JOURNAL PROMPT: April 3, 2022 – What are you most grateful for … ?

I guess it depends on where I am setting my gaze, but there are so many, many, many things to be grateful for … on so many levels … micro, meso and macro. I don’t even think I could create a specific list that fully encompasses or adequately exhausts my appreciation for all the ‘beings’, ‘doings’ and ‘havings’ that shape my life and my experience of things.

I remember many years ago reading a couple of amazing books both written by M. J. Ryan focused upon the power of gratitude. “Attitudes of Gratitude” was an exceptional invitation to hone the lens through which I chose to see the world. I highlighted so much in that book that the pages were yellow. It was a game changer for me.

Another really lovely book filled with invitations to experience the world through lens of gratitude is “A Grateful Heart”.  It is a book of ‘blessings’ upon which to reflect as an evening ‘grace’ before meals. I didn’t use them in that fashion. I tended to use them as morning meditations … inspiring thoughts to underpin my days.

Anyway … I share this because maybe the thing I am most grateful for is that fact that I choose to look with grateful eyes. We typically find whatever it is that we are looking for. If we are looking for what is right, we will find it. If we are looking for what is wrong, we will find that too. I caught an episode of “Oprah” many decades ago in which she spoke about developing a daily gratitude practice. She stated that it had changed her life. I was inspired by that thought. I determined that if it was good enough for Oprah … it would be good enough for me.

So, way back in 1999, I bought a luxurious leather bound journal and started recording my appreciations into it. Every day I jotted down five things I was grateful for … and … I made it a rule that I could not say the same thing twice. So, at the risk of having to repeating myself, I noticed that I started consciously seeking things each day that I could record into my list the next morning.

It was the most amazing thing! I started to recognize all the things that previously escaped my awareness. I became far more conscious about the things that were going well and right, rather than the wrong and bad eclipsing my gaze. This shift in focus generated positive neural pathways for me that got myelinated each and every day. The more I did it, the easier it got.

I recorded my ‘gratitudes’ faithfully for years … and then … fell away from it for some years … and then came back to it again. As you can see, I had determined my 2020 vision was going to be set on “Seeing the Gifts.” If only I had known how difficult but necessary that was going to become ………..

Yes. I am most grateful for my gratitude practice and the way it has shaped my gaze. Even though I am not writing it down each day anymore, I find that my brain is still cued to notice the things that are going well, to see the gifts in my challenges and to bring light to dark … and even … to notice the things that I don’t want, that I don’t have. And, for all of THAT, I am most and ever grateful.

With heartfelt appreciation, 💖 Karen 💖

JOURNAL PROMPT – March 16, 2021: Do you share your vulnerabilities with others? Why or why not?

You know, for the first 40+years of my life my vulnerabilities were tucked tightly behind my shiny façade of perfection. I was all masked up so no one would be the wiser of my shoddy genesis. In addition to trying to outrun my shame with my perfectionism, I tried to distract people from seeing too far into me by people-pleasing, performing and proving myself to be shiny and bright. And, I do not say this with self-judgment. I offer up this observation with deepest compassion for myself.

And, when we talk about all this through the lens of the ‘shadow’ … i.e. the shadow of our subconscious mind, I can see that these efforts might have actually saved me. Yes. It strikes me that choosing to be so committed to my ‘story’ that all was well in my world might have spared me from ending up on a path that might have looked quite different. Seeking something better may have kept me from falling victim to the unfavorable reality of ‘what was’. I could wear a smile despite the chaos and dysfunction that I was marinating in. For the most part, I think I was pretty convincing. Most people had no idea. I even hid it all from myself to some degree. I certainly stuffed it way down deep.

As I shared in one of my blogs … I certainly did not ‘feel’ like what I appeared to be. Of course, there were also a few people … one ‘colleague’ in particular … who did not buy the façade but had no idea what was really going on behind my smile. They didn’t believe it so they called me “fake.” Perhaps they were right to some degree, but … their critical appraisal of me felt somewhat cruel to me and certainly raised some concerns regarding their professional acumen. People in their profession are supposed to help, not harm. They were a counsellor.

The truth was, I was hiding. A slight but very meaningful distinction. And, sadly, I triggered them so much that they did their best to make me utterly miserable. And I was so committed to the façade that it probably looked like it didn’t even phase me. I did share with a couple of very close friends … people I knew I could trust, but for the most part, I hid all of my pain in this regard too.

I’m not sure if their intention was to ‘break me’ or what … but … it certainly was one of the most heartachingly difficult times in my life. But, in retrospect, it was also a gift offered up in a very ugly wrapping. It grew me. Maybe it it truer to say that I allowed it to grow me. I could have let it take me down because, in all fairness, their assault on my desire to be accepted was not unprecedented. I had been told before that “You’re the kind of girl we love to hate” so … it was not the first time I had been rejected on the basis of my shiny façade.

It is really ironic to recognize that I was hiding behind my façade to avoid being rejected. And, ultimately, it was my façade that actually got me rejected. While it had saved me in some ways … it also invited incredible judgment and visible disconnection from others. It was definitely an experience of ‘both/and’ … rather than … ‘either/or’. That is how it goes with our embracing our vulnerabilities. It is both a blessing and a curse. That said … it is good to remember the words of some wise soul who said: “We are always caught by what we are running from.” Yep. But only always. 🙄

Once I started my healing journey … I was able to drop the cape of perfection and began to embrace all the parts of me I had judged so harshly. I reclaimed my shame and, much to my surprise, found oodles of gifts in it. For example, I can see that because I was always afraid that I would never measure up … I worked really hard to be top of my class. My desire to live in integrity was birthed from the realization that doing what I believed was ‘right’ spared me from hanging my head in any more shame or guilt. My inner pain has invited me to be more compassionate and understanding with others. All in all, I can honestly credit my ‘shame’ shadow (along with many other unwelcome shadows) for what I define as some of my greatest successes.

