gotten to the point where the drains on me personally from 2015 through 2016 were reducing the benefits of these professional safeguards.  Ultimately, they were no longer adequate nor sufficient to nourish my soul.

So, for my sabbatical, I opted to amp up my own self-care considerably. And, in an effort to optimize my efforts towards personal renewal, I also decided to opt-out of doing things that had  typically become my responsibility.  That included Christmas! Yes. I decided to surrender the extra responsibilities, obligations, expectations and work load that had become an inherent part of the Season for me. If I am going to be totally transparent, I recognized that over the past 20 years Christmas had been losing its luster for me. I was feeling increasingly burdened by the duties I put upon myself to deliver a delightful Christmas experience for my family. And, even more than that … I was seriously wondering what it be like to have Christmas magically unfold before you.  Yes … I was aching to have someone else doing all the fussing and bothering in order to make it merry and bright for me.

I explained myself and asked my husband to take a turn and do what I do every year. It felt like a bold move … but I reckoned that it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for him to shoulder the responsibilities … for just this one time … out of our 40 Christmas celebrations together.  And, if the whole truth be known … part of me needed the break, but another part of me wanted him to get a serious sense of how much time and energy it takes to make it all jolly every year. In fact, I laughed out loud when I read the following on Pintrest because it pretty accurately described my hubby’s level of involvement as, year after year, Christmas magically (i.e. easily and effortlessly) rolled out before him.

dad-has-no-idea

After my mom and dad split up when I was twelve, my mom did the very best she could on our welfare budget … but I always dreamed of enjoying those Hallmark holiday celebrations that I was convinced all the two parent kids were having.  And so, year after year, I have been wholeheartedly invested in creating the kind of Christmas for my family that I had always most wanted myself. Yes, I was determined to make my dreams for the ideal Christmas come true for them … year after year after year. 

And so, over the years, I had developed numerous heart-warming traditions for our little family. I joyfully adorned every corner of the house and decorated the tree with unparalleled zeal and stuffed all the stockings for our daughters (and eventually their partners) … each with their own special color/pattern of Christmas wrap. I carefully selected and wrapped gifts for each of the teachers with oodles of ribbons and bright, beautiful bows. I took the lead role in organizing our effort to anonymously deliver gifts to the doorstep of someone we chose for the 12 Days of Christmas. I also mailed out five or six dozen handwritten and personalized Christmas cards on our family’s behalf. I spent hours dipping hand-made chocolates (both dark and milk) in a variety of flavored fondant (peppermint, almond, coffee, maple walnut, rum & butter, peanut butter, etc) along with Olympian cremes (rolled in toasted coconut or chopped nuts) as well as  soft, chewy caramels and licorice toffee individually wrapped in red or green foil too. I boxed them and wrapped up the lids in festively colored paper and completed the presentation with a legend identifying all the flavors. And they were deelicious!!  I artistically iced, at minimum, 12 dozen homemade Gingerbread cookies (in various Christmas cutouts) for sharing in our annual cookie exchange. And, every year, I made a double batch of the shortbread recipe that became our family favorite (from the cookie exchange!).  I often bottled up home-made Baileys and, for many years, I created huge shortbread wreaths to give out as tokens of my appreciation to honor my friends.  Sheesh … I even have an old pic of those yummy gems!

shortbread-wreath

It was also very important to me to spearhead my daughter’s understanding of the true Christmas spirit as one focused upon ‘giving’ rather than just ‘receiving.’ To that end, I helped and encouraged them to fill ‘Shoe Boxes’ for the less fortunate.  And, in an effort to pay it forward from my own childhood memories, I always faithfully donated to ‘Toys for Tots.’ I always tried to get things done early in the season (October  or November) because I had to commute 80 kilometers/50 miles (often on crappy winter roads) to the nearest city.  And … I had figure out how to surreptitiously purchase all the gifts with my three little gals in tow (childcare was not an option). Somehow I pulled the wool over their eyes so the ‘believers’ didn’t catch on … year after year after year.

I also remember navigating the shopping mall chaos and standing as patiently as possible so our sweet little girls could leave their requests with Santa.  I will never forget the year that my two daughters both changed their minds (at the last minute!) about what they wanted for Christmas!!  It was during the Care Bear craze of the early 1980s and perhaps all the advertising had finally gotten to them. No one was more surprised than me when they unexpectedly asked Santa for Care Bears. What??  Unfortunately, by that point in the season, there was not a Care Bear to be found in any store anywhere on this planet!  So what was a doting momma to do??  I ended up purchasing an official Care Bear pattern and spent hours sewing up two facsimile bears … a ‘Cheer’ Bear for Tiana and a ‘Tenderheart’ Bear for Sherisse. I hoped they would look authentic and real enough to pass their inspection.

carebear-delight

Yep.  I clearly nailed it. The sheer delight on Tiana’s face tickled my heart clear down to my toes. We still have both those blessed bears in our grandchildren’s toy box. The years have not been kind to them … but for the very best of reasons.  I don’t think they get much, if any, attention anymore. I’m guessing our grandchildren think they are downright ugly … but …  I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them! And, although they were just homemade imitations of the store-bought Care Bears … there is no doubt that those ‘replicas’ certainly became real in my daughter’s hearts.  As Margery Williams stated in The Velveteen Rabbit:

[Real is something] you become. It takes a long time … Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes don’t see as well and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”

care-bears-collage

Oh my … the sweet riches of making Christmas’s past as merry as possible cannot be denied. I mailed off special care packages (dutifully heeding the Canada Post deadlines for delivery) filled with small tokens of love for my father and step-mother … usually a banana loaf or some homemade cranberry fudge … some hand-crafted ornaments … and maybe some pics of our growing girls to add to their grandparent’s ‘Brag Book’ (we had no internet/social media connections back then).  I made the annual wife-saver (eventually two of them – one savory and one sweet) preceded by warm gooey cinnamon buns (fresh out of the oven) on Christmas morning. I have typically hosted Christmas Day at our house for the last quarter century … ever since my Aunt Mil passed away … and so I’ve roasted the bird and/or the ham with all of the fixings.

We always spent Christmas Eve with my in-laws because it was my mother-in-law’s birthday. I leaned in to help as much as I could on Christmas Eve too because my mom-in-law was disabled and the bulk of the work fell upon her only daughter.  And, of course, the annual Christmas tasks were not complete until the turkey carcass was simmering in the crock pot and the homemade TV dinners were assembled into pie shells with all the leftovers (the brilliant idea of my sweet sister-in-law!). And then … I typically led the charge in cleaning it up … always grateful for whatever support was offered.  As I itemize all the ‘work’ I’ve invested in the Christmas preparation and execution, I have to concede that it has not been without a strong element of martyrdom sneaking in over the last two decades. And so, when I saw the following sign on a Facebook page of a young millennial, I could clearly relate … and … realized that it wasn’t just me that often felt this way.

exhausted-from-watching-me-do-everything

Little by little, over the decades, I have stopped doing most of it. We’ve grown in numbers and it’s just so much harder to ensure everyone is warm and happy. I have continued to fill all the stockings and decorate the house, make the meals and be attentive for when I needed to put out trays of appetizers.  These days, my husband roasts a Prime Rib in the smoker and my grown daughters contribute to the meal preparations and my sons-in-law help with the clean up and my oldest grand-daughter helps me prepare the ooey-gooey cinnamon buns.  And so, of late, my biggest concern has been that I’m typically bouncing up and down during the Christmas morning gift opening (to tend to things that needed doing) that I feel like I miss out on witnessing the joy as my family unwraps the gifts I have invested my heart into getting for them.

So, in 2016, I was eagerly anticipating simply sitting back and let it all unfold effortlessly in front of me.  There was a part of me that delighted in the thought that because Christmas was ‘on him’ this year, my hubby would have the opportunity to invest countless hours and oodles of energy into making it a Hallmark kind of Christmas for me.  I suspected that I would deeply savor the experience.  Yes.  I had a lot of hopes riding on switching things up. Ha. Ha. I can hear you all wisely wincing at the ‘set up’ I created for both him and me.

That said, I do hold some very special memories of Christmas past where I was on the receiving end of the fussing and bothering. One of my all time favorite memories was during the era that we were hand-making our gifts for each other (to resist the commercialization of the Season).  Anyway, I was reduced to tears the year that our daughter Sherisse handcrafted stockings for her dad and I!!  And then … she and her sisters filled them with gifts for us … so we could join them in our annual stocking opening!  It still remains one of the kindest and most meaningful gestures I can remember.  We continue to use those stockings and my heart secretly smiles with warmest recollection of their thoughtfulness every time I see them.

Another one of my other most favorite Christmas memories of the Season being made merry and bright for me is when my husband loaded up our little girls and drove 20 miles to pick out a fresh, live tree that easily reached our 10 FOOT ceilings.  It most majestically replaced the scrawny little five foot fake one we had been using!  Honestly, I remember it being the most extraordinary tree I had ever seen!!  The scent of spruce filled our home!!  I even had to make a whole schwack of red and white bows out of some ribbon I happened to have on hand because I simply didn’t have enough ornaments for a tree of such magnitude!  It was beyond my wildest dreams!

best-christmas-tree-ever-1988

And well … I dug up an old photo so I could show you.  All I can say is that the picture does not even remotely do any kind of justice to just how much that tree warmed my heart and nourished my spirit!!! I get toasty all over again just thinking about it. ❤

At any rate, it was quite interesting to turn the baton entirely over to my husband and wait for him to commence the merry making. Staying out of it and keeping my mouth shut was more challenging than I expected. He picked out the tree on the first weekend in December (as per our usual) and got it standing up in the house on the 6th.  It smelled quite beautiful.  I was heading out of town on the 8th and 9th … and … I fantasized that I would return home to a brightly lit and beautifully decorated tree. But …  no such luck.

I could have decorated it myself, but remember … I was on sabbatical.  And … I knew that if I did that I would have really resented my husband (for my martyring actions) because we had agreed it was his turn to make it merry around here.  So, as excruciating as it was to let it stand there dark and naked for over another week, I forced myself to dwell in the discomfort until he decided to do it.  And, I noticed … he chose not set himself on fire in order to meet our long-standing traditions and/or my expectations around timelines.  It was finally decorated 10 days before Christmas. christmas-tree-2016

He got it done while I was enjoying some sabbatical self-care  … I was getting a pedicure.  He really did a beautiful job of decorating it. And … he commented on how many marvelous memories came back to him as he dressed the tree with all the ornaments we have received from our girls and/or picked up over the years along on our travels.  Our tree really did look quite lovely!  It does not escape me though, as I write this, that the tree that most warmed my heart (with all the red and white handmade bows) was not anywhere near as ‘pretty’ as this one.  I guess it’s really true what they say … looks aren’t everything.

