“Hi Karen. Your Job. How do you do it??”

“Hi Karen. Your job. How do you do it?? It has to feel overwhelming at times. All those stories and people with so many challenges – I know you love it and are passionate about what you do but there must be times you just want to bury your head and cry for the people who are suffering. I’m guessing the joy of helping someone pull out from under heavy burdens is the reward that makes it all worthwhile.”

LA

This heartfelt query arrived by email a while back and, as a counsellor/therapist, I get various versions of this question all the time! I completely understand the curiosity … people assume that ‘a typical day at the office’ means I am drowning in people’s upsets, distress, wounding and pain. But, in all sincerity … that is not my experience of my work at all. I am so incredibly inspired … on a regular basis … by the people I am fortunate enough to work with. Yes. I am both honored and humbled by the depth of genuine and authentic connection that characterizes my job. I can never know what the day will bring, but I feel a deep sense of reverence for each moment I get to spend with my peeps. I just never tire of the work I do. I wish I could sum it all up in one nice, concise, tidy paragraph … but … there are so very many layers and complexities involved in ‘how I do what I do’. I’m just hoping I can do it all justice here on these pages.

First, let me begin with a little back story. Even as a small little girl, I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. For me, ‘success’ in life would be realized when I got my PhD in Psychology and could help people heal the wounds of their childhoods. I dreamed of helping humans thrive despite the trials/tribulations/traumas that threatened to deter, derail, diminish, and/or defeat them. I could think of nothing more compelling than being seated before someone in a sacred space of sharing and fully honoring all the parts of their lived experience.

Some wise soul said we often want to give others what we most need to receive ourselves. I suspect that is true for me. So, the first part of my answer to ‘how I do what I do’ is that I have always had a passion for it! I have an insatiable curiosity about our collective humanity. I love to hear people’s stories. I have book shelves filled with self-help books. I am fascinated by neuroscience. And, as schmaltzy as it sounds, I feel like I really am living ‘my purpose’ on the planet. I cannot imagine a more rich or rewarding career.

All that said, and even though this vision was always crystal clear to me, it took me about a quarter of a century longer than I expected to get here. There were a whole number of zigs and zags along my 25-year path to this career. Somewhere along the way I realized that I didn’t need a doctorate in psychology to live out my dream. Initially, I became a Integrative Coaching Professional certified by The Ford Institute. And while this career choice deeply nourished my passion for a number of years, I eventually pursued and obtained both my Bachelor and Master of Social Work degrees as well. And sometime later, I was also inspired to become certified in the most powerful interventions for healing and processing trauma … i.e. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing [EMDR] and Accelerated Resolution Therapy [ART].

I should also share that I don’t think I could ‘do what I do’ if I didn’t hold so much reverence and respect for the people I am fortunate enough to work with. I remain deeply humbled by the depth of adversity we humans are invited to endure along life’s journeys. The stories that people share are replete with both reprehensible heartache and rich resilience. I have nothing but the utmost admiration for the folks that find their way to my office. And, I feel incredibly privileged to be welcomed into the the most tender and fragile parts of their being. They have taught me so much about myself and stretched my appreciation for the magnitude of the human spirit in the most magnificent ways.

In keeping with that, I must take issue with anyone who might regard counselling/therapy as something reserved for the weak or broken. Nothing could be further from the truth! It takes incredible strength and courage to reach out when we are struggling. It takes so darn much tenacity to look inside ourselves. I so deeply respect those who are willing to tease out what is not working well in their lives … and also then … assume responsibility for addressing it. It requires a level of candid honesty, transparency and authenticity that terrifies the best of us. I have absolute reverence for humans committed to their own healing. I honor and applaud them because I know they are often scared spitless and, yet, they show up for themselves anyway. 🙌

Perhaps the most critical prerequisite to doing what I do is ensuring I have done/continue doing my own inner work. It is essential for me to make peace with my own past so I can stay fully present for my peeps. If not, my unhealed stuff will invariably get activated by what is happening in their lives. If what I am observing triggers any kind of emotional discomfort and/or psychological judgment inside me (i.e. if I start bleeding myself), I have been hijacked back to my own unresolved stuff and can no longer tend to their wounding. And, if/when it happens (which it does on occasion), I see it as a red flag pointing me to additional layers of my own healing that need more attention.