As I healed, I recognized that there were people who, in the words of the renowned vulnerability researcher Brené Brown, had earned the right to hear my ‘story.’ And so … I allowed myself to be real, authentic and vulnerable with the other coaches in my Certified Integrative Coaching training program with The Ford Institute. Wow. To be received with such compassion and understanding. To be encouraged to embrace my ‘wholeness’ was the most remarkable gift. It brings me tears, again … right now … even after all these years.

Yes … let me not skip over the fact that “hurt people, hurt people,” so not everyone is to be trusted with our vulnerabilities. We must be cautious if we put our fragilities into the hands of those who will not tend to them with utmost respect and deference.

And, I think this whole journey has made me a better counsellor/therapist myself. I tend to intuitively see when someone else is wearing a mask … in a heart beat. I know there is a whole lot of pain and fragility behind it. I know I need to be tender and careful. I know that what we see on the ‘outside’ of someone is often being driven by the opposite on the ‘inside’. You know … hard shells generally exist to protect very vulnerable parts.

And, I often share my vulnerabilities in the counselling room (not to make it about me) but to make it safe for them claim, share and get more comfortable with their own vulnerabilities. As I say this, I realize I have never, ever hidden behind my façade in the counselling room. Nope … the stories I share inside those walls are NEVER flattering. I am chuckling now, because I am realizing that I share my shame quite comfortably with my clients. It is really interesting to note that I actually use my shame in my profession to serve others … and … people continue to express how much they appreciate me being so ‘real’ with them.

And, over the years, I have also come to share my vulnerabilities in my blogs. And, speaking honestly to them here on the page has proved the idea that vulnerability invites ‘connection’ whereas trauma invokes ‘protection’ (the façade). Once again, to borrow the words of Brené Brown, I always get the worst ‘vulnerability hangover’ when I share my vulnerabilities online, but I have been both surprised and comforted by the compassionate responses that people have offered when engaging with my moments of fragility.

It’s also so good for me to learn that I can stand in the truth of my wholeness. And these days … I see that I am less likely to hide if/when I feel judgment or ostracism coming from someone else as a result of my sharing. I am far more likely to realize it shows me something about who they are … and … what they cannot be with … rather than who I am.

With deepest reverence for our collective vulnerabilities, 🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT – February 25, 2021: What life experience has strengthened you the most?

The answer to this journal prompt is easy. The life experience that has strengthened me the most was the life experience that I thought was annihilating me forever. My eldest daughter left home two months after her 15th birthday. After growing up in a less than Hallmark home, I had invested so much effort into creating what I thought was the ‘perfect’ home for my little girls. I could not fathom how she was rejecting it … and … me.

While it seemed at the time as the worst possible thing that had ever happened to me, it was actually the catalyst that led me to the path of healing. And, I must concede it was a path I did not even know I needed to be on. I naively thought I had made my way through my unfavorable childhood and had fairly effectively managed the wounds I had collected in my lifetime. I didn’t have any clue there was so much left to heal. But, thanks to my exceptional daughter, I could no longer delude myself into the notion that ‘the teenager’ was the only source of the problem in our house. When she was no longer in the picture (or in the house), I had nowhere to project my distress.

I had nothing I could do except look inward and see how I could find my way though the mess. I initially sought solace from the pain of ‘losing her’ … but in doing so … I found my way to a much grander healing. I discovered the body of work of Debbie Ford … which lead to so much growth … which led to me getting trained as a Certified Integrative Coaching Professional …which led to me going back to school ,.. which ultimately led me back to my childhood career dreams of becoming a therapist and being able to help others overcome their own wounding. It not only led me to my career in counselling, but expanded my gaze and softened my heart and widened my capacity for understanding.

And … it was not an easy path to healing. Debbie’s body of work is not for the feint of heart. As I peeled back the layers of the person I thought I was, I was flabbergasted to see that I gained as much as I surrendered. And, somehow, my relationships with ALL my daughters were optimized as I healed myself. Yes. I am stronger because I am healthier emotionally. I worked through much of the traumatic default patterns of behavior that were negatively impacting my parenting style. I started to identify things (thoughts, words and deeds) that I didn’t even realize were not serving me well.

As guided by Debbie Ford and her impeccable body of work, I embraced all my dark shadows instead of continuing to try to out run them or hide them or deny them. I learned to embrace all my perceived shortcomings … recognized my self-righteous positions. I humbled my pride and dropped the mask I had been wearing that I believed was protecting me. I tenderly touched into my shame, welcomed my vulnerability and honored my mistakes. I made honest amends (for ALL of things I was still holding judgement against myself – going back to when I was 10 years old). I courageously faced my embarrassments. I owned my anger and unwrapped the strength and wisdom that was tucked inside it. I reckoned with my fear of weakness and allowed it to help me be compassionate with myself. I settled into my vulnerability and gave myself permission to mess up and be human.

And, ironically, it was in that space of fragility that I found my freedom. I discovered such reverence and compassion for my own heartaches and heartbreaks. I became aware of the insidious ways in which I had already and could continue to hurt others. I assumed responsibility for ensuring that my intentions were honorable. I investigated when I noticed they were not. I usually discovered where I was justifying my attack thoughts in my unprocessed wounding.

I also claimed my light shadows. This was almost harder than embracing the unwelcome aspects of my personhood. I started to see both the best of who I could be (and was) and unconditionally love and accept the parts of me that I previously judged so harshly. I could go on and on and on and on and on.

There was so much to learn … so much to integrate …and so much to embrace on the other side of my perception of my daughter’s rejection. And, as crazy as it sounds, I will be ever grateful to her for helping me find my truest sense of strength by lovingly embracing my all weaknesses … and … gifting me with the path to more ‘wholeness.’ Yes. I am ever, ever, ever grateful. That horrific feeling of ‘breakdown’ of who I thought I was … turned out to be my invitation to ‘breakthrough’ and claim more of who I could be.

And, twenty-five years later … I am STILL being invited by life to unwrap concealed parts of myself. It never gets easy … but … it is always so very worth it.