Our tree is in the living room, but we gather in our family room (near the fireplace) to open gifts on Christmas morning.  As you can see from the pics below, my idea of “decking the halls” is a little different than my husband’s.  I have to concede that his lack of interest in decorating the family room irked me a bit.  I really missed the lights … BUT … it was really interesting for me to observe, once again, that because he was very busy at work, he was not inclined to set himself on fire tending to things that I have always thought were essential.  In fact, for the first time in over 20 years, he also opted NOT to put up outdoor lights on the front of the house.  He did get some up in the backyard, though, and they looked gorgeous twinkling in the moonlight.

decorating

Once again … keeping my mouth shut and letting him do Christmas his way was much harder than I expected. Yes, with boxes of decorations left undisturbed in the basement, our tree was the SOLO sign of the Season in our house until December 21st … when the decorations unexpectedly doubled!!  We received a gorgeous glitter dusted poinsettia in a beautifully spirited ‘pay it forward’ exchange that one of our next-door neighbors inspired in our cul-de-sac.  Thank you for that Mandy!

poinsettia

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While I could have tendered this task over to my hubby, I jumped at the opportunity to savor the Christmas spirit tucked into that neighborly invitation myself.  I got directly into the car and headed downtown to pick up a little something to take over to the neighbor to our ‘right’.  Honestly, it felt so good to be doing something Christmassy.  And, as luck would have it, while I was at it, I ended up tripling the decorations in our home (and fueling my Christmas spirit!) by purchasing a Christmas wall hanging (that was 50% off!!).  The message completely captured my heart!  Fa la la la la … la la la la.

wall-hanging

Yes. It was becoming clearer and clearer to me that many of the joys I usually experienced during the Season were clearly tucked into the spaces between the holiday tasks and toilings!  And, I must share that watching my husband delegate the holiday tasks to others was also very eye opening for me!  He had no problem enlisting my three grown daughters to help with his stocking shopping. I actually felt a bit guilty because I certainly didn’t mean for their workload to go up because I had surrendered mine.  They reassured me, however, that they had quite enjoyed helping him out.

I did, however, secretly worry that their compassionate efforts to help their dad were somehow going to sabotage his appreciation for how much time and effort I actually invested in the annual merry making. I didn’t want them to make it too easy for him! I also suspected that daddy’s little girls might rescue the old boy with the cooking and kitchen duties too!  But, as it turned out … my three sons-in-law stepped right up to the plate and helped out immensely with ALL the cooking and cleaning.  I played games while they slaved away.

I had to silence the critic in my head that niggled at me relentlessly … suggesting I should get up and help. I reminded myself that I was supposed to be on sabbatical. And so, I tried to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself throughout the whole season. I did, however, pick up the donation for Toys for Tots. I didn’t want to risk it falling off my husband’s radar. I also printed out the sticky cinnamon bun recipe as well as the wife-saver recipe for him. As it turned out, though, he opted to make a full breakfast of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and pancakes instead.  It was absolutely scrumptious, and although it meant much more work and clean up on Christmas day, the boys did it the way they preferred.  And, guess what?  I just sat back and thoroughly enjoyed all their fussing and bothering and kept my mouth shut about how much quicker the clean up would have been with just one pan each from the wife-savers!

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, at one point however.  I felt obliged to remind my husband that he also needed to purchase gifts for our eight grandchildren.  I’m not sure why that task caught him by surprise, but it did. Ultimately, he met up with a couple of his daughters  and they helped him choose some gifts that were really big hits with the grandkids!

Yes, he was doing Christmas his way.  Perhaps my biggest surprise was when he told me he was going to pick up some gift certificates for our son-in-law’s stockings for fancy hot shaves from Tommy Gunns.  He added, quite nonchalantly, that while he was at it, he might indulge himself in a hot shave himself.

Whattt???  The voice in my head balked loudly!How on earth was he ever going to appreciate how much effort goes into making it merry and bright if he was going to find ways to enjoy and nourish himself while he was at it??”

Yes. I know. It does not escape me just how ridiculous that sounds as I say it out loud. Bah. Humbug. I wasn’t sure whether to be cranky … or … to simply recognize that I was being seriously schooled in how I could very well have been seizing more peace and joy for myself all of these years!  Here I had been hoping he would get a deeper sense of how much elbow grease it takes to put smiles in the hearts of others … and instead … I was learning, over and over, that you are not required to set yourself on fire to warm others.  Gahhh.

All in all, though, I think he did gain a better idea of how challenging it could be … in the long run. There was a bit of a snafu with his efforts to stuff the stockings.  Because it had been so frigidly cold here, I had packed up a big bag with all my winter weather wear to keep in the car while traveling.  I’ll spare you all the details, but I discovered that my toque and mitts had been earmarked as stocking stuffers!  It was so darn tempting to not alert him of this error … to simply let the chips fall … and let my daughter find some of her mother’s old winter wear gifted to her in her stocking.  But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on this one. I felt compelled to save him. Nonetheless, it’s a faux pas that will go down in history!

And … when it finally occurred to my hubby that maybe he should be stripping the beds and laundering the linens for our extra 13 overnight guests, it only took him a few seconds to reckon that the sheets couldn’t be that dirty since the last time our family stayed over.  Once again, I observed how he was not catching himself on fire to keep others warm. And, you know what?  Everyone slept fine … in those sheets that had not been freshly washed and dried and tucked with crisp hospital corners around the mattresses.

And so … I started to question myself: “Maybe … just maybe … I never needed to do all the fussing and bothering that I believed was such an essential part of Christmas??  Was it possible that I had been burning myself up unnecessarily?

And, in all honesty, I also have to concede that my lack of involvement was just not as nourishing as I thought it would be.  It is simply not my nature to watch from the sidelines.  And … I also recognized, just as the plaque I bought suggested, that much of the Christmas spirit is tucked into the moments between completing all the tasks.  I did offer to help my husband wrap everything … 64 gifts in all … 54 stuffers (9 for each daughter/son-in-law), 8 gifts for the grand-kids and one gift exchange item for each of us. It would have been torture to watch him fumbling with the gift wrap by himself with his fat sausage fingers.  It ended up being quite enjoyable … we cranked up the Christmas tunes and sipped on a nice Cabernet-Sauvignon while we cut and taped and chatted about Christmas’s past.

And then, a day or two later, I literally jumped at the invitation to travel into the city and help my busy daughters wrap their children’s stocking gifts.  I also toted them all home so our grandkids wouldn’t catch sight of any of them in transit to our house. It’s getting harder and harder to uphold the spirit secret of ‘Santa’ as they grow older.  In fact, my bright little 5 year old granddaughter reluctantly but earnestly admitted to her mother “I don’t trust you fully” as she skeptically questioned the whole notion of Santa. It was just no longer adding up for her.  It was an interesting year for my eldest grandson too. Even though, at eleven, he had already given up ‘believing’ … he became suspicious this year when he and sisters each received an iPad equivalent from ‘Santa’.  He reckoned that Santa might indeed have to exist after all.  As he shared with his mom, “I know you and Dad would NEVER get these for us!” Ha ha.

And so, in 2016, a believer becomes a doubter  … and … a doubter flirts with becoming a believer.  Yep.  These are all the priceless moments that catch your heart and make your spirits soar!  And … during my sabbatical, all of my perspectives were being challenged too. It was becoming so clear that the joys that are tucked ‘in-between’ all the toiling and tasking are part of what makes it all merry and bright. And I was learning that it was possible to do so … without catching yourself on fire.

I learned so very, very much during my sabbatical! “In the final analysis” (as I fondly recall my father often saying) … I learned that I was absolutely right: If I didn’t  fuss and bother to do it all, it wouldn’t get done ……… at least not the way I thought it should.  Truth. But … I also learned that perhaps it wasn’t all necessary in the first place.

Yes.  “In the grand scheme of things” (another dad~ism) …  I came to recognize that the multiple and myriad ways I had martyred myself over the years … with the intention of making it merry for others … was pretty much misguided and somewhat unnecessary.  Who knew you could have a completely marvelous time unwrapping gifts in an entirely undecorated room?  Ha Ha. And, although no one baked the annual shortbread cookies … we ended up enjoying all kinds of baking that had been gifted to my eldest daughter. She brought them home for us to share. And, it turned out that my youngest daughter ended up making the ‘Melt-In-Your-Mouth Eggnog’ cookies I had tasted at our staff Christmas luncheon.  These cookies might even de-throne the traditional shortbread as the best cookies for Christmas consumption.  Deeelicious!!!.

Recipe Source: Pintrest … slightly adapted from allrecipes.com and inspired by Parent Pretty

And, what became most evident to me during my sabbatical was that the things that make the season truly merry and bright showed up … our children and their children. Yep. Everything that was essential and important was present.  And, no one had to set themselves on fire to feel the warmth and peace of the holiday.   Oh … and by the way … the clean up is a snap when you most of your decorations are still in the boxes downstairs.

And so, another year has passed by so quickly … and … I am happily back in the ‘make it merry’ saddle again for Christmas 2017.  And, I am realizing that I need to put up lights in the family room because I LIKE LIGHTS.  Not because of some notion that they will brighten Christmas for my family.  I am recognizing that I need to do the things that nourish the spirit of the Season for me … and … drop all the rest.  And … I am, once again, thoroughly enjoying the ambiance created by the lights in the family room this year.

Yes.  My ‘sabbatical’ taught me a whole lot and was deeply transformational for me in terms of the way I am approaching Christmas this year.  I had hoped some of the lessons learned during my sabbatical would be for my husband … and … I think there were some of those too.  But, I see that the greatest ‘ahas’ were for me.  And,  for the first time in many, many years … the preparations don’t feel like a weighty, daunting task. I am greeting them with renewed enthusiasm and zeal.  I am realizing that there is absolutely nothing that MUST be done in any particular way.  And most importantly … I really like the way it feels to fully embrace the notion that I am not required to set fire to myself to have a very delightful Christmas.

And … I am reminded, as 2018 waits eagerly around the corner, that I can show up in a way that keeps me from shivering.  I can ask for help … I can let some things go … I can give myself and my own needs some priority. And not just at Christmas … but the whole year through.

May all our hearts be warmed during the 2017 merry making  – without any singeing of our souls  …  ❤ Karen ❤

 

 

 

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Filled with PRIDE …

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Marching with the Taber Equality Alliance PRIDE FEST PARADE 2016  Lethbridge

I marched, for the very first time, in the 2016 PRIDE FEST PARADE in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada  … the largest city nearby where I live in rural Southern Alberta.  I feel badly that it took me so long to do so, because as a social worker, I made a professional commitment to resist social injustice by advocating for those who are relegated to the margins of the dominant mainstream majority. As it states in the final line of my social worker declaration:

“I will act to effect social change for the overall benefit of humanity.” 

And honestly … I not only see sociopolitical activism as my professional responsibility, but as a result of my extensive studies in anti-oppression, it has also become a personal passion to ensure that each and every one of us feels a sense of respect, love and acceptance in our lives … despite any perceived differences between us.  We certainly don’t have to agree on things and/or walk the same paths to be kind and compassionate with one another.

As an ally, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived to march in the parade … but I can tell you that being a part of the incredible PRIDE movement was deeply meaningful to me.  It touched me in ways that I could never have anticipated … and … that are exceptionally hard to describe with these words. You might get a wee sense of the sublime joy stirring in my soul from the smile showing on my face in the picture. My enthusiasm reflects the honor and pride I felt in waving the rainbow flag … both as an act of resistance to ‘othering’ and as an allied voice for inclusion.

It’s difficult to describe the energy of acceptance, joy, love and connection that was both particularly potent and entirely palpable during this event. It struck me that it didn’t really matter who you were … straight, queer, gay, lesbian, trans, bi-sexual, older, younger, married, single, white, black, brown, red, able-bodied or differently-abled.  There was such a rich and deep sense of appreciation for all of our humanity … in all its diverse expressions and equally divine incarnations. I sensed that each and every person in attendance was marinating in this undeniably warm, accepting and welcoming atmosphere.  It was clearly a safe place for folks to stand tall in the fullest expression of who they know themselves to be.