So, if I am doing my job well, I need to arrive at the office as emotionally clean and mentally clear as humanly possible. That said, I have been diligent about doing my own inner work for almost 30 years. Pursing my own personal development is an investment I make in myself that benefits both me and my people.

Source unknown, but deeply appreciated.

And, after years of ‘doing what I do’, I have learned I also need to be well rested and emotionally/mentally grounded so I can hold sufficient space to best honor people’s needs. Given the gravity of the challenges that often typify my work, I cannot just ‘coast’ through my days in any way, shape or form. I need to be as alert, attentive and aware as possible. As such, committing to an impeccable level of self care becomes an imperative, rather than simply an optional indulgence.

This does not mean I am spending time in luxurious spas … although that can be very nourishing too. Solitude is one of my saving graces. So is walking outdoors in the sunshine and communing with Mother Nature. Limiting my exposure to sensationalized news reports is essential because all that fear-mongering is not good for my nervous system. Did I mention the soothing capacity of candles and twinkle lights? Never underestimate the profound peace inspired by casting a warm glow across the darkness. There are infinite ways to kindle our inner flames.

Given the tremendous compassion and empathy I feel for how harrowing, hard and horrendous my peeps experiences may have been … another requisite for how I do what I do’ is to ensure I do not to ‘join’ people in the overwhelm they might be feeling. Just as a life guard does not jump into the water to save someone who is flailing/floundering … I will not be able toss my people a lifeline if I get lost and/or mired down in the murk/mayhem they are experiencing. Rather, I must always keep an eye fixed upon where ‘the way out’ may be for them. One of the most vital parts of my job is helping folks find a way to ‘live a great live anyway’ … despite any people, challenges and/or situations that have been holding them hostage and/or keeping them stuck.

It’s not that I see myself as some expert who can swoop in and fix, rescue or protect people. No. It is not my job to save anyone. In fact, it would be a grave error for me to presume that I have all the answers for another human. They are the expert of their lives, not me. What might serve one person very well in a particular situation might not be the optimal answer for someone else in the same circumstances.

Ultimately, I trust that the people who choose to work with me are best served when I can meet them with compassionate curiosity about what is happening in their worlds. I truly believe the answers people are seeking are tucked deep down within their own souls … it’s just really hard to see the picture when you are inside the frame. My job is to guide the exploration so they can better sort things out and can become the hero/heroine in their own story. That way, they can save themselves.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

The conversations in my work days are often heartbreakingly heavy. However, as identified by the author of the aforementioned email, it is exceptionally encouraging and infinitely inspiring to witness people overcoming the things that threaten to take them down to their knees. The best I can do is offer people tools to help them build or rebuild their lives. It is up to each individual to decide whether or not they will pick up those tools or leave them behind in my office.

People might fly or they may continue to flounder. It is entirely up to them … but only 100% of the time. I can take no credit for any gains they might make. Any and all success they procure belongs completely to themselves. In addition to that, I must also humbly accept that despite my best efforts, I may not be able to help everyone. In order ‘to do what I do’ – I must be at complete peace with that. Otherwise, I will be more invested in their healing than they are. And that never serves the greatest good. The most meaningful transformation comes from people liberating themselves. I do not ever want to rob them of that joy.

The mindset I bring to my work is a pivotal part of ‘how I do what I do’. So, over the years, I have found it beneficial to ground myself, both personally and professionally, in a theoretical standpoint that helps me hold a sacred space of healing for the humans that seek me out for support. Debbie Ford, (author and my life coaching mentor/trainer) contended that there is ‘a blessing in every challenge’ and/or a ‘challenge in every blessing’. I must admit it took me a while to warm up to these unorthodox suppositions.

She used the wise analogy of baking a cake to explain this seemingly preposterous premise. Debbie reminds us that when baking a delicious cake, there are a lot of bad, icky, bitter ingredients that are essential to include (i.e. flour, baking soda, baking powder, vinegar, salt, etc.) In and of themselves, these ingredients are downright inedible. And, if they do not get blended well enough into the mix, they can become distasteful ‘lumps’ in the batter. Yet, if you tried to make the cake without these unpalatable ingredients… the outcome would be undesirable as well. The most delicious cake requires a thorough blending of both the bitter and the sweet ingredients.