Here’s to embracing the courageous warrior within each of us … 🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT – January 17, 2021 – The title of a movie of your life would be?

There is no doubt about it … the old boy and I are in the final quarter of our lives. And, this reality has been taking up more space in my awareness of late. I noticed myself thinking the other day that I have had a pretty good life. And then of course, in true INFJ fashion, I found myself questioning what I thought was so great about it???

It was a weird juxtaposition because although I feel a sense of satisfaction with the way things have turned out … when I look back over the events, circumstances and situations that have framed my existence, my life has certainly not been without many traumatic challenges, unenviable difficulties … and … unwelcome experiences/situations and people.

And yet, as I reflect back over it all, there is nothing I would change. Well, except maybe the timeliness of my responses. I can see very clearly, in retrospect, that I might have spared myself some undue pain and suffering had I responded differently … sooner … to the events in my world. But, as Maya Angelou has reminded us, we do better once we know better.

That said, I think this is where the story line of my life holds its power. While I have had my fair share of grief, loss and hardship … I do believe that, ultimately, my responses have empowered me rather then disempowered me. When I look back, I can see that I really did make the best of what was positioned before me … even if it took me a while to figure out how to accomplish that feat. I can see that I really did focus upon finding the blessings in the challenges. I really did search for the gold in the dark. I truly believed that there was a pony in the poop … somewhere.

I have never spent a whole lot of time lamenting my lot in life. Which doesn’t mean I haven’t fallen hard. I sure have. I just haven’t gotten stuck in it for too long. I know when I was a child, I didn’t have the luxury of wallowing in the muck. I knew no one was coming to save me. I knew it was on me to figure it out.

That said, I haven’t always seen things clearly. I have sometimes misunderstood myself, my loved ones and the world around me. I have been derailed by my highly-kindled amygdala. I have been unkind to myself. I have made things worse. I have got it wrong. I have been a bull in a china shop. I have been humbled beyond belief. I have cleaned up the messes. I have apologized. I have learned some hard lessons.

Nonetheless, and despite any darkness that descended around me, I can confidently confirm that I have always, always, always looked for the light. I have persistently done my best to turn the lemons into lemonade. I have been chronically committed to creating fertilizer out of the shit. And, I have remained determined to let it grow me.

And, when things have been at their absolute worst … I could unfailingly count on that still, small voice inside of me nudging me out of any hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness and/or stuckness by persistently pushing me forward with this little query: “How are you going to live a great life anyway?”

And so … I don’t think there is any doubt about it … the name of the movie of my life would be the same as the name of my business page on Facebook/Instagram:

“Live a Great Life Anyway …”

Oblivious by design or choice … ??

Yep. See that cranky ‘WTF’ look on that bird’s face? Pretty much captures my feelings about the first six months of 2020. The year was not anything like what I was planning. My “2020 Vision” was to head into what is realistically the ‘last quarter’ of my life checking things off my bucket list. I had eagerly got the ball rolling last September by reducing my work hours and booking some once in a lifetime travels. Things were shaping up so beautifully, but then … there was Covid-19.  And then … as if a pandemic was not enough … there was June 2020.

I am not a particularly contentious person. As a counsellor/therapist, I am deeply committed to honoring people’s perspectives. I am usually pretty good at it … but … June 2020 was a real challenge for me. I should share that I have been schooled through the Faculties of Social Work for both my undergraduate and graduate level studies. And yes, I am proud to be a social worker … to the deepest core of my being. In my post secondary education, I realized that although we may believe we are well-informed and well-educated humans, but there is so much we don’t know that we don’t know about our humanity and those who experience life differently than those of us in the dominant mainstream. My studies invited me to take a deep dive into exploring the “isms” (racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, capitalism, colonialism – to name a few) that were strategically ‘left out’ of our academic curriculums. I really began to understand the horrific oppression experienced by ‘others’ as a result of their marginalization.

Yes. Just like the fish doesn’t see the water it is swimming in, I felt ashamed to learn that I didn’t know a darn thing about the unseen advantages and unearned privileges I had unwittingly enjoyed for decades. Yes. I came to see very clearly that  as a heterosexual, middle-class, well-educated, employed, married white woman, I landed fairly comfortably within the center of the mainstream, dominant majority. There were a few things that nudged me a little closer to the margins, but for the most part, I got a free pass.

I did not have a Hallmark life by any stretch of the imagination so please don’t misunderstand what I mean when I acknowledge my ‘privilege’. In no way am I dismissing or disregarding the challenges and traumatic overwhelm I experienced as a child. Collectively recognizing our White privilege does not mean we have lived charmed lives. It merely means we recognize that our skin color has not generated any extra hardships, hurdles or challenges for us.

And so, somehow, through my evolution and growth, I became deeply committed to social justice. And, as my understanding grew regarding the challenges Black, Indigenous and People of Color [BIPOC] faced on a regular basis, I became more invested in disrupting all the systems and structures that relegated  some folks to the margins and kept certain demographics of people oppressed and ‘othered.’ In fact, it might be fair to say that nothing gets me triggered more quickly than acts of oppression and social injustice. I am not sure what happens within me, but I am not able willing to keep my mouth shut. And, it invariably gets me into really hot water.

One of the first times I took a strong stand was early in my career. I speak more about it in another blog entitled Better Because you Were Not the Least Bit Nice. It was the very first time I took on the ‘bully’ and, although it built deep strength in my ethics and convictions to disrupt oppression, it was unequivocally the hardest challenge I had tackled up to that point in my life. 

My commitment to anti-oppressive practices also got me into some serious contention with my supervisor in my Masters Practicum in a clinical social work setting. I spent eight months immersed in a mainstream, medical-model of mental health counselling/therapy.  Much of what I was witnessing was bumping into my anti-oppressive teachings and contrary to a more trauma-informed approach to health and healing. I almost requested a transfer … but … eventually found my way to the end of it.  It was also one of the darkest rides of my life. 

