We all have a rear-view mirror. Sometimes we look back and smile at the things that brought us laughter, love, hilarity, and friendship. Mixed in among those pleasant recollections are the not so nice memories that all of us carry due to being human.
I’ve always been amused by those on-line dating profiles that state that they are looking for someone who comes baggage-free, because the truth is, we all have baggage due to having lived many experiences. It’s to what degree that we hold onto baggage that colors our present lives and the relationships we have with others.
We are fallible and imperfect. We make mistakes and screw up. We hurt others either intentionally, or by accident, creating collateral damage in our wake that later on becomes fodder for regret. If we are wise, we make amends and hopefully learn something from our missteps. The point is to move on afterwards and not remain mired in the residue of past actions.
Sometimes we become victims of someone else’s actions, and depending on the severity of circumstances, experience trauma. Individuals suffering from trauma get stuck in past memories, re-living them over and over again, and it seems like they are happening in the present moment. EMDR, tapping, and cognitive processing have proven to be helpful for some people.
I will write in greater depth regarding trauma in future blogs. Today I’m focusing on mindfulness, living in the moment, letting go of things that are outside of our control, and forgiveness, particularly the forgiveness that we should accord ourselves as well as others.
Each moment that passes is like water tumbling over a dam, never to be recaptured and irrevocably gone forever. Nothing that has occurred can be undone or rewound, and we really only have two choices. We can remain stuck in the problem coming up with a thousand “if only’s”, and “should haves”, but the fact remains that once the moment has passed we can either accept it, and make choices around what has occurred, or remain rooted in the problem.
Some people choose to pull a cart behind them, loading it up with all the crappy things they have done to others, or the crappy things others have done to them. With enough time, the cart gets heavy and becomes a burden. It also begins to color the way the world is viewed, which is devoid of color, and ostensibly black and white. Black and white thinking creates rigidity and cognitive distortions.
If we are constantly looking back, or trying to project ourselves into the future we are robbing ourselves of the wonder of “now”. In reality it is all we have that is tangible, and if we learn to embrace it and accept what it has to offer, both the challenges and the sublime, we will live more fully and deeply.
For those of you still hauling around a heavy cart full of anger, disappointment, sorrow, distrust, regret, and fear, perhaps it is time to unhitch that load and leave it behind. You’ll feel so much lighter.
Remember to be gentle with yourself and others and engage in random acts of kindness and senseless beauty.
When it comes to exercise, I can lie around with the best of
them, watching Netflix, eating popcorn, and generally being a sloth. The good
news is that I don’t allow myself to go without regular exercise for very
long. Part of it is vanity, part of it
is not wanting to be pushing a walker in a few years’ time, and part of it is
having the knowledge that exercise is good for us, and can prevent a number of
physical conditions as well as have a hugely powerful effect on the brain. Anything that aids the brain is a good thing,
Our bodies are meant to move. Babies and children are
constantly in motion, veritable whirling dervishes. When children engage in
play, they are developing both gross motor and fine motor skills. They require
constant exercise in order to develop in an optimal way. The problem is that
society has changed in the last three decades, and suddenly the outdoors is a
place where children are rarely seen. It seems like an avenging angel came down
when we weren’t looking and spirited away all the little children. No longer is
the air filled with the delightful sounds of children at play. Most of the
sedentary children that the angels left behind can be found behind closed
doors, watching TV, or playing on electronics.
I’m old school. I’m practically at the point where I want to
tell any who will listen that I walked five miles to school uphill both ways.
It wouldn’t be that far off the mark, even though it is a bit of a stretch. But here’s a truth. In reference to what I call the good ole days, and believe me, they
more than lived up to their name and then some, we as children practically
lived outdoors. For one, it got us away from the adults who would think up
unsavory chores for us to do if we even hinted at being bored. For another, we
loved the outdoors. It is no lie that we were kicked outside shortly after
breakfast on weekends and during holidays. No one thought to ask us where we
were going, or when we might be returning. They knew that we had built in
devices that let us know when it was lunch time. We would stop in just long enough to fuel up
and then disappear until supper time. After
supper we stayed out until the street lights came on, and that was far too
early for our liking.