No apologies nor concessions were required in order to feel approved of … and/or … to be valued and recognized and acknowledged and appreciated. I can’t honestly remember being in any other social situation where I sensed such a complete lack of judgment. It seemed so unusual because, quite frankly, although unconditional love is loudly lauded in our culture … in reality … it seems relatively rare for one to actually experience it.  In fact, it strikes me that it can be quite challenging to find a space where people simply connect soul to soul … where hierarchies are suspended, differences are duly honored and each individual gets to feel unequivocally respected as an equally significant member of our human family.

The reality is that because I am a straight, married, white, middle-class, able-bodied, well-educated professional woman I can wander about my life enjoying an ample allowance of cultural acceptance simply because I visibly fit so comfortably into the dominant mainstream.  Not everyone is afforded this unearned grace. I reside in a very small rural town (about 8400 people) boasting a fairly homogeneous heterosexual, white, patriarchal, hard-working, family oriented and conservative Christian majority.  There is nothing problematic about that … unless you don’t happen to visibly ‘fit’ within that demographic majority … because it’s really hard to be anonymous here … unless you are good at hiding.  And, my heart aches because I know there are folks ‘hiding’ out in our little town because, in some way, they do not reflect dominant mainstream cultural norms.  Sadly, I’m aware that those who identify within the LGBTQ+ (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus more) demographic may feel obligated to trade their personal ‘authenticity’ for the safety of small town cultural ‘approval’.  Yes. It can feel like one or the other for many folks. Many may feel pressured to hide the truth of their differences in exchange for a semblance of acceptance.

In fact, even speaking up so publicly in support of the LGBTQ+ community makes me feel somewhat vulnerable because I risk losing some of the safety and acceptance I currently garner from Taberites who perceive me to be solidly aligned with the dominant, mainstream beliefs of the Christian majority.  But I have to admit that, I too, have been hiding a bit.  I have been relatively silent in the public domain about my own sociopolitical convictions for far too long. It is time, however, as a constructivist, feminist, social worker that I stand in solidarity with those whose voices have been muted and marginalized.

From what I have come to understand, June is recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month due to a rally that took place in 1969 which was touted as the first major demonstration for gay rights.  And so, much to my own chagrin, here I am … finally joining those who have been speaking up for almost 40 years in support of the LGBTQ+ cause.

Yes.  At this point, my relative silence is starting to feel like a betrayal of human rights in general. It feels both essential and necessary to utilize some of my mainstream power and privilege to publicly support those don’t feel safe enough in our community to come out of hiding.  I sense it is important to do so, because it is common for our town locals to believe that we don’t have any members of the LGBTQ+ community living here.  They assume that the LGBTQ+ population resides only in the bigger centers.  And while it is entirely possible that many members of the LGBTQ+ community do, in fact, move away in order to live more honestly and authentically … the Forum Research Poll from 2012 estimates that approximately 5% of adults aged 18 – 59 in Alberta identify within the LGBTQ+ community.  That means, that of the 8428 people residing here … 421 may not identify as heterosexual or cisgender. And, as also noted in the Taber Times (our local newspaper) on April 5, 2017   … “of those numbers, some 194 could be students or youth (based upon a population of school age children and youth of 3, 879)”  And so, if we are not ‘seeing’ obvious evidence of this diversity in our town, then we can assume these adults, youth and children are working hard at ‘hiding’ their differences.

A couple of years  ago, I was super excited to learn that a local group had been started (in our small, rural town) called The Taber Equality Alliance (TEA).  The mission of this coalition is to create a safe space in our community for sexual and gender identity minorities and their allies.  This alliance is focused upon building a more welcoming and inclusive community through engagement, partnerships, social groups and advocacy.  I instinctively knew this initiative was something I wanted to be a part of.  We meet on a monthly basis and are slowly growing in both allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+.  Our membership hit 135 people in May of 2017!  And … we are committed to gaining more visibility in our small rural community. A while back we gained some good press coverage when we acquired our ‘Society Status’.

After participating in the Pride Parade in Lethbridge Alberta, we determined that it would serve our cause well to raise our visibility in our little town.  Our first event was a fundraiser and silent auction.  It was a great evening for LGBTQ+ members and their allies to come out and connect.  And then … we got even braver and decided to put a ‘float’ into our own little community parade.  I wasn’t able to attend but our members donned their new white TEA shirts … and then … we also competed in the Chili Competition at our infamous Taber Cornfest Celebration in August of 2016.

And even though the clouds rained on our parade … the downpour never dampened our spirits!!

Recently, we determined that we should host our own PRIDE event … right here in our own little neck of the woods.  Our delegation of 22 people entered the officious Council Chambers of the Town of Taber to request that the PRIDE flag be raised on June 12th and then allowed to fly until June 30th.  This time frame represents five percent of the year to symbolically  honor the five percent of the community that identify as  part of the LGBTQ+ community.  Two of our delegates were seated up front to provide our presentation to the seven Town of Taber Councillors.  One of our members who identifies as transgender spoke candidly about the pain she experienced:

“The first time I attempted suicide, I was 10 years old.  I had been led to believe that how I felt was wrong and sinful.  I felt a great deal of shame for feeling things I did not understand or control. If I could not be a girl, then I didn’t want to live at all. I hated myself for how I felt, and the fact that I could not be normal. I went into the kitchen and pulled the biggest knife I could find from the drawer.  I held it to my chest and struggled with myself. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take my own life.  I placed the knife back in the drawer and went to my room.  I couldn’t end my suffering.  I felt completely and utterly trapped in this wretched life.

This wasn’t the only time I attempted. Every day I think about killing myself. It has taken a long time, but I have now finally been able to learn to love and accept myself.  Not as a boy or as a girl but as a being.  I’m now okay with being transgender and wear it as a badge of honor.  My hope is that through the efforts of TEA, we are able to help prevent someone else from going through the same misery that I have felt.”

I have to admit I was a bit dumbfounded to witness these two beautiful souls courageously expressing such achingly hard truths …  from the bottom of their hearts straight to to the tops of the Councillors down-turned heads. Although two of the politicians were visibly engaged and consistently sustained eye contact with our delegates, the majority of them were focusing their attention on the documents on their desks. Perhaps they had not yet read the package we had forwarded to them well in advance of the meeting? Perhaps this is common practice in the political arena? Perhaps I am just too old school …?  I have no idea, but I really struggled to make sense of what I was observing.  In this culture, from the time we are children, we are socialized to look at people when they are talking to you. It is perceived as a sign of respect.  It just doesn’t feel like people are really listening … nor interested in hearing you … when you don’t have their eyes.

It took a couple of motions before they agreed (by a very slim margin of 4-3) to permit us to raise the rainbow flag on a pole behind the Town Office. We had petitioned to raise it in front of the office where it would get more visibility on one of our main streets. It was suggested by one of the politicians that TEA should be “accepting” of their decision. It struck me as kind of ironic that we, the minority, were the ones being admonished to be ‘accepting’. It’s entirely paradoxical because the central issue perpetually facing marginalized groups and minorities (over time and across history) is that they have been silenced by the those in positions of power. And therefore, for the most part, they have had little option but to ‘accept’ the will of majority.

In the final analysis, however, we choose to see this as a small victory and, ultimately, a step in the right direction.  And … we will persist.

Margaret Mead

For some reason, it also seems germane to mention that prior to the meeting, I had noticed that one of the town Councillors had a sign posted in his front yard saying “Protect pre-birth rights.”  It was tempting to hope this meant he might be equally committed to also protecting ‘post’ birth rights … but he voted against both motions … adding verbally, with a slightly perceptible shake of his head, that he could not support this initiative. I do understand that the objections around supporting the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community are often founded upon religious convictions. That said, it is certainly not my intention, here in this blog, to take issue with people’s fundamental rights to stand behind their own tenets of faith. I completely respect every individual’s right to their own opinion.  And so, if the content of this blog offends your sensibilities, please accept my sincerest respect for our differences. It’s just that, from a my own spiritual perspective, I might interpret things a bit differently.   From where I am looking … I am guessing that if Jesus was still physically present among us, he would have joined us for the flag raising … inspiring a spirit of compassion and acceptance for one and all.

I trust that we truly are a small town with big hearts!  I expect that there are many folks in our small town who are also interested in supporting post-birth human rights.  And so, if you feel inclined to help raise the vibration of inclusion in Taber and create more safety and comfort for members of our LGBTQ+ community, please plan to gather with us at our first ever PRIDE event  on June 12th, 2017!  I hope we can come together (both allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+) … have a hot dog, enjoy the entertainment and stand in solidarity so that this sector of our humanity can visibly ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the support that is available within our little town.

With deepest reverence for our human differences and much enthusiasm for all that is possible when we bring our hearts together … Karen

 

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The Gift of Personal Renewal …

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I knew it was time.  I love, love, love my work, but could feel that my usual level of enthusiasm was waning in the mornings.  2016 was a particularly challenging year for me … both in terms of managing other people’s needs/crises/calls for care and also in some deeply personal ways that I may speak about in another blog … some other day.  All in all, by the beginning of September 2016, I was feeling hard pressed to do what I normally do with my usual sense of passion and pleasure.  I can generally force myself to push through feelings of fatigue in order to get things done … so that I can cross all the shoulds/musts/oughts off my ‘to-do’ list … but this malaise felt very different. I sensed with certainty that I could not keep soldiering on without generating some dire consequences. I had to concede that I was wilted and withered and pretty much depleted in terms of my own emotional reserves.

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As a counsellor, I am prone to invite folks to be more compassionate with themselves … to make more time for self-care … to be a little kinder to themselves and give their own needs highest priority for a change.  And so, as my enthusiasm increasingly waned, I knew it was imperative for me to attend my own lecture and amp up my ongoing efforts towards personal renewal. I knew that my clients would be short-changed if I did not pay special attention to the emptiness of my own bucket.  They deserve the best ‘me’ that I can offer them.  And, the very best me is one who is well rested and adequately nourished (emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually) so that I can be fully present when I am seated before them. And so, I was inspired to take care of me so I could continue to take care of my clients.  It has always been especially important to me that “my being communicates the energy, enthusiasm, respect, love and joy” that my clients deserve “because it will give a hundred-fold power to every act and word” we exchange during their sessions with me.

Some wise soul once said that ‘we can only teach what we have to learn’ and I have to admit that I am far more comfortable giving to others than tending to myself.  In fact, although I am a bit embarrassed to own it publicly … I can very easily gravitate towards martyrdom. Yes. I can be an A+ martyr. But then, one chilly morning as I was driving to work, I heard that still small voice within me say “You need to take a sabbatical.”  

What??  My understanding of a sabbatical is that people take an extensive period of time away from their regular duties in order to study and/or learn something new.  It initially sounded like utter nonsense to me … but by the time I pulled into the parking lot at my office, it had occurred to me that perhaps I needed time away from the ‘giving’ that is my usual way of showing up in the world (both personally and professionally) and, instead, carve out some space to nourish my own soul through ‘receiving.’ Maybe my sabbatical would be about learning to focus a little less on others and listen more compassionately to the whispers of my own soul.  With that insight, I could feel the faintest but most unequivocal squeal of delight escape from somewhere deep in my heart … and … I noticed the corners of my lips involuntarily turned upward.

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So, I walked into my office, switched on my computer and immediately booked my ‘sabbatical.’ I knew I had better act immediately upon my intuitive wisdom … before my head talked martyr me right out of it. Slow but sure, I rescheduled all my commitments for the entire month of December 2016 … except for a mammogram.  I had already rescheduled three times … and … I reckoned that was a form of self-care that I should not delay once again. And when my mother-in-law passed, I stepped up and offered my assistance with a full and open heart … but other than those times, my preference was to start each day without an agenda.  Even before my sabbatical officially commenced, I consciously committed to ‘doing’ less for others and simply ‘being’ more present, aware and attentive to my own needs, wants and desires. I suspected it would be a bit of a challenge to sit in the discomfort these changes would generate and reckoned I needed as much practice as I could get.