My commitment to social justice also inspired me to take a firm stand and report a colleague who I came to recognize was causing harm. They countered by threatening to sue me for defamation of character unless I provided a formal apology or substantiated my claims. I opted for the latter. After appraising my position, the individual decided to ‘retire’. 

I also opted to take a stance with my employer recently regarding a number of concerns that I addressed in a 25 page grievance which I submitted to the Executive Director. Although, ethically, I would argue that the Board of Directors should have been privy to weighing out the concerns expressed in my grievance before I was handed my Record of Employment and hefty severance cheque … things don’t always happen as they should.  It cost me $9000.00 in legal fees to confirm that I did, in fact, have a case for wrongful dismissal. I had two years from the date of my departure to decide whether or not I want to invest any more of the precious moments of my ‘final quarter’ engaged in the ugly energy of litigation. While I remain committed to ethics and integrity … I realized that I would never want my job back … not given the direction that the agency was headed. And, I had to concede that you can’t force insight.  So, I made the decision to opt for peace over principle. I expanded my private practice and have never been happier in my career.

I share all of this because I am not sure what comes over me when I am in the presence of something that seems unethical or unjust, but I feel driven to take a stand. And so, on May 25, 2020, as the news of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer was broadcast, I became deeply disturbed. Because the video of the murder was leaked online … there was no way to deny what had actually happened.

George Floyd was pleading with the officer to take his knee of his neck saying “I can’t breathe” and calling out for his deceased mother. These deeply disturbing reports motivated many, many meaningful “Black Lives Matter” protests which morphed into some destructive riots … and ultimately … generated highly opinionated and heated exchanges on all platforms of social media. Here is one of the worst ones that I felt compelled to address:

Seriously? Protestors are all unilaterally deemed terrorists?? I attended a protest. Does this make me a terrorist? I cannot begin to fathom what ‘rights’ White Americans were losing as protests tried to bring attention to the perpetual challenges, inequities and injustices experienced by those who are Black. But … Americans can’t breathe?? Oh my … I tried my best to be tactful in my response:

I struggle with posts like this because it seems to me that generalizing and defining all the protests by the actions of some is as unjust and misguided as judging and defining all police officers by the actions of some. I am not sure I understand how generating more ‘us’ versus ‘them’ by using inflammatory name calling is likely to foster a peaceful answer either.

The Black Lives Matter protests were quickly met with counter claims that “All Lives Matter” and “Rioting is wrong” and “Not all cops are bad.” I saw a great commentary speaking to this backlash written by one person but “stolen” from someone else. It’s another pet peeve of mine when people don’t credit the source of the sentiments they are sharing on social media. I realize that sometimes the source is entirely unknown … but would it not be far more respectful to simply give credit where credit is due rather than to ‘borrow’ or ‘steal’ from someone else? Anyway, I digress. Here is something that I found worthy of consideration regarding all the competing opinions.

It might be a bit of a stretch to presume it makes them feel like a good person … but, I would agree that it allows people permission to discredit the expressed concerns of ‘others’. It also occurred to me that another way of looking at it is in terms of being a landlord with several rental units.

If one of my tenants calls to inform me of a problem with their water line … pleading with me by saying “I need water.” Would it be helpful for me to respond by saying “all my tenants need water?” Although it might be technically true that all my tenants need water, it would intentionally dismiss the problem. 

Would it be helpful for me to counter with “Hmmm, no one else is complaining about their water lines.” This also might be a very true statement … but … is not the least bit helpful for the tenant who isn’t getting water.

No. If I am a decent landlord, I am going to listen to their very real and specific problems and then focus my attention to correct the problems they are experiencing. My focus in their direction does not diminish my concern for my other tenants. Rather … it ensures that each and every one of my tenants have equal access to water.

And oh my, oh my, oh my.  People were highly charged by all the talk about racism. And, their ‘opinions’ were liberally plastered on every social media site possible. The opinions were not necessarily founded upon facts. I would agree with the following, but … that didn’t stop people from exercising their right to elevating their ‘opinion’ and deliberately discounting the experience of other people.

And, as the days turned into weeks in June, my heart struggled with it all. Although, as I said, I am usually able to hold a variety of perspectives side by each, but as the days turned to weeks, I became more and more outraged by what I was seeing online. I got into a few debates on social media myself. I took a few stands when it seemed that my silence was making me complicit with oppressive energy.

I did, however, get myself unfriended. The most egregious evidence of the “latch onto some minor inconsequential statement to discredit the whole thing in their heads” logic was displayed in a meme that I saw on on one of my friends Facebook profile. This was the one that tipped me right over the edge. The creator of this post went so far as to scoff at the suffering .. and … suggest very clearly that no one wanted to be bothered to hear any more about the injustices BIPOC have been experiencing for centuries.

I must admit that I lost my usual decorum and responded from an outraged place. While this meme may seem humorous at first glance … if we peel back the layers of what is not being said in the actual words … there is no denying that some racist attitudes are unequivocally visible in this message. From where I am looking, the people “copying and pasting” this sentiment are giving themselves permission to effortlessly elevate the damage sustained to corporate ‘material things’ as something far more grievous and worthy of their attention than caring the least bit about whether or not equality and justice is being served to each every part of our collective humanity.  

I concede that I should have waited until I was less heated before I responded. I am not proud of the way I handled my frustration in that moment.  I think my position was solid, but I could certainly could have made my point with less bite. I regret that. I trust they did not see what I saw in that posting because I cannot understand how seemingly decent people would deliberately choose to malevolently mock and callously dismiss the reason people are protesting in the first place!  Sadly, with a bit of grammatically incorrect quick wit, the entire intent of the 2020 civil rights upheaval was being hijacked by mainstream, dominant-centered thinking that globally dismisses experiences that they cannot relate to personally.  And, in doing so, unequivocally renders visible the racist attitudes that are being challenged by the protests.  