The neighborhood I grew up in was full of kids, and most of us in the same age range so we had a number of potential playmates. Bullying was practically unheard of in those days and something to be avoided because it would end in serious reprisal for the offending party. Bullying someone meant a swift kick in the ass, and so we subsequently learned how to side-step conflict and get along. We made up rules for games, negotiated, cooperated with one another, and took turns. Aside from tricycles and bikes, we had scarce outdoor gear. In other words, no modern day skateboards, scooters, or fancy roller blades. Back then it was roller skates. And that was only if you were affluent. Those who were lucky enough to own a pair of skates had bragging rights to archaic contraptions resembling leg hold traps that were fastened onto the bottom of each foot. They were accessorized by a large metal key that was used to make them expand or collapse depending on the size of the foot.
Back then we played rousing games of backyard soccer, hop
scotch, Red Light/Greenlight, Mother May I, Dodge ball, kick the can, Simon
Says, and the dreaded Red Rover. I say
dreaded because Red Rover could land you in the hospital or knock the wind out
of you if some big kid slammed you in the throat when you were hoping to break
through the line and end up in one piece. Conversely, if some husky urchin was
bearing down on you like a speeding locomotive, it was best to drop your arm
just before he or she made contact. The ensuing pain was never worth the
triumph of winning.
We also played marbles in the dirt and drew on sidewalks
with colored chalk to play hop-scotch. We played Double Dutch with our skipping
ropes for hours, trying to improve our scores, and pitting ourselves against
one another. When we grew tired of that we trudged miles to the frog pond to
collect tadpoles. Rarely did they ever develop into full-fledged frogs. Most of
them would start to develop small vestigial legs and then die from lack of
adequate food. It never dawned on us
that perhaps we were being cruel.
Back then we relied on our imaginations. A stick and string became
a bow and arrow, an elastic band and forked stick, a slingshot, flowers and
weeds, food for our open air cafes. The outdoors belonged to us alone and was exclusively
our domain and refuge from the world of adults.
The kids of today have been robbed in my opinion. While I
concede that it is a far more dangerous world out there for them to be
wandering around freely without protection and the watchful eye of an adult, I
feel I have witnessed the death of an era that represented freedom and
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Kahlil Gibran.
Aside from some casual dating, I have been single for the past 13 years. I had been living in Alberta after the break-up of a six year relationship, and one day woke up and decided to move to PEI. From the moment I made that life-changing decision, it was a whirlwind of activity. I had an almost immediate telephone interview for a social work job in Souris, PEI was hired a day later, and within six weeks had sold my house, packed up my belongings, and began heading east in what would be a 7 day drive. I purchased a small cottage a stone’s throw from the ocean. The above photo is one I took of myself, shortly after my move.
I loved the 7 day road trip. I drove for 7-8 hours a day mostly in silence and watching the changing landscape go from flat prairie with its hues of sepia and gold and endless horizon, to the jutting and imposing rocks lining the highways in Ontario, to the bright verdant fields of PEI inscribed by rich red soil. Being without human interaction for 7 days was freeing and allowed for a deeply meditative state.
Not everyone is meant to be in a relationship, and I am certainly one of those. I am happier out, than in.
I think there is a myth persisting in this modern age that women need a relationship to complete them. I’ve seen it time and time again with clients, women in particular, refusing to let go of a relationship, despite it being toxic and harmful. The fear of being alone is often the reason they cite for remaining with their partner.
There is a vast difference between choosing to be alone and being lonely. They are two completely different beasts. For some reason we tend to put romantic love on a pedestal, while minimizing the value of other forms of love. Other cultures have differentiated between various forms of love. For instance when I learned Spanish, I learned that latinos say one of two things; “te amo”, which is what you say to a romantic partner, or “te quiero”, which is used more often with a close friend for whom one feels affection.
The ancient Greeks broke it it down into several categories demonstrating both their sophistication and understanding of the human condition which I daresay supersedes our own. To say I love you, is simplistic and falls short of the nuances implicit to the word, and how it’s understood in our modern day world. Perfect, romantic love is a myth that many of us have chased, searching for the Holy Grail of amor, which is ever elusive and never attained.
So how exactly did the ancient Greeks define love?
The first was Eros, or sexual passion. It was named after the god of fertility. In today’s modern world, many young people mistake this for a deeper form of love, which doesn’t always wear a pretty face and which only comes with maturity and hard work. In today’s throw-away society, relationships are often abandoned when the fire begins to burn low, and off they go in search of someone else with whom to recreate the passion they felt with their previous partner.