If metaphorically speaking … the cake is our life … our trials and tribulations are the bitter bits that can become ‘lumps in our batter’ if they are not sufficiently integrated into the whole. They can unexpectedly show up and spoil the sweetness in life that we would otherwise enjoy. Often, humans invest a whole lot of energy trying to avoid, escape, repress and suppress those ‘lumps’. We welcome the ‘good’ and do anything to avoid/reject all the ‘bad’. But, unfortunately, eliminating the challenges from our lives is no easier than trying to extract the vinegar and baking soda from the cake batter. It just can’t be done.

Debbie invites us to consider that the grandest versions of our lives (i.e. the most delicious cakes) are better accessed by embracing all of our experiences. What if it is true that in order to live our very best lives, we need to accept and integrate both the good and the bad? Perhaps we might actually rise into the best expression of who we can be in the world by making peace with the past and blending together both the bitter and sweet experiences into the ‘whole’ of our lives.

For example, I was an only child who grew up in an unstable and chaotic home with a whole lot of ‘lumps in my batter.’ My dad was an emotionally volatile alcoholic. My mom suffered from clinical depression/anxiety … perhaps exacerbated by chronic physical pain. She became addicted to prescription drugs. She and my dad divorced when I was 12 years old after years of fighting and financial instability. My father moved a thousand miles away so I had no ongoing relationship with him. My mom and I lived on welfare. She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was committed to psychiatric hospitals on a number of occasions. I ended up in foster care three times for various lengths of time. My mom also had multiple surgeries and was relegated to a wheel chair after one of them. Yes, their were lots of lumps in my childhood batter.

While it was not at all evident to me at the time, when looking back through the lens of ‘lumpy batter,’ I can see there were many gifts wrapped up in these ugly challenges. I can see, in retrospect, that these experiences actually grew me in very significant and welcome ways. They stretched my capacity to read people’s emotions. I am able to tap into what people are feeling very easily. They sharpened my intuition/instincts. I can often understand what people have trouble articulating. They deepened my compassion for people’s struggles. I have such empathy for the pain and wounding people have endured. They taught me that we do not need to be defined by our circumstances. I learned that shame and blame can be transformed. Ultimately, the lumps in my batter helped shape the compassionate eyes I bring to the counselling room.

I would add that when you’ve been through adversity yourself … it shifts the ‘way’ you listen and ‘what’ you hear. It can help you tap into the ‘felt’ sense of things.  It offers you an understanding of the parts of the situation, circumstance and/or event that aren’t easily described in words. Yes. Somehow, my prior lived experience has stretched my capacity for understanding of what is not being said in addition to what I hear folks vocalizing. I would argue that looking beyond the ‘ugly wrapping’ and/or blending and integrating the ‘lumps in my batter’ was helpful in terms of stretching me into a really humble, intuitive and non-judgmental therapist. Who knew my childhood was the real training ground for my dream job!!

What I know ‘for sure’ is that my decision to embrace life from this empowering perspective has shifted ‘how I do what I do.’ No one grows up without some lumps in their batter. I no longer pity people who have lumps in their batter because I opt to explore how those lumps may perhaps bring blessings (growth, lessons, learnings, insights etc) and/or bear other ‘gifts’ in really ugly wrapping. Yes. I give myself permission to flirt with the notion that people may be experiencing exactly the circumstances, challenges, difficulties and situations that can help them grow into the next best expression of who they can be in the world. 

While some of you may be skeptical whether or not all this conjecture is ‘true’ … it strikes me that proving the veracity of these tenets is of no real relevance. I would humbly suggest that the more substantive speculation should rest on whether or not embracing these perspectives serves our humanity in a meaningful and beneficial way. Does it ultimately help us navigate the prickly parts on our paths? Does it invite us to step out of powerlessness? Will it bolster our inherent strength and resilience?

And, from my experience, I would say it does indeed! I just know that looking at my life and other people’s lives through this empowering lens shifts ‘what’ I see and ‘how’ I interpret what is unfolding around me. And, it is widely touted in the therapeutic community that ‘perception creates reality’. Two people can look at exactly the same thing and see something entirely different. Two people can experience the same circumstances and feel entirely different.