One of my first steps leading up to my ‘self-care’ sabbatical emerged when I got brave enough to publicly share a blog I wrote exploring my life long pattern of suffering in silence.  I gave myself permission to speak up on my own behalf about how I had been neglecting my own inner pain. It was deeply cathartic to give myself voice, but at the same time, I felt so incredibly exposed that I experienced quite the vulnerability hangover after I published it.  I had been quite courageous in calling a spade a spade and I expected some people might judge me harshly.  Perhaps some did … but much to my surprise,  I ended up feeling so profoundly touched and generously supported in the ways people kindly and compassionately reached out to me (both privately and publicly).  Yes, sharing my truth so transparently had led to some very meaningful connections.

And speaking of connections, somewhere around the same time, I listened to Glennon Doyle Melton’s “Love Warrior” on Audible. This extra-ordinary memoir fortified my intention to drop the “representative” (the person I feel safe sending out in the world to appropriately ‘represent’ me – the one who typically silences me) and step into more truth-telling, transparency and authenticity (honoring the scared, and vulnerable soul hidden behind the representative).  The book has since been chosen for Oprah’s Book Club … and … as people resonated with the juicy joys of this conversation I received inquiries/suggestions from many hoping I would offer a book study.  I didn’t have it in me at that time to run a group, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to keep this type of discussion alive in my world.  So, I gifted myself with a chance to meet very informally with just a select few strangers who had specifically reached out to me when I posted my blog.  I didn’t really know them, but I sensed that they might be ‘my people‘  and wanted to get to know them better.  It has been entirely refreshing … and … very nourishing for my spirit!  It’s funny how you can feel so at home with people you don’t even know. I thank myself for being bold enough to ask them to come over and chat a couple of times as I was gearing up for my sabbatical.

Given that my sabbatical officially commenced in December, my husband agreed to shoulder all the responsibilities of Christmas for the first time in our 40 years together.  I can’t even explain how much it delighted me to think that someone else was going to fuss and bother in order to make the season merry and bright for me. And, in the spirit of truth-telling, I have to acknowledge that it didn’t really turn out the way I had imagined … but … it was a very rich experience in countless other ways that I never expected.  I share more about the joys, challenges and learning that came with surrendering this responsibility in another blog entitled “A Slow Burn and the 2016 Christmas Chronicles”.

In order to best honor my self-care intentions during my sabbatical, I resisted any and all urges to attend to any and all things that could be handled by others.  I attended a couple of meetings at work, but only because I really wanted to connect with my colleagues.  They are amazing souls and being with them nourishes me.  I especially enjoyed sipping my coffee in the dark, quiet of the early mornings … savoring the solitude and stillness. It’s always been my favorite part of the day. I also started a 40 day practice inspired by the teaching of A Course in Miracles and compiled into a book called May Cause Miracles: A 40 Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness.

One if the assignments is to schedule specific mantras called “miracle moments’ into your smart phone that will regularly alert and remind you to shift away from our habitually negative mindsets (judging, worrying, fearing) into a more love-based perspective (compassion, generosity of spirit, acceptance). More often than not, we cause ourselves unnecessary suffering because we spend so much energy judging things that have already happened … things that we have no power to change.  The ‘miracle’ lies in learning how to be more accepting of the flow of the Universe … even if/when we don’t agree with what is happening. This is not a passive stance … but rather, a significant shift in how we choose to respond to the situations, events, circumstances and people occurring in our lives.

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Yes,  we always have the power to choose how we are going to respond.  Like … for instance, with my mammogram.  It was scheduled for December 9th in Calgary (3 hours from here).  In order to turn that undesirable  experience into something more fitting of my intentions for personal renewal, my bestie agreed to accompany me. We had planned to give each other the gift of time for our birthdays (and maybe a hike in the mountains in June or July) but life had gotten too busy for us to actually do it.  So, we opted to leave for the big city a day early and spend three days and two nights away where we could celebrate our birthdays and generously feed our hearts, minds and bodies! And that we did!!

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A nice little selfie … taken in the lobby of our hotel!

There were so many marvelous moments:

  • If you ever have a chance to go to the Stillwater Spa in Calgary Alberta Canada … DO IT!  I received an absolutely phenomenal 90 minute relaxation massage.  The facility is spectacularly nurturing and calming … and … my insurance covered the entire cost!!  And, while en route to Calgary, we discovered the Trip Advisor‘s #1 rated  Vietnamese Restaurant in Okotoks, Alberta.  It’s called Pho Hoai !  If you ever get there … be sure to have the Chicken Sate!!  It’s not on the menu but they kindly made it for me anyway! Deeelish!!
  • And, one evening, after taste-testing the reduced price ‘happy hour house wine’ at supper … we opted not to settle.  We realized that we tend to ‘make due’ more often than not. We treated ourselves to something that delighted our palates instead.  It cost more, but we determined that we were worthy of the extra investment. It was a simple but meaningful opportunity to be more kind and loving to ourselves.  And, as we savored our sips, we high-fived each other for indulging our own preferences in that moment.
  • And … because we always love to take long walks/hikes together, we capitalized upon something called the ‘Plus 15′ connecting all the buildings in the downtown core of Calgary, Alberta.  We would normally have walked outdoors, but the temperatures (with the wind chill) were dreadfully cold.  The Plus 15 or +15 Skyway  network in  Calgary, Alberta, Canada is reported to be the world’s most extensive pedestrian skywalk system … with a total length of 18 kilometers (11 miles) and 62 bridges. The system is apparently so named because the skywalks are approximately 15 feet (4.5 meters) above street level.  We put a lot of miles on during those few days!!

  • On our last day in the city, we wandered into the fragrance department in Holt Renfrew.  I had never before experienced the kind of ‘high-end’ energy we experienced as when Viktor offered to assist me in finding a new fragrance to replace my old favorite (it’s not available anymore!).  We came home with a bag full of samples and gifts that he kindly packaged up for us! And, guess what?  We were very good receivers. 🙂
  • Oh my … and we howled with laughter every time we heard the ‘miracle moment’ reminder that we had cheekily recorded onto my smart phone.  Imagine the looks on all our faces as the sales clerks and fellow shoppers heard (on each and every hour): “We are playful, spontaneous bad asses out on the town.”  And, if you knew how far removed those adjectives are from our conscientious, responsible, reliable, well-behaved, social worker personas, you’d have a deeper sense of the hilarity of it all.
  • And, at the suggestion of a very sweet soul and colleague, we finished off the weekend by each having a Tarot Card reading by ‘Carl’ at The Divine Mine This new-age store front offers a plethora of divinely inspired services.  I’d never had my cards read before and am happy to report that it was a very rich experience. It was also very affirming. It was uncanny how accurately the reading reflected things that were going on in my life.  I look forward to taking another road trip with my three daughters and re-experiencing the mystery and magic of it again with them!

During my sabbatical, I also had the opportunity to catch some morning television .  Ever watched The Marilyn Denis Show?  It’s a Canadian talk show and it’s entirely entertaining! I thoroughly enjoyed the various segments on home decor/design, fashion musts/mistakes/makeovers, food, drink and fun and frolic!! I really think I would like to be Marilyn’s friend.  I mean it.

And speaking of friends … I knew it would be nourishing for my soul to book some time together with two of my favorite friends.  Our opportunities to connect have diminished over the years, but on this day, we sipped some Malbec, chuckled, snacked on some nice appys, chuckled, and then had a tasty supper together and chuckled some more. We might have shared a tear or two as well. Yes. We shared some smiles, opened our hearts and even posed for a few selfies!!  I so deeply appreciate these glowing souls.  If you would like,to get to know them better, you can read more about them in a blog I wrote a few years back which pays tribute to them.

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Deb, Robin and Karen … and … Karen, Robin and Deb

Speaking of refreshing … despite the sub-arctic  temps, my bestie and I bundled up and hit the walking trail several times over the course of my sabbatical.  On one particularly frigid -25 degree Celsius day, we even made some snow angels in the undisturbed blanket of fresh fallen snow.  When was the last time you made snow angels?  As I reflect upon the moment, it strikes me that this experience makes a great metaphor for humanity:

Beneath all the layers we hide behind to protect ourselves … we are just angels in the making … aren’t we?

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I also used my sabbatical to tap into my creative spirit and created some fabulous photo collage blankets for my daughters.  There was a Cyber Monday sale (heard about it on one of those daytime talk shows!) that got me inspired to do this!! What fun it was to lose myself into the years and years of pictures of my eight cherished grandchildren. Deep, deep, deep delight. I was going to give them to my girls for Mother’s Day but they are made of Sherpa Polar Fleece … a little to heavy for May … even in Alberta.  I stuffed them into their Christmas stockings instead.💚

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Neil and Jack

Olivia, Luka and Lyla

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Hailey, Trad and Talaya

And since my mother-in-law just passed away in October, it was to be our first Christmas without her … and … her birthday was Christmas eve.  Her absence would be deeply felt because my daughters were so very close to her.  And so … in order to honor her importance in their lives, I created a heart-shaped picture ornament of her for each of them … so she might adorn their Christmas trees forevermore.

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Nell Lanser … December 24, 1928 – October 9, 2016.

I also decided to gift myself with a picture ornament of her.  And … in the spirit of honoring my own losses, I created one of my mom and my dad (who have long since passed as well). They remain forever in our hearts  and it sparked so much gratitude in my spirit to see each of them lovingly gracing our tree in the antique looking gold paper and pearl beaded picture holders.  I look forward to seeing them again next year … and … all the years after that.

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Muriel Pauline Star Johnson (Edlund) … April 13, 1925 – December 25-27, 1989                        William Norman Bland Johnson … December 7, 1928 – July 12, 2009

I also enjoyed a juicy and emotionally nourishing FOUR HOUR long distance telephone conversation with my grade school friend Sari.  We’ve been friends for over 50 years but we don’t get to connect very often because we live hundreds of miles apart so it’s not uncommon for us to have lengthy chats, but I think this set the record for a phone call. It takes a special relationship to survive thrive despite the lack of attention ours gets. I’ve also written about what makes Sari so endearing and special to me.  

I rarely go to the theater anymore, but while I was on sabbatical, my hubby and I went to a matinée of Collateral Beauty. I highly recommend you see it.  We sat in a unique place near the front where we could rest our feet on the railing behind the seating area for the disabled.  We finished off the gargantuan popcorn (mostly)with gusto and without apology … even before the show began.  The story line was so compelling … and honestly … so very consistent with where I have been residing in my own emotional self-development.  I shall carry its meaningful message with me as I move through the minutes, days, weeks and years that are yet to come.  In fact, some of the ‘collateral beauty’ I noticed in making the blankets and creating the Christmas ornaments was all the memories that were stirred as I turned the pages on ALL our photo albums.  As reflected in the photos, there has been such extraordinary beauty tucked into my life. Really. Even in the hard times. And, I remain grateful. And, I am inspired to keep shifting into the next best expression of who I can be in the world.

Yes.  Enough martyrdom.  More joy.