The second was philia or a deep friendship. The Greeks actually held this type of love in higher esteem than that of Eros. Philia was the love experienced between parents and their children referred to as storge, or the camaraderie experienced by soldiers on the battlefield. Philia is also associated with self-sacrifice, the willingness to give up your life for the ones that you love.
Ludus, was playfulness, the antics between lovers or friends. This could be flirting and teasing, or connecting with the childlike aspects of our adult selves, and something we could use more of in our lives. I have to say that humor and playfulness was always an attribute high on my list of preferences in a potential partner.
Agape love, is the highest form of love as it encompasses love for all people and sentient beings in acknowledgement of our inter-connectedness with all living things. With the decline of empathy in modern society, and the increase of narcissism, agape love is a jewel worthy of esteem.
Pragma is a love that endures through time, the love that couples who have been together for a significant period of time experience with one another. It is easy to fall in love, but it takes work to stay there. Pragma consists of patience, tolerance, understanding, clear communication, sacrifice, and negotiation if a relationship is to endure. Without those qualities, it is doomed to fail.
Now let’s talk about self-love, and here I distinguish between having compassion and forgiveness for self as opposed to the kind of self-serving narcissism that the rise of social media has begun to inculcate in young people. The Greek’s referred to compassion for self as Philautia. Unless we truly have compassion and caring for ourselves, we will lack the capacity to love others in the true sense of the word. Loving ourselves means having the ability to extend it to others.
Time and time again I see people who are looking to others to love them and give them definition as a person. In casting about to have their unmet needs met, they unwittingly attract someone exactly like themselves, someone who also feels empty inside, someone who is self-deprecating and desperate to have another person fill them up. The unfortunate part is that two people who are empty inside are like powerful magnets, attracting someone equally as unhealthy as themselves, and herein lies the tragedy and recipe for failure.
It is interesting that as I get older, I notice than many of my single female friends either don’t pursue romantic relationships, or if they do, don’t consider living under the same roof with that individual. We enjoy spending time alone, and by no means are we lonely. Having time alone allows us to dream, to reflect, to meditate, to get in touch with our higher selves, to create, and to connect with our spirituality. We are loved by friends and family, and that has great value. We don’t need a romantic partner in order to feel fulfilled.
No relationship can confer happiness and we alone are responsible to create our own. I have come to know myself intimately, and to mine own self, I remain true.
In 1969 when Brian Adams was singing about the Summer of ‘69 and enjoying the best years of his life, I was being driven to a place of juvenile detention by two off duty policeman. My incarceration at the age of 14, which was to last an entire year, resulting in my subsequent placement in 3 different foster homes in the span of two months definitely had an impact on the person I am today. Fortunately for me, the roads I chose did not lead me down a path to addiction as it did many of the women who came out of the same institution. I was one of the lucky ones who managed to stay below the radar and escape sexual and physical abuse. That particular institution came under fire and close scrutiny in the 1990’s when a couple of different women began disclosing the terrible abuse they had encountered to their psychiatrist. This led to an inquiry with the Government of Ontario and an interview process of over three hundred survivors. The government then entered into what they called a healing package. Many of the women were paid restitution, and the government eventually made a formal apology to all former inmates. None of that however could remotely replace the innocence and lost youth of us all.
When I was doing a thesis for my Master’s degree in social work, I chose to examine the effect that the institution had on women’s success identities, and whether they were able to shed the “bad girl archetype.” I interviewed three former survivors and was dismayed to learn how difficult their lives had been, and how they had not been able to free themselves from the terrible legacy of that institution. In addition, I later learned from speaking to one of the lawyers who had been involved in the inquiry, that almost none of the women who had come forward were able to achieve success and move forward from their trauma. Many of them remained stuck in that distant time frame, unable to cast off the labels that were conferred on them, those being that they were bad and intrinsically flawed.
Despite my being vicariously traumatized by witnessing young women acting out their angst through the cutting of flesh, the smashing of windows with fists, the flooding of cells, the pushing of pins into veins, and the pursuit of escapees by staff and dogs whenever they tried to escape, I somehow managed to eventually let go of that flawed identity that represented how we were perceived at that time.