In my humble opinion, the folks who are chuckling while posting and re-posting this statement affirm and reify the entire root of the problem. And, sadly, it seems that as they self-righteously scoff … they obviate their absolute apathy, denigrating dismissal and utter disregard for the plight of others with their clever quip. Had the centuries of peaceful pleas persistently presented by BIPOC been held, heeded and honored rather than historically ignored, we might not have seen the looting and vandalism that emerged as a last ditch effort to get the public’s attention.

Where is the compassion for people who have had enough? While I am not condoning the looting/vandalism, I really do wonder how many of us can say we have never been mad enough to break something in our lives? How many of us have ever felt so helpless, hopeless and powerless that we lost our regard for the value of material things?

Unless and until our opinions of ‘others’ are informed and tempered by compassion, we will unwittingly continue to perpetuate the problems and erroneously believe we had nothing to do with it.

I’ve been watching myself with compassionate curiosity.  For the most part, when I see something on Facebook that I don’t agree with … I can simply scroll on by it. Somehow, though, as I have shared … I am not able to do that when it comes to social injustice. So, I have continued to speak up some more. I have stood in considerable discomfort. I have engaged in some really tough conversations.

As I shared, I attended one of the protests in a city nearby where I live. Even though we were in a pandemic, I donned a mask and headed out to stand in solidarity. From where I am looking … the potential for risk that I consciously took to attend was an essential and necessary risk to help mediate the persistent and certain risk faced every day (not just during Covid-19) by BIPOC. While many of us are getting our first taste of having our personal liberties compromised by the pandemic, many folks have endured a lack of liberation over the entire course of their lives.

It struck me that we might be wise to let our experience of reduced freedoms during Covid-19 inform and fuel our compassion for those who persistently must live without even the most basic liberties in life.  Not everyone saw it that way though.  Many people took exception to the fact that people were “allowed” to protest, but not allowed to visit their family members, attend weddings or honor their loved one’s passing at funerals. For me, the decision came down to deciding that violations of human rights must take precedence over concerns regarding application of public policy. That said, I was really relieved to hear that our Chief Medical Officer of Health here in Alberta  confirmed in a recent update that no cases of Covid-19 can be traced to protest activities in our province.

Not everyone is convinced that racism is a problem though. And, it seems that White people are particularly averse to thinking that they might be considered racist. Other bodies of thought contend that we are all racist. And … we can participate in anti-racist work even though we are working on our own implicit racist tendencies. There was a really good placard suggesting we treat racism like Covid-19.

However, most folks have trouble with the whole notion. It seems to evoke a black versus white thing instead of an opportunity to come together to eradicate the inequalities and injustices experienced by others.

Well at least it should be! Since my eyes were opened in post secondary education, I have never presumed that my education was adequate, so in response to this recent uprising, I started reading “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. For us white folk, it’s a necessary but very humbling read.

I also discovered, in June 2020, that despite my five years of social work education, I had no knowledge of all the inhumane “Indian Hospitals” that unapologetically existed in addition to the atrocious Residential Schools throughout Canada. I wanted to learn more about why our understanding of those hospitals was nationally hushed, so I ordered “Medicine Unbundled.” It was not until reading that book that I became informed about how Indigenous people were used in very inhumane but government sanctioned medical experiments. The more I learned the more disheartened I became. I sometimes wished I didn’t care so much. I have wondered why I couldn’t just turn my attention away from it all …

But … the conversation about White Privilege was too much for many people. Oh my gosh … the backlash.  People responded quite indignantly that they had hard lives too! What they do not understand is that by acknowledging our privilege, we are not saying we have had an ‘easy’ life. The term ‘privilege’ speaks to the reality that skin color has never complicated a white person’s life in any way! In fact, it is typically an advantage … despite any other challenges white folk may be required to endure.  Well … except for the risk of sunburn. Yes. My pale, white freckled skin leaves me very vulnerable to sunburn … but that is it.

As we learn more, we can come to realize that our privilege affords us the power to effect the changes that the Black community has been beseeching and pleading to the masses for – for years.  I saw this placard when I attended the protest in Lethbridge …

The reason it resonated so deeply with me is because the oppressed don’t have sufficient power to effect the change that is so desperately needed. They need the mainstream majority to use their power and privilege to enact the changes.

My internal drive to advocate for social justice also inspired me to join a local equality alliance in our community several years ago. I marched with them in my first PRIDE parade in 2016.  June has been decreed as PRIDE month. It is usually marked by celebrations honoring the LGBTQI2S+ community.  And then, also in June of 2020, I sensed that my ally-ship was being discredited.  Ouch. Double ouch. I am assuming it was speculated to be “performative” (i.e. offered only to make myself look good). I spoke up on my own behalf, and could have belabored the discussion, but I decided not to invest my energy trying to shift perspectives in this regard. People will believe what they want to believe. It is really frustrating to be misunderstood. I am just going to keep doing what I am doing. 

That really pinched, but June wasn’t even near done yet. Forgive me in this paragraph where my privilege speaks loud and clear. Turns out that the old boy and I had to cancel the indulgent and idyllic ‘last-quarter’ trip overseas to cruise behind the Iron Curtain. We had booked it almost a year before and were supposed to be enjoying in September 2020. My Bestie and I also had to cancel our eagerly anticipated 100km walk along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  We also had a trip to Salt Spring Island cancelled in July 2020 because interprovincial travel was not yet recommended because of Covid-19. Yes. All the power and privilege I have  gained by being positioned comfortably in the mainstream got revoked. My skin color couldn’t get me on that boat … nor … could it buy me a pass to wander the Camino. 

Oh and because I attended the BLM protest in June…. I followed the recommendation of our Chief Medical Officer for all those who attended a protest. I didn’t have any symptoms and although the test  came back negative, it was interesting to experience the sense of shame that accompanied the whole situation. I hoped no one saw my car in the ‘testing line’ because I felt like I was somehow tainted as the Public Health Nurse approached me wearing all the layers of PPE possible. She was wonderful, but the process was definitely stigmatizing. All in all, it was such a humbling experience. 