As depicted in the graphic, truth is often relative. If/when we shift our perspective, we shift our ‘truth’. And THAT is an absolute game changer! Our thoughts/ideas/beliefs hold powerful keys to our how we experience our ‘realities’. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not what happens to us that makes us happy or sad, but how we interpret it that creates our ‘reality’.

For example, let’s say it is raining. Rain is neither inherently good or bad. In ‘reality’ rain is just water falling from the sky. It is our perception of rain that fuels our experience of it. If we are a farmer during a hot, dry summer … the rain is perceived as a blessing. It makes us happy. That is our truth. If we are on vacation on a beach in a tropical climate, the rain is perceived as a curse. It invites us to be grumpy. When we tell people “the rain ruined our vacation”, we are speaking our truth.

However, rain is just rain. And, likewise, my childhood was just my childhood. If I focus upon how I think it was wrong and bad and the folks with the ‘white picket fence’ had it much ‘better’, I make myself miserable. If I choose to see how my childhood also primed me and prepared me to do the work that I absolutely love … then I can feel grateful for it in many ways. I’m not suggesting we ignore, dismiss or deny the pains of our past. No. Not at all. Rather, I am suggesting we explore whether the challenges we have endured may also serve us in some meaningful way.

Maybe in their totality … everything in life has a positive and negative pole? A whole atom contains both positive and negative particles. A whole day contains both light and dark. What we ‘see’ depends solely upon our perspectives. So, we might be very wise to doublecheck our perspectives and make sure we are looking at the ‘whole’ of it. What if … after honoring, acknowledging and validating the heartaches and hardships in our orbits … we also opted to look for anything good, right and/or beneficial that could also be tucked in those same experiences? How might that shape us?

The way we decide to ‘see’ things is a choice we get to make. It is simply a perspective we can choose to claim. And, I am going to suggest that when we decide to embrace the perception that “there is a blessing in every challenge” (Debbie Ford) … and/or … that “everything is happening FOR you and not TO you (Byron Katie) … and/or … that “everything is rigged in your favor” (Rumi), our felt sense of our ‘reality’ is shifted in the most rich and rewarding ways.

And, even if none of these premises are true … I really like the way I move through the world when I choose to believe them. Harnessing these perspectives (both personally and professionally) keeps me from assuming I ‘know’ what would serve any one of us best. It keeps me from judging things as right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust. It invites me to hold space for someone’s pain, help them grieve and mourn their circumstances … and then … help them identify the ways they might use their challenges to help them grow … lest their wounding be in vain.

Choosing to accept that our trials and tribulations may be ‘celestial benedictions’ sent to stretch and grow our humanity, invites me to see so much possibility for the folks that I am privileged to serve. It honors people’s inherent strengths and infinite potentials. It keeps me curious about how my peeps might rise above whatever is threatening to sink them. It means we can honor the pains of their past without staying stuck in them. It means we can begin looking for the pony in the poop.

At any rate, it is not my intention to convince you that I am right. I am just hoping these meanderings help to explain ‘how I do what I do’. I also hope I have rendered visible that identifying people’s problems is just a wee part of my job. My ultimate work is helping people rise above the rubble … retrieve any messages in the mess … and … figure out how to use what has happened to them in order to live a great life anyway.

I cannot imagine a more meaningful and rewarding career. I cannot think of a greater gift than to be offered a chance to hold a sacred space of healing for someone who is struggling, suffering and/or stifled in some way, shape or form. I think I gain as much as I give in my exchanges with my peeps. And honestly … there is nothing more inspiring than witnessing people shining brighter and brighter and brighter … despite the depths of darkness they have endured. It’s hard to put into words just how fortunate I feel to be seated across from another soul … and … simply ‘do what I do’.

With deepest reverence for both the blessings and the challenges inherent in all of our journeys … Karen

P.S. Counselling/therapy is so incredibly complicated and intricate. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in the work that we do. I realize that my approach works in my practice with those who seek out my professional support. I am also well aware that the strategies outlined herein may not be a good a fit at all for therapists working in some settings and/or with specific demographics and/or with clientele experiencing diminished capacity for self-determination. There is certainly no one “right” way to do what we do.

And then … I remembered.