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I spent the last two days of my sabbatical in my pajamas.  Never got out of them once.  It was such a comfy, cozy and caring way to conclude my time tending to me …and … to reflect upon the whole process. And, as I made my way back to work I was sensitive to all the . invitations to resume all my ‘regular’ responsibilities I found myself wondering what parts of my ‘sabbatical’ journey I could ensure I took that I could take with me. I must concede that I really enjoyed the slower and less scheduled pace.  I was really antsy at first, but I got to a place where I could feel a softness in my spirit that disappears when I’m running myself ragged with the shoulds, coulds and oughts. I learned that some of the balls I’ve been juggling can fall.  And, I might not need to pick them up again. I’ve learned to hold some stronger boundaries.  I really enjoyed sensing the smile sparked in my own soul by answering its call more frequently.  I really need more time for me in my agenda. I really need to treat myself with more love and kindness and compassion.  I’ve learned that not only my clients deserve the best me I can be … but … so do I.

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What if …?  What if I ensured that the loving and caring and nurturing I gave to others was not at expense to myself (as it does for most martyrs) but rather, was offered from the overflow? What if I made filling my own heart a priority … so full that it might overflow onto every other soul along my path.  What if I shared myself more transparently so others were aware of what I am going through?  What if I gave myself more space in my conversations?  What if I dared to ask for what I needed more often?  What if I quit soldiering on when I am tired? What if …?

Perhaps the most important thing I have taken away from this experience is this: I don’t really want the energetic resonance I enjoyed in my sabbatical to end.  And, maybe it doesn’t have to end.  Maybe there are ways I can continue to savor this vibrational frequency for always!

And before you know it … and before I have even published this blog … we are nearly all the way through 2017!  I am happy to report that I have been more conscious of the way I fill my day-timer though.  I wanted this to be the year where my own personal renewal was not reduced to a yearly event penciled in as a ‘sabbatical’ … but rather … become a daily, weekly and monthly investment in nurturing my own tender, precious spirit. It didn’t always turn out that way.  We experienced 3 deaths in our family over a period of 10 month … so … there were times when self-care took the back burner again.  But … I have learned that our investment in our personal renewal is an essential gift we must give to ourselves.

And, I must perpetually endeavor to remember that “This must not be a footnote, but the main body of my life and my work”  …  Karen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Snowflake in an Avalanche Feels Responsible …

Source of Quote Unknown

Source of Quote Unknown

But it is.

Each and every little snowflake is irrefutably connected to the downslide.

And, metaphorically speaking,  we are all snowflakes.

Our individual consciousness is continuously aligning and connecting with others.

We are collectively creating the world we are living in.

No thought, word or deed is insignificant.

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Sometimes we deny, dismiss and downplay the power of our intention.

BUT, our seemingly innocent and powerless presence as an individual is an illusion.

When we join others … in thought, prayer, word, and deed …  we have highly tranformative powers.

And when enough connections are made … when enough of us are united together, we reach a critical mass.

An avalanche is simply a critical mass of individual snowflakes united in their power.

When those snowflakes stick together, they have the capacity to rock the world. And they do.

Consciously  … or … unconsciously.

We are always rocking the world energetically. Always. Our thoughts, words and deeds are aligning us with each other.

And, so, if we want to see where our collective consciousness resides  at any moment in time, we just need to look around us.

We produce empirical evidence of our dominant vibrational frequency each and every day on our planet.

We often live in fear.  

We marinate in nasty news reports and the negativity can consume us.

We allow the pains of our past to trump the possibilities in the present … (excuse the pun with regard to the U.S. election).

We let the darkness eclipse the light.

But we can choose to live from a place of  love.

The beauty, kindness, love and light that coexists quietly in our lives can and will be eclipsed by the darkness if we let it.

As one of my favorite old adages says: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

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We brighten the world by joining in love … or …  we can darken it by joining each other in criticism and judgment.  

With either option we have the capacity of creating a critical mass.

Our collective outer world is simply a reflection of the sum total of our individual inner worlds.

We are inextricably connected to one another.

There is only one way to end the contempt and war between people, cultures, communities and countries.

We must end it within each of our own hearts and minds.

We must monitor and effectively manage the darkness and/or light in our OWN minds.

We can’t change the world by pointing fingers at others.

 Yes.  The end of war in the outside world begins when we end the war in our inside world.

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It begins when we cease to ignore or perpetuate our own contempt, judgments, blame and criticism of others. 

And it is completely possible for us to do exactly that.

We are completely capable of creating a cultural avalanche of love, compassion and acceptance.

We will see peace when we stop blaming, judging and criticizing all the others for causing war and/ terrorism.

We bring no energy of peace to the planet when we cast blame and criticism and projection.

We will finally see peace when we are collectively more  committed to embracing, honoring and accepting our differences than we are to judging, condemning and eliminating them.

As Gandhi suggested, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

We are just like snowflakes … attaching to each other in very powerful ways.

What kind of avalanche do YOU want to be responsible for creating?

It’s a powerful and important question. Let’s be very deliberate in monitoring the energy we bring to our relationships, communities and countries.

WE are co-creating everything we are seeing. Each and every one of us is either perpetuating the problem or supporting the solution.

And … we choose through our thoughts, words and deeds.  

NO choice is insignificant.

Not one.

 

Lets join together and create an avalanche for which we will be very proud to feel responsible,  Karen 

 

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Suffering in Silence …

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We can never really know when those moments of ‘awakening’ will happen.  When all of a sudden something comes into full view that was prickly and palpable but just a bit too blurry, obscured and covert to detect really clearly.   One of the most poignant ‘ahas’ that I’ve had in a long time popped up very unexpectedly (nearly two years ago) after I received a distressed call that my mother-in-law had been rushed to the hospital … again.  My very beloved in-laws (Oma, now 87 and Opa, now 91) had been enduring storm after storm of medical crises (for several years in a row) …  with countless trips to the ER … numerous hospital stays … and many lengthy and lonely convalescences. We had been desperately craving some calm … not just for them but also for us.

But on that particular day, with no sunny skies in sight, I dropped whatever I was doing and made another 45 minute commute into the ER because no one should be alone in a storm. My heart sank as I saw Oma stretched out on the gurney and the man who had been her husband for over six decades was pacing and perturbed and clearly paled by his powerless to protect her.  The energy in the room told me this foreboding squall was not going to blow over quickly.

Yes, it was dire. And Oma was done. She was begging us to let her go this time… to find a way to end her suffering.  She was pleading with me … with us … in barely discernible whispers to“please” make it stop.  It had been too long.  She’d spent too many fractured years bravely overcoming one hurdle only to find herself promptly propped up against another one.  It was clear that she was not one bit interested in soldiering on through the pain of helplessness and subsequent hopelessness that she had so long been feeling.  She wanted it to be over.

I had seen her flirting with defeat before … but never like this. For many years prior to my arrival in the Lanser family some 40 years ago, Oma had already been an “invalid” (her term, not mine) … she could not brush her own hair or cut her own meat or wipe her own bottom.  And aside from lamenting that “It’s always something”… she really didn’t much complain. We knew she had her bad days, but I was invariably inspired by her attitude and the good-natured grace from which she courageously coped with her discouraging decline and undeniable debilitation.  And, I bore witness to the depth of her determination as she willed herself to persevere and to endure the surgeries and the long and tedious recoveries and the endless hours in physiotherapy in hopes that she could optimize her mobility and/or, at the very least, retain what little autonomy she still had left.  She laboured so hard physically and I intuitively knew she had to work just as hard psychologically to ensure those gloomy daily battles didn’t take her down emotionally.

But in the ER on that particular day … it was clearly all too much.   She wanted it to stop and begged us to spare her of more misery. When Opa’s eyes met mine, I could see him uncomfortably scouring his soul … how he could ever even consider letting her go? My heart ached deeply for both of them.

When the physician finally arrived into assess her condition … Oma compliantly shifted into ‘good’ patient mode and tried with muffled effort to answer the doctor’s questions. I had to help translate because she has a strong Dutch accent and was slipping in and out of English.  At one point, she offered a half-hearted smile in response to the something soothing that the doctor said and eventually she mustered enough strength to defeatedly but clearly declare, “I don’t want to be here.” The doctor was kind and caring and thought Oma meant she didn’t want to be ‘here’ in the hospital … not realizing she actually meant not ‘here’ in her life.  When the doctor compassionately responded that she’d try to get her “out of here” as soon as possible, the floodgates opened. She didn’t want to go home, she wanted to go HOME. Her suffering cascaded down her cheeks in torrents of anguish.  And although it was absolutely agonizing to see her in such a state of despair, I was not prepared for happened next.  As soon as the doctor had left, Opa leaned in toward Oma and told her with a very stern and almost scolding tone: “You had a smile for the doctor. You can have one for us.”

I was stunned.  Whatttt? I could not even fathom what I was hearing.  It took me a minute to recover and recognize that this was Opa’s own angst and terror talking. He was entirely overwhelmed himself and couldn’t bear to witness the weight of her woundedness.  He needed a reprieve … even if it was at her expense.  And so he took it the only way he knew how … he ordered it.

And with his words … I watched her eyes become vacant and a solemn stare washed over her face. She then closed her eyes while she obediently retrieved any and all expression of her agony and she buried it somewhere deep inside her.  She lost her tears and became stoic, stalwart and completely silent.  I stood there, dumbfounded by the depths of sheer despair I could hear screaming out despite her sobered silence.  And I sensed from her rapid response to his request that this was not the first time she had been required to put her pain away … to keep it out of sight.

And I understood, in that very telling exchange, that part of her survival story was to repress whatever she sensed was not welcome to express.  Oma had learned to silence her suffering in order to spare others. There was a time to stop feeling sad and find a smile instead. AND, in the transparency of that blatant shushing of my ‘invalid’ mother-in-law … her pain was  rendered absolutely ‘in-valid’.

I instantly felt appalled and ashamed that for all these years I, too, had unwittingly perpetuated this discounting of her despair by applauding her admirable attitude.  I had misinterpreted her smiles as strength. I saw them as an absence of suffering … rather than a stoic and stalwart silencing of it.  It sickened me to the core of my being.

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Though not a word was spoken … the dissonance was deafening.  It was all too obvious to me now. What we were seeing on her outsides was not necessarily what she was feeling on her insides. This reckoning stirred up something deep in my soul that resonated with the pain of betraying one’s inner truth. How had I been so obtuse?  How could I not see in her what was all too familiar to me?  How had I missed this for so long??  I, too, had learned long, long ago how to muzzle my misery and quietly repress any wounding, pain or hurt that I was experiencing. Phewwwww.

In one sense I knew that I had been doing it, but like the twist of a kaleidoscope … I was seeing the same pieces of my life through different eyes.  A new picture was emerging that left me squirming uncomfortably. Seeing a ‘silencing’ so blatantly imposed upon someone else brought forth a recognition that I had been covertly but completely complicit in a lifetime of dismissing my own heartache … silencing my own pain … and pretending everything was ‘fine’ when it wasn’t. And, sadly, I had become really good at it.

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Source Unknown

And once you ‘see’ something, you can’t not see it anymore! Like rocks in a landslide colliding within my consciousness, I was instantaneously bombarded with memories of moments where, time and time again, I had forced myself for various reasons to also suffer in silence. I was so grievously saddened as I started sifting through all the evidence my heart had been holding. It became all to apparent that, over the years, I had morphed into a most magnificent martyr.

I could see as a child, how I deliberately silenced my pain in order to spare myself the shame … my alcoholic father, my mother’s multiple medical issues and diagnosis of manic-depression (Bipolar) … her subsequent addiction/abuse of prescription drugs … her stays in the psyche ward … their divorce … my time in foster care … the neglect and lack of nurture … the feelings of abandonment … the deep desire to ‘fit in’ to something you could be proud of … the longing to feel appreciated and approved of and maybe even respected.  And so … as a child, I opted to put a smile on my face and pretend everything was fine.  I have spoken to this more fully in a previous blog.  My pain was fully and completely silenced … even from myself … for many, many years until it was innocently and unexpectedly awakened in a mother’s group I was attending after we had children. You can read more about that here.