And then, one night our phones started screaming with highly alarming alerts warning of a tornado from a storm that delivered hail stones the size of golf balls near here and the size of baseballs and grapefruits in neighboring communities. Good grief … 2020 seemed to stop at nothing to make us tremble in our boots. And, if that wasn’t enough for marking us half way through 2020 … it looks like some people were still committed to re-electing Trump in November.

Yes. June 2020 was a real head shaker. I share my comments about Trump’s supporters, because June 2020 really taught me a lot about ‘opinions’ …and … how unshakeable and how unreasonable some of our opinions prove to be. Pluto does a great job explaining:

And, it has been my experience that people, for the most part, don’t have the conversations suggested by Pluto. Nope. Seems people are exceptionally committed to their opinions … even if evidence to the contrary invites them to stretch their perspectives. All one has to do is spend a little bit of time online to see that people are quick inject their own beliefs into a situation without any obvious connection to the real meaning of the discussion.

Here is another example of people avoiding the deeper issues with police brutality and instead trying to turn the tables on the ones who have been assaulted. It’s really interesting to me because how many of us actually KNOW for sure … beyond the depictions we see on TV … how the police interact with minorities. Most of us have very little interaction with police. And so … we take our limited experience … and come to the conclusion that brutality wouldn’t happen if people didn’t get into trouble?? Seriously. Lots of people thought this logic made perfect sense.

Unfortunately, what people don’t know is that in the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment was established to forbid slavery, except where the condition is imposed on an individual as punishment for a crime!! And so, after the 13th amendment was passed, slavery was just resurrected in a new form. As confirmed in the data, the police were urged to charge as many Black men as they could in order to assure free labor continued. And so, contrary to the notion held by White people suggesting that people are being apprehended for lacking common sense, Black people were/are stopped for all manner of ridiculous reasons. Mass incarceration is an indisputable fact that White people have no idea about. It is, in fact, one of the reasons for the protests.

Oh my gosh. There are so many layers and complexities to consider in all of this. Unfortunately, it seems that many folk are either unable or unwilling to consider the possibility that their perspective is not entirely inclusive. I also came across another post on a Facebook group that I could not scroll past either.

One of the groups I enjoy invites people to post pictures of their travels! And, especially during Covid-19, it has been a real delight to experience the world through the lens of other people. That said, however, I came across this haunting picture of Auschwitz.

It took my breath away because it reminded me of our own visit there many years ago.  Of course we had heard about the unforgiveable atrocities that were committed upon Jewish people during WWII … but … to get a ‘felt sense’ of the place took my empathy and understanding of the heinous actions to a whole new level of understanding. Anyway, one of the comments under this post caught my eye:

I saw a number of responses suggesting that by removing evidence of the suffering and sanitizing these atrocious historical events and places, we risked allowing horrific things like this to happen again.  Valerie remained committed to her position and responded to another person’s suggestion that these moments in time must be honored, rather than rendered into something more palatable and “nice”.  

And well … at this point, the social worker in me was unable to simply keep scrolling.  For all of my life, I had understood empathy to be an act of feeling our way into another person’s experience … taking a walk in their shoes to embrace a deeper sense of how they must have been feeling.  It struck me that Valerie’s refusal to let the suffering of others into her awareness was the antithesis of empathy. Her stance was one of self protection. She could not bear to see it. 

But please don’t get me wrong. My issue with Valerie was not the sensitivity of her nervous system. I, too, can relate to being overwhelmed by external influences. I even quit watching the news because it triggered my arousal system so deeply that I needed to protect myself.  No. I recognize that there are times when we need to protect ourselves from the the stressors around us. That said, there are times when protecting ourselves from the ‘felt sense’ of experience of others can be very divisive and lead us to a lack of real empathy! 

For example, I vividly remembered feeling something similar to Valerie many, many years ago when I went to see the movie Born on the 4th of July. When the character played by Tom Cruise was paralyzed and forced to live in a horrid hospital setting … it was so sickeningly horrific to watch … I wanted to get up and leave the theatre. I felt like I couldn’t bear to see it anymore. I could actually hear myself thinking, “I can’t stand to see this … I’ve got to get out of here”.

And then … another voice within me firmly contested: “Those people, in that circumstance, didn’t have the privilege of leaving that horrendous space. They were trapped there for days, weeks, months!!  And, now, this is too much for YOU to bear … so YOU are going to bolt?? If they could LIVE through it for that long, you can sit through the truth of it for a few more minutes!!” 

Gah. So, I stayed. I sat in that seat and let myself really feel into the egregious circumstances that people endured during that war. And, I would argue that it was by actually facing the discomfort of another’s pain that I found a deeper sense of empathy for their circumstance.

So, as much as I could completely understand Valerie’s desire to look away … I took issue with her notion that by not looking into the truth of another’s experience that we were honoring them??  I took issue with her notion that no one should have an opportunity to get a felt sense of that horrific atrocity simply because ‘her’ personal experience of it was untenable?  From where I am looking, it is often our inability to relate to other’s experience that impedes our capacity for compassion. And so, I responded to Valerie:

I can see now that I might have wrapped my comments in a bit more context. My intention was to invite some awareness of how lucky most of us have been to escape the brutal life experiences that other people had no choice but to endure. Valerie did not accept my invitation to see it as ‘privilege’. In fact, as I shared before, that word is a real trigger for many folks  … and well … Valerie sure let me have it!!

Whattt??? As I pulled the daggers out of my chest, I double checked her comments to ensure I had not erroneously taken her out of context. Nope.  I had not. And I was once again reminded of how quick people choose to hurl insults at others when they don’t like what they are hearing. And maybe I should have simply ignored her comments, but I hoped I might be able to clear up any misconceptions … and … stretch her to seeing where I was coming from.

And so … it wasn’t long before the owners of the Page deleted the picture and all the comments. And, I completely understand why they did so. The unfavorable energy generated by my comments was not in keeping with the vision or intent of the Page.  And, I regret that my voice added to the anger and vitriol that was spewed about as a result.