Source Unknown

Source Unknown

The other day I was reflecting upon the day as I drove home from work. As I rounded the corner into my cul-de-sac, I recalled that during ‘check-in’ at our staff meeting, I had reported that for all intents and purposes I was doing “really good”.  I remembered acknowledging that I felt like I was in a period of grace given all the challenges that had been landing in my life over the past few years.  As I parked in my drive-way, some of the unfavorable realities I had neglected to acknowledge in my check-in  spontaneously popped into my awareness and I thought:  “Hey … wait a minute.  I need a re-do on my check-in.”  Upon deeper reflection, I had to concede that things were not really as rosy as the picture I had painted for my colleagues.  I mean …

  • How could I say  I was “really good” when  my dryer had just broken down and left me with two heavy wet loads threatening to mildew in my basement?
  • Wasn’t it a bit of stretch to say that I was “really good” when my husband’s computer was still crashed after two attempts to replace the mother board by really techno-savvy geeks had failed … ?
  • How on earth could I  say I was “really good” when my house was covered in a ¼ inch of rock dust that was perpetually drifting down from the seemingly snails-pace renovations?
  • Was it really honest to say I was “really good” when  I have been somewhat indignant and grumbling about having to park outside ever since my garage was converted into a workshop for the renovations?
  • Was it “really good” that I had just spent the lunch hour in the washroom trying to dislodge some chicken that had caught in my esophagus and was causing painful spasms?
  • I wasn’t feeling “really good” about choosing to be courageous in the face of an ethical dilemma … I was feeling downright vulnerable.

In light of these realities, whose ‘really good’ life was I telling my colleagues about?  I found myself curiously wondering how all that stuff had completely fallen off my radar during the meeting.

And then … I remembered.

I remembered that it started out like a usual day.  The sun was shining and the day was planned …BUT … things don’t always go as planned.  On this particular day,  a very cherished friend/colleague of my daughters had been hit head-on in a horrific accident that promptly claimed the life of her best friend.  Her own precious life was miraculously hanging in the tentative balance between staying ‘here’ and going ‘there’ to join her friend.  No one knew what the next moment would bring.  Tears flowed … spirits gasped … and … fears all but eclipsed the tenuous hopes timidly trying to prevail amidst the uncertainties that no one dared to sputter aloud …

They said her prognosis was grim. They said most people could not survive the extent of her injuries. Pelvis broken in 3 places, back fractured in 3 places, all ribs crushed, a punctured lung, a perforated aorta and every bone in her face  pulverized.  It seemed though, that the feisty spirit of this most beautiful soul was determined to defy the odds as the minutes turned into hours turned into days.  I carried her in my heart as I went about my usual routine.  I know I was not alone. She remained foremost in all our thoughts and prayers.

As I reflect on it now, I am guessing that  during ‘check-in’, I was subconsciously taking my own inventory from this humble, tender and fragile space.  I’m speculating that I neglected to mention the realities that were irritating me, because they were simply that … irritating.  I can live with irritating.  My choice is whether I decide to do it begrudgingly or not.  I’m guessing that somewhere deep within my psyche, my testament to being “really good” reflected my perception that, in the grand scheme of things,  irritations are preferable to crises … but only 100% of the time.

I am recognizing, more and more, that in each and every moment, it is not what we are looking at that matters, it is what we choose to see.  Our perspective frames our interpretations.  Perception creates reality and as Debbie Ford points out in her book “The Right Questions” we can spend our moments looking for what is right or we can spend them focused upon what is going wrong.   It all depends upon the perspectacles ( a term coined by Glennon Doyle Melton) with which we choose to look … we can see things as desirable or undesirable in any situation, event or circumstance.  I don’t consciously remember putting on my rose-colored glasses before the meeting, but clearly something inside me was wisely adjusting the lens through which I made my assessment. I wasn’t lying to my colleagues or to myself.  I wasn’t in any kind of Pollyanna-ish denial.  Despite the irritations that could have shifted my perception to an unfavorable place, I can see that I probably was feeling “really good” … all things considered.