And so … about motherhood. For me, it was another long season of  harsh and heartless silencing.  I learned that what I really wanted to acknowledge was not culturally appropriate. New mothers are not supposed to discuss how horribly hard it can be to give your life over to a child.  Apparently, it was the best time of my life and it was going to go by so quickly that I should longingly adore it all completely. Every. Single. Moment.  I feel compelled in this moment to reassure all of you that I truly feel blessed to have been a mother. I absolutely do. From my humble perspective, motherhood is not a binary experience … it’s not good or bad … it’s not an either/or, but rather … it is an integrated both/and.   From where I am looking, it’s the ultimate in both agony and ecstasy.  I deeply cherish my opportunity to be a mother and the years did indeed fly by … but some of those days were the longest and most demanding in my whole life.

You see, I have been married for 39 years to an old fashioned, traditional, hard-working male … and from the generation from which he was looking,  parenting was “women’s work.”  I had no mom, mom-in-law or sisters to lean on, so I was in the trenches alone. There was no real interest in sharing the load because, at the time, I don’t think he actually believed it was a load or even work for that matter.  He erroneously assumed that because I ‘got’ to stay home, he was the only one working. He realizes now that he was the only one being paid for his work, but back then my efforts to explain my discontent were often met with quizzical looks and/or discomfort and/or frustration and/or a deaf ear.  And from what I could tell, other women seemed to be content with this binary set up. So, I learned to silence my grrrrrrrrrr.  Aside from one other friend and confidant, I had no where safe to put that conversation, so I buried my pain and put a smile on my face.  I acted like nothing was wrong, pretended that it was all perfect and soldiered on.  And, I hid it all so masterfully, that no one else was the wiser about how deeply fractured I felt or how deeply alone and unsupported I really felt in the parenting arena.

And it made matters worse that we had moved to my husband’s home town  … a very small, rural town so he could go back to farming.   I had reasoned with myself that I could be a wife and mother anywhere. I clearly had no effing clue just how arduous that would actually end up being.  But I couldn’t let myself complain … because I had willingly agreed to go and didn’t want him to feel guilty.  No one had told me, though, that the good and kind people who live in a small town already have their circles of belonging.  They don’t need to make friends with the new girl. They are more likely to gossip about her long blonde hair and her jewelry and her eye-liner than invite her for coffee.

I could not have been prepared for how my cosmopolitan roots were going to generate so much ostracism. Unfortunately, I’ve got oodles of examples to draw from … but the worst of it was probably when my mom died at Christmas in 1989 (almost a decade after we moved to that little town). I had deliberately silenced my grief in my home because I didn’t want to worry my daughters by crying in front of them. So, I took my pain for some long walks around town thinking I could hide the torrents of my tears behind my sunglasses.  I learned later that I had been nicknamed “crystal ass” … and then … my daughter came home one day and said her friend’s mom had declared I was a “slut.” Oooouch.

Apparently they determined I was “pedaling my ass around town.”  It was agonizing to be so misunderstood. I got self-righteous and brave one day and tried to address it with one of them.  Let’s just say it didn’t go well.  I suspected I was just making it worse so I downplayed how deeply isolating and hurtful my experience had been. I pretended everything was fine … even though I ached to put a huge sign up on the post office bulletin board … calling them out name by name by name … and … telling them all to shove their mean-spirited judgments right up their own miserable asses.  But …  I didn’t.

It became clear that taking a sanctimonious shot at any of them would not have served the greatest good in the situation. And so I hid all my pain again.  I was am a master at it.  I have been practicing my hiding since I was a wee child. I wonder, though, how often I looked like Oma did when I, too, lost my tears, retrieved all expressions of my pain, buried them deep down inside and pasted a strong and convincing smile on my face instead.  I’d gotten so damn good at repressing my hurt by then that I am sure people believed my sunny disposition was an honest reflection of my idyllic life.  Eventually, I did make some very good friends … and for them I am eternally grateful, but I’m guessing very few, if any of them, had any real clue about the deep ache in my heart.

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And I do look happy. Even to this day, I think most people believe my life is filled with clear blue skies, bright sunshine and lots of lollipops. I’m guessing that is so because it is really quite rare for people to sincerely inquire “How are you doing?” In their defense though, why would they ask … I always look like I AM just fine. And so, for the most part, people tend to connect with me when they need to lean in … when they need support.  And, I am so deeply honored to be invited into people’s hearts (both personally and professionally) and trusted with the most fragile parts of their souls.  It is both my most passionate pursuit in life and my most nourishing purpose. So, please, please, please don’t get me wrong here … I treasure the opportunity to be of service but I’d also like to feel people’s efforts to connect with me are sparked by their affection and interest in me, not just their need of me.

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And, I’d be remiss without sharing that I’ve also felt the need to stifle all the embarrassment I feel for being such a ‘fun sucker.’ It’s always been a challenge for me to simply ‘let loose’ with my husband and our girls and my grandchildren. As I shared in a prior post:

The shame and neglect of my early years has shaped my overly ‘anxious mind’ and unfortunately, it takes a whole schwack of energy to manage the various worries, uncertainties, reservations , doubts, qualms and fears that persistently and unpredictably pop into my awareness.  When uttered in the past, my husband would shake his head in stunned disbelief as my neurotic ramblings effectively sucked any potential for joy out of the moment.  Pretty soon, I just quit sharing them out loud …

The anxious mind is so bewildering for people to comprehend.  It’s not rational at all.  Not even to me. So how could it make any logical sense to others?  How I wish I could just “relax and have fun” within the cacophony of noise and chaos and dangers that my highly sensitive spirit and highly-kindled brain is on high alert for when the house is filled with of all of us. It sounds so reasonable … and yet … is always a struggle for me. So I do my best to manage my jacked-up amygdala and try not to suck all the fun out of the space when the alarm bells are going off unnecessarily in my head.

I know I have chosen to silence myself on many occasions because I truly am a “Highly Sensitive Person” I am acutely aware of the energy in a room.  I can sense when people are hurting and then I worry that maybe I have done something to upset them.  Gah.  It’s tough, because I do not wish to harm anyone with my words, thought or deeds. If it would seem that my perspective would be uncomfortable or unwelcome in a situation, I have often muzzled myself. While I will introduce ‘hard conversations’ in the counselling room or the coaching domain, I refrain from doing so in my personal world without an invitation.  And it would be completely outside my character to publicly unleash any un-tempered anger … even when doing so would protect me from victimization. I can think of at least three times that has happened in my professional career. Arghhhhh.

It does not escape me that there comes a time when protecting others becomes injurious to oneself. And yet, I am forever checking whether the things I am about to say  would improve on the silence.  Is what I need to say kind, true, necessary or helpful?  If not, I have voluntarily silenced myself on many occasions when I actually have had a whole lot I could say!!  And it can often be at great expense to myself that I will stifle a whole conversation because I just don’t want to hurt others. I’ve even considered deleting parts of this blog because I worry that I have cast some of my loved ones in a bad light. All the second guessing is brutal … and … prickly … and … sometimes excruciating.

And so …  in that split second … in that ER room with my precious in-laws … I had some clear insight into the unhealthy nature of the patterns that have been chronically, quietly and subconsciously running my life.  The truth is that I have resisted giving myself permission to bleed in public … it’s seems way too risky. In fact, the more I am hurting, the quieter I will usually get.  It’s become a habit … not always adaptive.  I am far more willing  to discuss my pain once it’s been healed and the lesson from my wounding might be of service to another . Yes. I am more comfortable speaking from the scar.  It just feels so much safer … so much tidier.

However, I am sensing that I need to change this because it is not working all that well for me anymore.  I think a part of me has always known I need to change this, but I have effectively silenced that awareness too.  It seems so very scary to stand before someone … naked in your pain-filled truths … before there is enough scar tissue to protect you.  I’m not yet great with vulnerability.

But … I keep getting nudges from the Universe telling me I don’t have to keep suffering in silence.  Maybe I don’t have to keep doing the hard parts alone. Maybe I shouldn’t expect myself to weather the storms alone any more than I expect Oma should go through them alone. I certainly don’t expect my clients to do that. I don’t expect my friends or children to do that either. Maybe I need to start giving to myself what I most love to give to others … a soft, compassionate and safe place to bleed … a tender touch on an open wound … a safe place to heal the pain. I hope I can be brave enough to keep doing this because I still have some things to say … some things that still have tears attached to them. Yes. There is more to work through.

And so, if you are still here reading … after I have taken up so much of your time with this very long 3550+ word oration  … thank you for staying with me … thank you for not ducking out because I have been so incredibly long winded … thank you for holding a safe space for me,  Karen

P.S. My mother-in-law survived that storm on that particular day … and since then … has gone on to endure many more.  Sadly, she and Opa are struggling once again.  We are hoping they will soon find themselves enjoying fairer weather.  Cross your fingers for them okay?

P.P.S. Oma did not survive that last storm. She left this physical plane on October 9, 2016. We honor her strength and cherish memories of our times together.

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Deeply. Truly. Sincerely.

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May we LEARN from these people.

May we LOVE these people.

May we BE these people

Deeply, truly and sincerely,  Karen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focus ≠ Exclusion. Ever.

Focus does not equal exclusion

Lately, our social media has been ablaze with competing American campaigns about whose lives matter. Is it the black ones? The police ones?  All of them?  It saddens me to see all these accurate assertions reduced to a public debate.  In doing so, we are creating unnecessary divisions between our hearts, and consequently, we are diluting our collective capacity to affect some significant shifts towards a more harmonious future … for everyone … on all sides.  I spoke to much of this in a prior post,  but I believe there are some additional perspectives that might be helpful to consider as we move forward:

  • We must refrain from assuming an implied “only” exists in front of these slogans.
  • We must not neglect the history and context in which these campaigns have been generated.
  • We must step out of our “Soldier” mindsets and into our “Scout” mindsets. (More about this concept later.)

Focus does not mean exclusion. There have been countless campaigns in the past that have intentionally invited extra attention to one thing, but we understood that this amplified focus did not imply that that other things were not also equally important.  For example:

  • “Feed the children” Don’t feed the adults.
  • “Save the Whales” ≠   Sacrifice the Seals
  • “Help prevent forest fires” ≠ Don’t concern yourself with grass fires.
  • “Join the Army” ≠ Don’t even consider the Navy
  • “Pray for Paris” ≠  We don’t care about Rome.
  • “Travel Alberta” ≠  There is nothing worth seeing in British Columbia.

These various social campaigns emerged for good reason and with just cause.  They were attempting to raise awareness in a particular direction for a specific reason. We didn’t interpret them offensively nor did we create counter movements … because we comprehended the context in which they emerged. In fact, one of the most popular and historically revered Christian campaigns in American society was“Love thy neighbor.” And, we would never mistake it’s earnest intention by assuming it meant that you shouldn’t love people unless they live near you. We would never presume that this meaningful adage was covertly conspiring to ensure all traces of love are withheld from strangers. Nope. No. Nada.  That wouldn’t even enter our minds.

And yet, there is no denying that the Black Lives Matter campaign has certainly touched a national nerve. And, as I was trying to make sense of the public push back, I was most grateful to a follower of my blog, Sue Dreamwalker, who authors a very meaningful and deeply inspiring blog, for kindly nudging me in the direction of a a very short but highly potent Ted Talk that may very effectively explain the contention has been sparked during this particular campaign. In roughly 10 quick but juicy minutes, Julia Galef raises the concept of “Motivated Reasoning” which very logically explains when and why we will feel “the drive to attack or defend ideas.”