Nonetheless, I believe my point was well taken. And I am sharing it here in order to expand upon the concept of privilege and choice. It does not escape me that I have sufficient privilege to escape many unfavorable discomforts that are part of BIPOC’s everyday realities.

And, so as we enter 2021 … I wish I could say that the challenges between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has landed in a place of mutual understanding. Not so. I find myself questioning whether we are oblivious to the challenges of others ‘by design’ or simply ‘by choice’ … or maybe … it is a complex combination of both.

This past week, a whole new type of protest happened.

  • On Capitol Hill.
  • Incited by the 45th President of the United States.

Donald Trump and many of the 75 million who voted for him were still contesting the results of the November 2020 election the deemed Joe Biden would be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America. The news reports have acknowledged that the perpetrators of this attempted coup … which is now being touted as “domestic terrorism” … were emboldened by the racist attitudes that have been seemingly normalized by Donald Trump over the last four years.

Media is also rendering visible how different the global response might have been were it BIPOC who stormed the Capitol. It is outrageous to think that people could gain access to these premises as easily as they did … and … the suspicion that their skin color aided and abetted them in their endeavors must certainly be considered.

This cabinet seat was arrogantly appropriated by one of the protestors.
Adam Christian Johnson smiled and waved as he was carrying Nancy Pelosi’s podium through the U.S. Capitol Building with other rioters. It is reported that he is 36, married with 5 children and has reportedly disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement.

So, as of January 9, 2021, there have been 55 arrests associated with the insurrection that claimed the lives of five people, including a police officer who was allegedly bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. I find it somewhat curious to notice that the pages of Facebook have not been littered with criticism of the “terrorists” who led this march? The general public, at least the memes being circulated on social media, are comparatively quiet about this protest. How come??

It is very interesting to note, however, that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have chosen to ban Donald Trump from any further posting.

Gah. What am I missing here?? How is it permissible for this PROTEST to be instigated by Trump and carried out by his “Make America Great Again” [MAGA] supporters, but the protests honoring the Black Lives Matters movements were vehemently dismissed by MAGA … disregarded entirely as unsubstantiated claims of a non-existent racism. How is all of this possible?? My queries were confirmed by the ladies on The View.

I suspect part of the problem is because we have not been educated to see beyond our own personal experiences. The mainstream, dominant majority effectively projects their own experiences upon everyone else … and … readily dismisses any narratives that do no align nicely with their own. We create silos filled with people who share the same thinking as our own and we do not stray beyond that much. We do not embrace opportunities to entertain notions that don’t fit our own story lines about life. Therefore, I would say that to some degree, we are oblivious by choice.

And, further to that, we are simply not invited by our educational curricula to see (with any compassion or empathy) into the lives of those who do not look like, walk like, talk like the mainstream dominant do. No. The voices of mainstream power and White privilege are amplified in our education systems and fail to adequately instruct us (in thoughtful and meaningful ways) about those who are different from the normative standard that has been elevated before us … i.e. White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class, English-speaking Christians. Therefore, I would suggest, we are oblivious by the sheer design of our academic institutions. Jane Elliott speaks to this issue very emphatically … in ways that many of us have before been invited to consider.

And, while I would hope that we would be open to learning from each other beyond the walls of our educational systems and religious organizations … I am not seeing a whole lot of that on social media platforms right now. But I certainly hope we can continue to have these hard conversations. I hope we will make room for discussions that make us reflect a bit more … that make us a bit uncomfortable … that invite us to check our privilege … that give us eyes of compassion … and ultimately … stretch our perspectives so that we might bridge the divide currently exists between us. 

With both hope and humility, 🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT – January 6, 2021 – The three things that you need to add to your life are …

Gosh, my life is very full. Sometimes it feels too full. So, I don’t think that there is anything really missing from my life … but I can think of a few things that I would like to add some more of:

More awe … more getting lost in the ‘flow’ of the moment/experience.

I want to lose all track of time and space while capturing the cosmos in more photographs. I want to ‘freeze’ all the exceptional moments offered by Mother Nature with my camera so I can revisit them over and over again. I want to savor more sunsets and sense the sunshine on my skin.

I want to play with colors and textures and piece together more quilting projects. There is such satisfaction in the creative process.

More wonder … more miracles.

I want to abide more in the energy of love than fear. I am eager to read more and write more. I want to get lost in all the stories … both others and my own. I want more opportunity to ponder it all.

And, as much as I want to enjoy those cognitive and emotional connections, I also want to deepen the connection with my body through Essentrics and yoga and lots and lots of walking outdoors.

More wandering … both internally and externally.

I feel inspired to meditate more. I am eager to quiet my mind and embrace the energy of calm and peace. And yet, as much as I yearn for that deep sense of tranquility, I am equally excited to explore my inner landscape … to peer more pensively into all the fascinations and endless curiosities of my INFJ mind.

I also long to move about more in terms of exploring my external world. There is something so enchanting about landing in far away places and experiencing unknown cultures and tastes and energies. I have such fond memories of South East Asia … of Africa … of Europe (both eastern and western) … of Mexico … and even of the USA and Canada. Yes. I definitely crave more travel. I can hardly wait to load up my backpack (with as little as possible) and eagerly anticipating the next destination.

Oh … I have a fourth thing that I must add. I need a cat. I need to add a furry feline friend to my life. As an only child, I always had a cat for a companion. After my beautiful Skruffi passed away, I decided I would not share my life with another animal until we were done the extensive travelling that we have planned for our semi-retirement years. BUT … just as soon as we know we will be spending more at home … I will invite a kitten to join our lives again. I am tickled at the thought of it. Absolutely tickled.

JOURNAL PROMPT – January 4, 2021: Choose a word for the year and explain why you chose it …

I notice the energy of my first posts in these ‘Journal Prompts’ has been focused around the ‘fear’ and ‘disconnect’ and ‘losses’ that we have been marinating in with Covid-19. While I know that both dark and light exist within me, I am eager to balance the scales of my perceptions and consciously shift my gaze away from the fears that can dominate by default.