When I am looking for what is right, I can see miracles are unfolding around us with each and every breath.  In fact, my daughter’s friend continues to affirm my belief in miracles.   So far, she is still ‘here’ … and … so many hearts are holding her with much tender love and eager hope for brighter moments ahead. She is teaching me to believe that a prognosis does not have to be your reality. She is teaching me to not let the moment define you, but rather, to define the moment. She is teaching me about never giving up.  She is teaching me that there are blessings worth living for … but only 100% of the time.

As for me, when I am looking for what is right in this very moment , I can see that my the dryer is fixed, my husband’s computer was replaced free of charge by DELL (Yeah DELL!), my esophagus is not currently in spasm so I can eat again  and the dust is mostly cleared.

When I am looking for what is wrong in this moment, I can see that the door of my medicine cabinet broke off in my hands, there are a few imperfections in the renovations and I am still parked in the driveway … I guess I’ll be scraping ice and snow off my car for a while yet.

Although it’s tempting to let the ‘wrong’ steal the ‘right’ from my view, in the final analysis, I am ‘seeing’ that I don’t need a re-do on my check-in after all.  Despite what I am looking at in my life (at any given moment),  the truth of the matter is this:  I really am “really good” … until I decide that I am not. But only 100% of the time.

Looking for what is right and seeing so many blessings that tears have filled my eyes,  Karen

P.S. Since writing this yesterday, we had a big dump of snow and my husband very unexpectedly cleared the garage.  We just never know what the next moment will bring.  May we be looking in such a way that we miss not a single blessing as we all see our way through the days to come …

“KNOWING is the booby prize …”

embrace your inner idiot

With deepest gratitude to “frogandthewell.com” for this graphic.

Ever notice that when you think you already know something, you have no room to hear anything different?  Our tolerance for being wrong is hotly contested and fiercely limited by our fragile human egos.  As a result, in the space of evidence contrary to what we think we know, we quickly and effectively (often without conscious awareness) disqualify any differing proof  in order to stay ‘right’.  For example, if we have decided someone is a “liar”, we tend to scrutinize their every thought, word and deed seeking to confirm our unfavorable perceptions.  Likewise, if we have determined someone is a “loser” … then when they do the ‘right’ thing, we chalk it up to an unlikely exception.   As well, the beliefs we hold about ourselves are equally insidious.  If we believe we are “stupid” or “not good enough” , then any smart or worthy moments are often minimized, dismissed or overlooked.  This kind of discounting has the capacity to derail any dreams/visions that are not consistent with our self-limiting perceptions.  Sadly, when you think you already know …  you are no longer open to learning or seeing anything new or different.

One of the greatest blessings of my post secondary studies in anti-oppressive practice was that we were invited to critically assess how we were thinking about things rather than being taught what to think.  We were invited to unpack the things we thought we already knew.  We got to  embrace our inner idiots and UN-learn so much of what we had involuntarily come to accept as ‘the’ truth rather than simply ‘a’ truth..  This powerful exercise in critical thinking rendered visible the beliefs that were simply socialized into me  … by those who raised me, schooled me and befriended me.  Their opinions became my truths because I never thought to question them … or  … learned it was not OK for me to question them.

Learning to embrace my inner idiot took me to places I had no idea I needed to go.  I will spare you all the details but what I learned is this:

  • unlearning can be painful.  (What does it mean about me and my perceptions if I am wrong about this, that or next thing?)
  • unlearning can be deeply humbling(It hits you right between the eyes when you recognize that the culprits you have been judging harshly  might also need to include YOU.)

Let me offer one example of my unlearning.  As a well-intended, socially conscious, educated white woman, I have always contended that I do NOT condone racism’. I blushed with a deep sense of shame when I learned, instead, that I don’t even have to do anything obviously “racist” to condone racism … I benefit from it by sheer defaultSadly,  we live in a socially constructed system where one part of our humanity counts for more than the ‘others‘ … and … having white skin puts me on the ‘favorite’ team in a world that plays favorites.  As a result, I get all kinds of unseen, unearned perks:

  • I don’t have to worry about whether people will rent accommodations to me
  • I don’t have to worry that the job will have “just been filled” as I arrive for the interview.
  • I don’t have to worry about whether someone will sit beside me on public transportation
  • I don’t have to worry about my children being stereotyped at school
  • I don’t have to worry about being followed in a department store
  • I don’t have to worry that my speech patterns, body type or food and dress will be mocked and/or ridiculed

Guess what my skin color gives me the unmitigated privilege of worrying about?  Sunburn.  Yep … that’s it.  If only a slather of SPF30  could so easily protect people from prejudice, marginalization and oppression.  As White people, we typically author the educational curricula and, therefore, we have not been taught how we are complicit in perpetuating racism given the advantages we reap from it.  You might be tempted to leave this blog right now … but I hope you won’t.  I hope you will be willing to consider that if we are not actively and persistently resisting racism, we are silently condoning it.  I am not suggesting I have figured out how to best use the power and privilege attached to my White skin to counter racism … but increasing mainstream awareness is certainly the first step.