Galef identifies two necessary and equally important mindsets than can land us in separate camps and on seemingly different sides of the coin.  It’s a fascinating perspective and it makes so much sense to me. She discusses the benefits/challenges of both the “Soldier Mindset” which reflexively triggers one’s internal defense system and is “rooted in a desire to protect your side” and the more curious “Scout Mindset” which is when we are “trying to get an accurate picture of reality, even when that is unpleasant or inconvenient.”  Each of these mindsets serves very critical but distinct purposes.

And so, we can see how these two mindsets can be activated and may or may not be beneficial in our lives, depending upon the context.  With this in mind, as White people reflecting upon the Black Lives Matter campaign, (and if we are willing to quiet our more defensive internal “Soldier” and make room to embody our more curious inner “Scout”), we can see that our own lived experience has poorly prepared us to see things from the side of African American people.  This is not because we are insensitive or stupid.  It is typically because we have been taught only one side of the story … our side. Traditional grade school American history books were written from the side of white, middle class, male academics who had the power to unilaterally decide what was important to include and what could be left out.  While this bias in our mainstream education most definitely needs to be changed … most of us have never even considered that our curriculum offers us a White-washed version of the history and context of Black lives.  It may be entirely unsettling for many of us to recognize that we have been sold a version of history that tends to dismiss and downplay the magnitude of social injustices experienced by African Americans.

Our solider mind may resist making room for us to see this, but our scout mind certainly does not.  Even though we have been distanced from truly understanding the African American side of things, it is difficult to deny that many, many innocent black people have been mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply because of the color of their skin. And recently, we could see their reflexive soldier mindset horrifically played out during the protests in Dallas.  And, with that, innocent police officers were mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply for doing their jobs.  And we can also see how the soldier mindset sparked the subsequent emergence of the Police Lives Matter campaign.  And then, in the space of competing interests, social media invites us to choose sides.  Really??  To me, it is all just entirely heartbreaking.

Instead of choosing sides, I would like to suggest that if we are going to successfully find the solutions to stop all the senseless suffering and loss we are seeing, we must be willing to temper our own soldier mindsets and round out our reasoning with our scout mindsets. The incomparable Marianne Williamson  invites the mainstream, dominant culture to do exactly that with an exquisite and exceptional prayer which compassionately highlights and sincerely honors the history and context surrounding African American lives that White people have been privileged enough to step over:

Prayer of Apology to African Americans

From where I am looking, this apology is so very long overdue.  I interpret the Black Lives Matter campaign as a sincere attempt to tell their side of the story … to help raise awareness and/or to generate support and to foster enough collective energy to shift and transform the unjust context in which they have been forced to abide.  And, I can also see that the Police Lives Matter campaign is a genuine attempt to honor their unique and particular side of the story.   How do we make space in our hearts for the voices on each side of these social movements without dismissing and diminishing the other?

I humbly suggest that we need to allow ourselves some focus.  As the old adage goes, the eagle knows that if it chases two rabbits, it will lose them both.  There are times when we must channel our focus in one direction because without that additional, sustained and fixed focus we will lose our power to effect the changes that sparked the campaigns in the first place. But once again, focus does not mean exclusion.  Our focus upon one thing typically means that there is something special, important and worthy of extra attention and/or consideration at a particular time for a particular reason.  We can choose to focus our gaze in one particular direction for a period of time to help address a pressing concern that needs extra public support and attention. And once we have affected sufficient support to alleviate the problem, we can turn our attention back to other important issues of concern.  It’s a triage of sorts …

And this is an example of the context where our soldier mindset can be counterproductive.  It seems to me that unless and until we engage our scout mindsets to gather enough history to adequately understand the context in which social movements arise we will remain subject to all manner of misinterpretation.  And then, instead of coming together to collectively honor, acknowledge and address the special interests that are being highlighted within the campaigns, we may be reduced to bickering with each other.  I fear that if we, the mainstream dominant culture, steadfastly stand in our soldier minds (i.e. intent on defending only our own side of the story), the marginalized parts of our humanity are once again pitted against those with more power and social clout … and then … we all remain angrily divided and helplessly distracted from pursuing a more unified humanitarian goal.  And, with the competing interests, the group with the least volume in their voice then loses any leverage they may have gained during the social movement and the status quo is very nicely maintained.

Sadly, when we allow oursevles to be pitted against each other, we are missing the sacred and divine opportunity we have to join forces in a caring, conscious, collective, conscientious and concerted effort to ensure, in fact, that ALL lives DO matter.

Right Vision

Hmmmm … my scout mind is inviting me to be very transparent here.  I must openly admit that it has crossed the suspicious and cynical part of my mind that this controversy (pitting ‘lives’ against each other on social media) certainly serves to maintain the status quo.  And … it cannot be denied that, all though “all lives matter’,  the status quo definitely privileges some lives over others.  Our soldier mind doesn’t like to believe it, but our scout mind knows it to be true.

And, it strikes me that the bickering between camps benefits the soldier mindsets/agendas of those in high places … those with the most power and privilege to lose if, in fact, we actually achieved a successful shift in the direction of a higher vision and landed in that miraculous space where we can unequivocally see the empirical evidence that All Lives Matter.  Arghhh . I really don’t like the sound of that unflattering perspective.  And honestly … given this particular social context, I’d sooner be wrong than right.  Honestly and truly … from the bottom of my heart. I would much prefer to believe that we were investing our collective energy into ensuring Marianne’s inspiring vision becomes a reality.

Yes, please … let’s make a concerted effort to do that, Karen

P.S. I’ve added even more extra-ordinary resources to the list in my prior post that will appeal to our scout mindset. 🙂

 

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Well, I Sure Got Told, Didn’t I … ?!?

Black - White Photo

Yep. That was the outraged response I received to a comment I made on Facebook after the following post appeared on my news feed.

Race Card

I commented on my Facebook news feed and then followed this post back to the original source and pasted my response there too. Here is what I posted:

“Oh my. I swallow hard when I read this. I thought about simply not responding but my heart won’t let me stay silent. In theory, of course “all lives matter” … but when we snarl, scoff and generalize in this way, we allow ourselves (i.e. the mainstream dominant majority) to step over all the ways, places and spaces that this theory does NOT match the reality. When we do that, we give ourselves permission to dismiss, diminish, and deny the horrific injustices that people of color have experienced historically … and … we can then fail to acknowledge how these inequalities are currently being perpetuated. I truly believe we need to give extra careful attention to learning about the experience of the marginalized … to highlight the extent of the oppression that continues covertly … to help us collectively see how we are NOT actualizing that altruistic theory. With heartfelt respect, I humbly suggest we have much to learn from the ‘race card’ … and … I really hope that it keeps getting played until we actually sit up and listen, until we actually do something in order to see justice for all … beyond simply theoretical rhetoric.”

Well … this fellow was sure determined to set me clear and straight. I can’t quite comprehend how he’s qualified to accurately assess my level of intelligence because I don’t even know the guy. Maybe he’s just very comfortable with name calling? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing his scathing criticism says more about him than me.  I have no problem holding space for a respectful debate or difference of opinion. In fact, I welcome those discussions because that is how we stretch and grow and learn from each other. In this case though, his attack on my character does little to validate his position. By the same token, I would also suggest that the implicit snarl and condescending nature of the Facebook post (“get over yourself”,”put your race card away” and “grow up”) smacks of unnecessary vitriol as well.  Maybe it is just me, but as a counselor, my ears have also been trained to listen for what is not being said.  With that particular choice of wording,  I am sensing a somewhat covert but patronizing lack of respect for diverse racial experiences.

I understand, though, that what we see depends upon the eyes we are looking through.  Our opinions are fortified and framed by what we learn from our own lived experiences … and … by what we are taught (both formally and informally) in our families, cultures and schools.  I’ve come to believe that, without specific schooling, much of what we as White people really need to know, understand and recognize about race issues is simply not taught to us.  And so, although this guy’s approach was questionable, I can’t fault him for defending his perceptions. He just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I’m not being critical here. None of us do. How could we? The problem is not that we don’t know … the problem is that we think we do.

It wasn’t until I spent five years specifically immersed in social work and anti-oppressive practice (during both my undergraduate and graduate studies) that I began to understand how much I did not know.  I was dumbfounded to learn how much we have not been taught. It was deeply humbling and forever changed how I view things.  As White people we don’t recognize the unearned power and privilege that we are so generously afforded in our society.  It’s not possible for us to truly understand the complexities of these issues  … 1)because they are beyond the realm of our own experience and 2) because we are only exposed to some particulars about it. We are taught just enough to make us feel informed, but not enough to give us a truly comprehensive understanding of the complexities.  Unfortunately, the gaps in our awareness can skew our perceptions and derail our very best intentions.

I will give this guy two things though:

1.) There probably aren’t any black people alive who were “involved in the slave times.”  However, I would argue that the prejudice and bigotry that condoned and sustained the slave trade did not cease just because slavery was finally abolished. You can mandate changes in legislation but you can’t mandate changes in attitude. The legacy of such racism continues whether we like to admit to it or not.  One doesn’t have to look further than the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign to see that bigotry and discrimination is not only alive and well in America … but is now being proudly perpetuated and cavalierly brandished by Donald Trump. And most disturbingly, it’s being loudly applauded by a staggering number of American people … who, by the way, would vehemently contend they are not racist in any way.

2.) It’s true that life can be a bitch.  I would contend, however, that life is more of a bitch for some of us than for others. I doubt if my critic would honestly be happy to surrender the unearned power and privilege that he lives with in exchange for being treated the same as Black men often are in our society.  He can call me dumb again, but I’m not sure very many of us who live in the mainstream dominant culture would make that trade willingly.  In a mere 45 seconds, Jane Elliott clearly illuminates this point:

 

Although my Facebook critic contends that if people like me would just quit bringing up the past, there would be no problem.  He believes the mistreatment of Black people was only in “the slave times.” This video shows, however, that at some level we DO collectively recognize that what is currently happening to black people (however covertly) is not desirable!  We wouldn’t want that kind of treatment for ourselves, but we are comfortable allowing it to continue to happen to them.

And, that is why the slogan “BLACK LIVES MATTER” emerged.  If we are ever going to make a significant shift, it is essential for us to narrow our focus and point our gaze directly towards this longstanding and deeply systemic issue. When we generalize that “All Lives Matter” we take our eyes off the problem and focus instead upon a theoretical concept that may very well  be true … but that fact does nothing to solve the problem.  The following metaphor speaks to this issue very well:

Bob

Of course, all lives matter.  But, philosophical truths and altruistic rhetoric don’t feed Bob.  When we neglect to honor the specific needs/deficits experienced by specific individuals (or groups of individuals), we are failing to ensure compassionate and humane treatment for ALL.  And that is just not okay with me.

I am posting this blog in hopes that we will continue this conversation … over and over again.  We really need to talk about this.  It really matters to our shared humanity.  But, for the most part, as White people, we have the luxury of being bored, disinterested or maybe even annoyed by ‘the race card’ … and so … we don’t talk about it. And like my critic … we might do our best to simply shush anyone who brings it up.

During my social work studies, however, we did talk about it.  In depth.  I remember wondering why these lessons were not mandatory in our grade schools.  I was introduced to the pain that marginalized groups of people were feeling …  and … how as a White person, I benefit from racism by default. And once it was pointed out to me, I could see it very, very clearly. And now, I can’t not see it.