The word I am going to choose for 2021 is miracles. I am choosing it because as I shared in our gratitude quest, I incorporated my company under the name of “Miracles! Your Center for Well-Being Inc” in 2001 after I was introduced to “A Course in Miracles” and came to understand the notion that a ‘miracle’ is simply a shift in perspective from ‘fear’ to ‘love’.

I am excited to practice this ‘miracle-making’ in my own perceptions by ‘consciously’ focusing on the principles of the ‘Course.’ And, thanks to my Bestie, I have signed up for “Mornings with Marianne”. She is the author of A Return to Love and for this entire next year, we are going to be receiving a video in our email with Marianne discussing the principles of A Course in Miracles.

I worry a bit that I might not complete it all. I have tried … countless times in the past … to study this remarkable text. I have never yet been successful. I worry a bit that my old patterns of getting “too busy” to keep it up might, once again, pre-empt my best intentions here … but … I remind myself to be ‘conscious’ each morning of honoring my intention for 2021. I trust that If I am conscious about where I am putting my time and energy, I will continue to meet with Marianne every morning. I feel prickles of excitement as I say that out loud.

Hmmmm … and … perhaps this year will also yield a lovely celebration on September 12th? I just did the math on that and noticed that 2021 marks my 20th anniversary of founding/working for ‘Miracles!’.

So, yes … it will be a year of ‘miracles’ if I can stick with ‘A Course in Miracles’ while celebrating 20 years of working for ‘Miracles!’.

Change is a process … not an event, 🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT – January 3, 2021: Last year was a year of ______. This year will be a year of ______.

Hmmm. It strikes me that last year was a year of disconnection. Maybe this year will be a year of reconnection to that which matters most.

Last year, in 2020, as the moments turned to minutes turned to hours turned to days turned to weeks and turned into months … life (as we had come to know and expect it) was seemingly snatched from all of us – right out of thin air. Air, we were told, that had become unsafe to casually and carefreely inhabit.

And, so, we became disconnected from our daily routines. We were not allowed to go to work. We were isolated from friends and discouraged from visiting family. We were told not to hug … not to touch … to distance from others. Leisure activities were cancelled. Even television programs had to shoot from home. Restaurants closed. Shopping was forced online. All our distractions were denied. Businesses shut down. Schools were closed. Travel was denied. Weddings and funerals were limited/postponed/cancelled due to “Covid restrictions”. All planning was put on hold. Social gatherings were outlawed – first indoors and then even outdoors. And, we were even ‘ordered’ by Public Health to rewrite our most sacred holidays and traditions. The covering of faces became mandatory. An energy of vigilance highjacked our freedom to simply be spontaneous and light-hearted and carefree. We were beseeched not to get close to one another.

Isolate. Distance. Disconnect.

Perhaps, however, there is much to gain from the gap that was created. Maybe 2021 will be an opportunity for us to collectively reconnect in a very conscious and deliberate way. Maybe we can begin to assess where we have been feeding ourselves with empty spoons. Maybe we can, instead, notice where we need to fill our spoons with healthy nourishment. Yes. Maybe we can get clear about what we are really hungry for …

I know, for myself, this past year has offered me a chance to recognize what really feeds my spirit and what doesn’t. I have spent more time writing … and … I can see how much it really fills me. And, as an introvert, a reduction in the typical overstimulation of living such a busy life was an unexpected blessing. My system had more time to recharge.

I notice that the old boy and myself spent more time engaging WITH each other rather than BESIDE each other. We have played more board games and watched less Netflix. We have cooked and cleaned up together in the kitchen. We have found space to tackle ‘the lists’ that never before seemed to take priority.

I spent more time in solitude. I spent more time outside. I took more pictures. I feel more rested.

Yes. Maybe 2021 will be a year of reconnection to our own souls. Maybe we will feed ourselves more of what really matters and less of what doesn’t. Maybe we will recalibrate in the most remarkable ways. Maybe we will look back on 2020 with gratitude?

Maybe it was a gift, in some ways, that we will continue to unwrap in 2021?

Fingers crossed … 🧡 Karen 🧡

Source Unknown … but deeply appreciated.

JOURNAL PROMPT – January 1,2021: How Do You Feel at the Start of a New Year?

I am honestly not sure. I get that the notion of a ‘New Year’ is that we have a whole fresh pallet upon which to paint our days. I do love the thought that we can leave the past in the past and create a whole new future. And yet, if we break it down, we have the opportunity to start anew each and every day. We need not wait for the New Year to change lanes, take a needed turn, speed up or slow down. All of these moments are available to us each and every day. Well, actually, each and every minute of each and every day.

As I often share with my clients, there are no neutral choices. Each seemingly insignificant decision we make is leading us toward the life of our dreams or away from it. And, sadly, we are not always conscious of the choices we are making that are co-creating the shape of our existence. I remember one time we were chatting about what you would wish for if you had one wish. My Dad’s answer has always stuck with me.

“To live consciously.”

Hmmm. I deeply appreciated his wisdom. And, I am wondering what 2021 will look like if I can live consciously?? What might my relationships feel like if I am conscious about each and every thought, word and deed that I offer others? I know it would be impossible to do it 100% of the time, but I wonder what it would be like if I made this my intent for 2021 …

If I am living consciously, I will be choosing my next step rather than mindlessly moving forward by default. If I am living consciously, I will notice when I am off track and can ‘reroute’ and get myself back on track more quickly. If I am living consciously, then I can disrupt any old patterns that are subconsciously leading me to recreate the past instead of the future.

Yes, if I am living consciously, I can turn on my own internal light and let it lead the way. I really like the sound of that for the New Year … the new day … the new next moment. Fingers crossed I can remain conscious enough often enough to do it … 🤞

Happy 2021 to one and all … 🧡 Karen 🧡

To Let Go …

To Let Go

Source Unknown … but deeply appreciated!


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