If what I am saying is making you squirm, you are ripe for a moment of unlearning and embracing your inner idiot.  I hope you will be brave enough stay with me here because the struggle to comprehend a ‘truth’ outside our comfort zone is a point of real awakening.  We can’t be expected to know what we don’t know …  until we do.  And, once you do know … you can’t pretend you don’t.   And when we are  open to the profound power of unlearning  … we begin to realize that the more we know … the more we know we don’t know! 

From that humble space,  I become aware that  my mainstream sexual orientation does not preclude people’s comfort with me being around their children.  The folks in the GLBT community are not so fortunate.  I also notice that I managed well in a traditional school setting because it favored my left-brained, sequential kind of thinking.  The right-brained, kinesthetic learners have not been so lucky.  My  married, double income status earns public respect and has afforded my children many advantages.  Single parents endure public censure and many luxuries are beyond their reach. My able body means I get to go places without worrying about access. My office is located in a ‘public health unit’ that has a ramp but no button to pull open the door! Argh!  Some how this all continues to be tolerated in our society.

When I embrace my inner idiot, I have to seriously question everything I think I already know.  I must also consciously consider whether my personal and professional  ‘successes’ have truly been  earned by me … or  … if I simply got a head start and an extra advantage over ‘others’ because they are outside the margins of the ‘favorite’ global team.  I now know that the essential unlearning of what we think we already know is the critical portal from which true compassion and empathy can emerge … not just for ‘others’ but also for myself!  It takes a whole lot of courage to unpack our own misunderstandings and misconceptions.

I have learned that by allowing myself to see what I was unable, unwilling or unprepared to see … I have opened  the door to a world of  miraculous shifts in perspective. Much to my pleasant surprise, it is from a place of not knowing that I have been humbly granted the capacity to see what might have been there all along … even when I thought I already knew.

Let’s continue to embrace our inner idiots, because as my amazing mentor Debbie Ford always told us “Knowing is the booby prize

Still unlearning, Karen

“Find what you have lost …”

With deepest gratitude to Kelly Rae Roberts for this enchanting graphic!

With deepest gratitude to Kelly Rae Roberts for this enchanting graphic!

I am a counsellor and a life coach and, in both jobs, it is ethically essential that I protect my client files in order to maintain their confidentiality.  I had a crazy dream the other night that I had misplaced a client file.  In my dream, as I scrambled to relocate the lost file and retain my professional integrity, I was ruthlessly berating myself for being so careless.  How could I have so recklessly compromised my client’s privacy?  As a recovering perfectionist, it simply is not like me to lose things … precious things … important things!  I am usually too darned anal to lose stuff!

However, in this nightmare, I looked in all the predictable places for it, but was feeling increasingly more exasperated when I still could not find it.  As with most dreams, there were a lot of things going on simultaneously.  For example, my client was STILL waiting to be seen and in my hunt for the lost file, I realized that someone else had used my office and left it in complete shambles.  It was a mess of equipment and electrical cords and there was a small child (I’m not sure who) sleeping in a bed in my office.  Not that my office has ever had a bed in it (but you know how dreams are) and, as a result, I not only had to find my client’s file, but I would now need to find another office to see him in!

At the same time, my cell phone was ringing with important concerns from two family members and I remembered I had failed to return several other calls. I was trying to eat my lunch… and … I couldn’t find the light switch!  I was overwhelmed by all the confusion and chaos but, in the midst of all these competing calls for my attention, I knew that my priority in that moment was to find my client’s file!

I was beyond relieved to finally awaken and realize it was just one of those crazy dreams that we often find ourselves curiously analyzing.  I was trying to find the message in it when I heard the still, small voice inside of me whisper “Find what you’ve lost”.