I came to understand that I don’t even have to do anything obviously “racist” to benefit from the way the system is set up in our society.  I enjoy ‘favor’  because of the way racism makes one part of our humanity count for less than another.  As my eyes were opened to more and more and more, I could no longer deny or dismiss the advantages of having white skin. I never had to worry about whether people would rent accommodations to me. I don’t have to worry about whether someone is willing to sit beside me at a public function. I never had to worry about my children experiencing racial slurs at school. I don’t have people making fun of the way I talk.  I don’t have to worry about being snubbed if I ask for help in a department store. I don’t have to worry that the job will have “just been filled” as I arrive for the interview. I am more likely to be considered for ‘prestigious’ jobs because I have the right ‘qualifications’ (white skin). I could go on and on and on …

But here is the real kicker!!  As White people, we don’t typically ‘see’ the extra power and extra privilege we are gifted because our society is set up to benefit us and not them. AND … it is exactly because of that unearned advantage that we have the luxury of dismissing and/or ignoring conversations about racism.  And, it is also due to our privileged place in society that we can also afford to remain ‘silent’ on the topic. I have done it myself. I would suggest that we are often more committed to protecting our own feelings and/or not making other White people uncomfortable than we are to gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges beyond the margins of our own experience.  We are far more likely to ignore, dismiss or deny those struggles than to honor and investigate them.

It would be such a different world if we find it in our hearts to heed the wisdom of Glennon Doyle Melton

“Today: let’s be curious instead of defensive.

When someone says: I’m hurting.

Let’s say: “Tell me more” instead of: “No, you’re not.”

I think the difference between curiosity and defensiveness might be the difference between war and peace.”

We have so very much to learn. I just wish we were more interested.  But because we think we already know … we aren’t always open to looking or learning more. I was both stretched and humbled, though, by the many potent teachings and pivotal moments  over the course of my studies.  And perhaps one of the most critical is this: I now know there is so much I don’t know.  I am still learning.  Two sources of the most poignant and powerful lessons I received included these:

Now, I don’t expect that my critic would bother to take the time to look at any of these, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, I sure hope you will!  Especially the “Blue Eye/Brown Eye Experiment” .  Gather the whole family, make some popcorn and pull this 45 minutes video up onto your smart TV or your computer and watch it together.  And then, I hope you’ll have a conversation with your family about it. And I really hope you’ll pop back and add your thoughts in the comments section  … so we can continue to deepen this very important discussion.

There are also lots of more recent publications, videos and resources on the subject that highlight considerations that often escape our mainstream dominant attention. Here is a smattering of some thoughtful and thought-provoking ones I have come across thus far.  I hope at you will check them out. AND, if you can suggest any other resources, please post them in the comments section of this blog.  I am always eager to learn more … and will add them to the list:

From where I am looking, the altruistic truth that ‘all lives matter’ won’t really be actualized UNTIL we ensure that ‘black lives matter’.  And Aboriginal lives … and Latino lives … and Middle East Lives … and … and … and …

But then again, as “the dumbest person … ever seen” – it may not be wise to give much merit to my perspective … Karen

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An Un-Lived Life …

An unlived life

Grrrr. Boooo. Hiss. Pffft. Arghhh …

A little while ago, I experienced a particularly troubling week … one in which my emotions got really ramped up.  I don’t tend to get triggered all that easily anymore, but two days in a row, right back to back, I endured distinctly different scenarios that both wreaked havoc with my heart and left me fumbling my way through the fountain of unfavorable feelings that arose in the face of those formidable frustrations.  And so … as I often do … I took pen to page to help me find the message that those muddled moments may be holding for me.

I remain so deeply discouraged by the inherent powerlessness of marginalization … both feeling it myself during that particularly woeful week and observing it for others – far, far too often. There are some things that are beyond my control. Important things. Or, perhaps it would be fairer to say, things that are important to me.  And important to some others …. but, for the most part, they are things that the vast majority doesn’t experience as a problem.  And, sadly, unless or until an issue affects people personally, many will not acknowledge, recognize  or even give much attention to such things.

Perhaps it is truer to say that in our dominant cultural majority, we have the exquisite privilege of not needing to understand the particular problems of  those who are unlike us … of those whose issues lie beyond the margins of our own lived experience. And, regrettably, we live in a world where assuming an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ stance is often glamorized as a desirable patriotic position and/or a reflection of our religious devotion. Sadly though, this sets up an ‘either/or‘ mentality rather than a ‘both/and‘ mindset.  And as a result, a very well intended desire to take care of our own often means that the issues of others get subjugated and dismissed. Or, even worse … ridiculed. Yes. Ridiculed. We get to be oblivious about the issues that affect them, because the obstacles they may be facing are just not at all apparent upon our own paths.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

When you are NOT the one being oppressed, you have the luxury of not even noticing the prickles and perils on the path that ‘others’ are experiencing.  And, you don’t even know what you don’t know because the ‘others’ are grappling with issues that have never even hit your radar.  It’s not that you don’t care.  You do care.  And you may very earnestly believe in equality … and … you might even think that because things are purported to be equal, that all people have the same rights and opportunities as you do.  Some may even think, if they don’t take advantage of the options in front of them, well … that is not my problem.  They could get it together, if they just tried or if they were really committed to helping themselves.

But ‘equal’ does not mean ‘equitable’.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Adapted from original source: Craig Froehle

And so, those with the most power and advantage can unwittingly continue to step over the unmet needs of others.  Not because they are heartless.  No. Not at all … but because they really don’t see the problem.  And, they honestly don’t.  It is simply not an issue that registers in the framework of their experience, and so they have trouble understanding how it could be a problem  for others.  From where they are looking, they see lots of  options that could be accessed … they see solutions that are not being actualized.  But, they cannot see how their own alignment with the majority affords them an unfair advantage … a fast track to ‘solutions’ that seem simple and obvious to them, but in reality, are not accessible to all. Many, in fact, will speak about their privileged standpoint as though it were a merit they somehow earned.

And yet, there are some places where we get that it is not a matter of choice.  We understand that we must collectively seek to disrupt the inequitable disparity among us.  Golfers get it.  They honor differences and foster equity by offering handicaps in order to level the playing field in terms of skill sets.  And somewhere along the way, we realized that the racers on the outside lane on an oval track have further to go, so we stagger the starting line to offset the advantages on the inner lanes. There are many places in the arena of athletics when/where we do acknowledge inequities and seek to rectify them.

But, it’s entirely exasperating to attempt to address a social issue with people on the inner lanes that don’t see the problem for those on the outside lanes.  Even those with ample power to changes things, may feel no sense of responsibility to rectify the issues others are be facing. Arghhhh.

Source Uknown

Source Uknown

And so, with that recognition, it is so tempting to simply give up … to allow myself to be silenced … to succumb in weary resignation and benignly accept the mainstream majority’s perceptions of what is ‘right’ for this world and/or adopt their narrowed notions about which minorities might deservedly merit some accommodations … and … which do not.

But … to do so … would leave my life un-lived.  To do so, would leave my days un-inhabited by the very things that steal my heart and kindle my inner flame.  To fail to show up for the ‘truths’ in my own soul would be to suffocate my spirit.  And, I sense deeply that this is no way for me to fully embrace my days.

As Dawn Markova points out: I must risk the falling … I must risk catching fire … I must allow my living to crack me wide open.  I must pursue my own particular passions and plant the seeds … in hopes of enjoying the blossoms … and … trusting in the fruits of my efforts, even if I never get to taste them myself.

I remember my red-faced recognition of my own complicity in the marginalization of others. I was taking a class in social work. I remember learning things I did not know.  I remember questioning why these important things were not taught to us in our mainstream curriculum.  I remember wanting to hide.  I remember wanting to blame others.  I remember my sense of shame  … and  … I remember ultimately recognizing that if I was not part of the solution, than I was part of the problem … by default.  

And so, I feel both obligated and compelled to inhabit my days more fully invested; with my eyes fixed beyond my own lived experience, using my voice to stretch awareness and disrupt the oppressive influences that I become aware of … despite risking my connection to my mainstream comforts – despite risking connection with the family/friends who can make me feel safe in my own comfort zone … because as Ben Franklin so wisely recognized:

justice - 1

And so, with a tremble and a tear, I make this pledge to myself.  I humbly choose to risk my significance. I cannot comfortably inhabit the polarized dualism of us versus them.  I cannot keep my gaze reduced to my own lane.  I cannot step over the injurious conjecture or contemptuous confabulations coming from those who don’t see or erroneously dismiss the complexities of an issue  … even though I have an understanding of some of the fears that perpetuate the problem.  I do recognize that we may personally pay a price when we make room for ‘others.’ And, I realize that when you are accustomed to living with privilege, a movement towards inclusion and equity can feel threatening … it can even seem like reverse oppression.  I get that. I just can’t continue to condone it with my silence.

So, I do expect some push back. But I am also sensing that many in the mainstream majority will want to meet me on the margins.  Many will want to gain a better understanding of what it is that we have not lived …  so we might learn what it is that we don’t yet know. Ultimately, for me, I am realizing that I have to keep stretching myself because it just doesn’t feel right for me to continue to dwell silently in those privileged spaces …without further investigation about who is paying the price for my comforts …and/or … who does not have access to the same.

I think its because I cannot fully live there … Karen

P.S. I believe that talking about power and privilege is not about imposing guilt on the mainstream. It is not about blaming and shaming any of us.  From where I am looking it is more like talking about air.  Please click here if you are interested in that conversation.

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Boundaries are Sooooo Tricky …

 

In this very short but compelling  video clip, Brené Brown discusses the notion of living a B.I.G. Life.  Her research has revealed that the most compassionate people are the most “boundaried” people. She begs the question of what Boundaries we would need to erect in order to live in Integrity and be the most Generous in our assumptions of others (i.e. believing that everyone is doing the very best they can in each and every situation). Makes perfect sense … intellectually. And, I’d venture to say we’d inhabit a world filled with expressions of compassion/empathy/good will if it were easier to actually do this in our day to day existence!

But, boundaries are so darn tricky to execute.  It is so much easier to erect a boundary once you are PISSED OFF.  There is NO second-guessing about putting up a boundary once you’ve been hurt.  We may not even think twice at that point … and then … we erect it angrily and often self-righteously.  But the problem with putting up boundaries in ANGER is that the meatiest part of our message gets lost in the perception of ATTACK.  When you put up a boundary with someone because you are feeling violated … they feel your anger … and may not be able to hear your justification for erecting the boundary.

In fact, many people who have been chronically wounded in their prior lived experience struggle terribly in their attempt to set boundaries … because – they often approach the boundary WITHOUT the assumption that people are doing the best they can.  Their perceptions that people in the present and future will be out to get them just like the ones in their past shift the energy and intent behind the boundaries.  And when we are coming from that defended space, our boundaries are like fences erected out of barbed wire … rather than compassionate reminders of how we need and want to be treated.

And so, we must learn to set the boundaries before we could shoot daggers out of our eyes …to  set them proactively … not … reactively.  We must learn how to set them kindly and firmly.  And then … lovingly hold them in place for the benefit of all of those concerned.

And to do so, we might have to sit in the discomfort of guilt rather than the self-righteousness of resentment.  This is the trickiest part to navigate.  Many of us are more comfortable living with the resentment directed at others than inhabiting the guilt we might feel in our own hearts if/when we have our own backs …before we get mad at another. BIG lives do not just happen … they are consciously and courageously created.

May we all commit to living BIG … Karen

 

 

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