It was such an ‘aha’ moment!  Although I have never lost a client file in real life, I recognized that my life is much like my dream in that I have a countless cacophony of distractions, diversions and dilemmas clamouring for my attention as I make my way through each day.  I realized that if I am not vigilant, I might unwittingly get lost in the chaos and lose sight of the really important things in my life.

As I continued to unravel the wisdom woven into my nightmare, I found myself reflecting upon what I might have already lost … and … I noticed a number of possibilities.  Whatever happened to my ability to relax? When did I lose my courage to ask for what I need? How come I no longer record my 5 daily gratitudes during my morning solitude?  Will I ever ‘run’ again?

This crazy but wise dream alerted me to the fact that the most important task for me right now is to ‘find what I lost’.  I sense that, in an effort to do so, my life will have less breadth, but certainly more depth.  I sense that my spirit will be enriched and my heart will be more nourished. I trust that I will have more space to enjoy the miracles tucked into each of life’s ordinary moments.

So, it is with a humble heart that I invite you to join me in considering what you may have lost that needs to be found.  Could it be:

  •  your sense of purpose in life?
  • a connection with an old friend?
  • a feeling of well-being?
  • your ability to trust yourself or others?
  • your childhood dreams?
  • your energy and enthusiasm?
  • your sense of humor?

Take heed of whatever you notice … and … commit to making some time to ‘find what you lost’!  I intend to do the same.  In that sacred space of allowing ourselves to see what we often step over, let’s listen to our hearts, and allow that wisdom to awaken our spirits in the most remarkable ways.

Who knows, we might find something precious that we didn’t even realize we had lost …

Sweet dreams,  Karen

Better … Because of You Debbie Ford!

everything-shapes-us-kelly rae robertsWith gratitude to Kelly Rae Roberts for this lovely graphic.

The first time I heard the chorus in Kelly Clarkson’s hit single  Because of You  I caught a tear sliding down my cheek as my thoughts were high-jacked from  whatever I was doing in that moment to my less than Hallmark childhood. 

Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt
Because of you
I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me
Because of you
I am afraid

As I tried to dodge the discomfort brought on by hearing those heart wrenching ‘truths’, I knew exactly who I’d been holding accountable for my ever cautious and hyper-vigilant approach to life. I credit blame my dad the most … but … my mom gets nailed quite often as well.  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 …

As long as no one could hear the alarm bells going off in my head … I think I appeared pretty capable, confident and successful.  Most people who know me would probably be very surprised to hear this. I managed my fears as inconspicuously as possible but, it wasn’t until I was introduced to the remarkable work of Debbie Ford about 12 years ago that things really changed for the BETTER!  I had no idea how powerfully this would shape me …  

I have been so profoundly shifted and transformed by the last dozen years of training and learning with/through The Ford Institute for Transformational Training.  Who would have thought that this journey would invite me to make peace with so much!  Yes, we are undoubtedly shaped by the negatives in our lives, but we are also shaped by the positives! (Not that it always feels so positive in the process of tackling this kind of personal growth!) 

As I write this now, I am aware of another tear sliding down my cheek.   Debbie Ford transitioned on February 17th, 2013 … but … my amazing mentor, teacher and guide touched so many lives in magical and miraculous ways!  Fortunately, her body of work is vast and her legacy will live on in the hearts of so many!!  Thank you Debbie for loving me enough to hold me in my highest … to bravely risk my wrath and call me on my s*#t … to hold me through the ugly cry … to laugh with me as I finally surrendered my need for control and learned to lean in. 

Thank you for inviting me to stray from the sidewalk … to trust myself  enough to step out of the fears that have caged my soul and courageously reach for the untold possibilities beyond my self-limiting beliefs.  Because of you, I have learned to embrace my vulnerabilities with love and acceptance rather than trying to resist and suppress my fear-filled mind chatter. Because of you …I am now a part of an amazing, loving, supportive family of Certified Integrative Coaches. Thank you, thank you, thank you Debbie Ford.  

If I could sing like Kelly Clarkson, I’d write you a song, because I have been profoundly shaped by knowing you!  I truly am so much Better … Because of You !

With deepest gratitude, Karen

 

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