The road leading away from purgatory was long and fraught
with obstacles. I stumbled many times,
but in doing so, learned that whenever I found myself in the same dark place
time and time again, it was time to take stock of what I was doing, and forge a
I believe that adversity and suffering does indeed make us stronger and more compassionate if we don’t allow ourselves to give up and drown. My compassion for others was forged in that institution and contributed to my understanding of how trauma can short-circuit success. It was abundantly clear to me that the young women who had been incarcerated were there because they had already experienced trauma, abuse and neglect and were simple sending out an SOS to the world, a distress signal through behavior that was considered delinquent at the time. Had the justice system back then been able to recognize the impact of trauma on behavior, there might have been a much different outcome other than locking young adolescents away in concrete cells, only to be mistreated by the very people who had been hired to help them.
All of us in our own way have experienced hardship, whether it be loss, trauma, abuse, neglect, or illness. We can choose whether we will let it plow us under, become embittered, or conversely, find a way to rise above it all, showing compassion for all our fellow human beings, people just like us who are trying to get along the best way they can. Try to remember that wherever you are in your journey, that things will not always be as they are now. Nothing remains the same forever. Things eventually get better. The clouds disperse and the sunlight shines through.
Just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, we can lose our way when life throws us curve balls as well as difficult obstacles to overcome. Like Dorothy, we seldom realize that all along we have had the power to return to that place of sanctuary, that safe spot where we can exhale a sigh of relief . Home is not so much a physical location as it is being comfortable in our own skin, and realizing that no matter where we go or travel to, we take ourselves with us, which in the truest sense is home.
Being at home with ourselves, means knowing who we are at the deepest level. It means being in touch with our emotions, values, beliefs, and our spirituality. It means trusting ourselves enough that we are not swayed by others value systems, and not changing who we are in order to fit into someone else’s paradigm or to meet their expectations. Becoming chameleons in order to please others is not only exhausting, but a fundamental denial of who we are as individuals.
To thine own self, be true. Always, always stay true to who your are unless you are harming yourself or others. March to the beat of your own drum. Take the road less traveled. Take risks, and above all, don’t be afraid . If you don’t risk, you don’t truly live. There are no mistakes, but there are plenty of opportunities for learning. Everything is subject to revision. If one path is blocked or doesn’t lead you to where you want to go, then take another one. Don’t keep running down the same blind alley only to find yourself at the same place, wondering why nothing ever changes.
During those times when you find yourself stressed, tired, overworked, anxious or depressed, check in with yourself. Ask yourself what you need in the moment to be OK. Perhaps its a warm bath, or settling down with a book. Maybe it’s a cup of tea. Make sure you take time to relax and de-stress, never forgetting that you trust yourself enough that you are going to make loving choices for you.
Here at Serenity cottage we kick our shoes off and sit barefoot on the porch, listening to the hum of bees in the garden, the rustling of the wind in the trees, the chorus of birds, ensuring that we are living entirely in the present. That’s the meaning of home. Being present to self.
There are so many things we don’t get to decide when we land on this planet as babies. We are assigned parents, gender, socioeconomic status, culture, language, religion, and values. We don’t get to choose whether our birth families love us, or treat us with disdain. Perhaps we are maltreated and subjected to abuse or neglect. What is certain is that no matter who we are, we will one day suffer loss, heartbreak, illness, old age, and death. All of these things we hold in common with one another. By virtue of being alive, we will suffer in one way or another prior to leaving this earth. It’s part of the human condition. At the heart of suffering is attachment, attachment to those we love, and attachment to material things. Also at the heart of suffering is expectations. When we learn to let go of attachment and learn acceptance, we reduce our self inflicted suffering. Easily said than done, however.
When we are born we are given a measure of adversity and gifts. It’s what we choose to do with these that will eventually form our character. For some, adversity is far greater than our capacity for resilience and this in turn creates trauma. The good news is that we don’t have to remain trapped in trauma. We can heal and move beyond trauma to live fruitful and joy filled lives. I will write more on this in subsequent blogs. For now, only we can truly know ourselves. We can decide who we want to be, and let go of trying to be what others believe us to be or would like us to be. We are accountable to ourselves and to our god, whatever or whomever we conceive that to be. Feel free to leave a message in the envelope provided below or if you have any questions, I will be happy to provide a response.
If you’ve found yourself here than perhaps you can join me on the front porch. Why don’t you take your shoes off, and find a comfy chair to sink down into. I just made a fresh jug of lemonade and also have a selection of herbal teas, that you might prefer. Let’s introduce ourselves. I’m Sonia, and it’s so nice to meet you. While you are here, you are welcome to join in the conversation, or just close your eyes and listen to the wind shuffling the leaves in that nearby tree. We all need a safe space where we can lay down our burdens for a short while, and just be. No cares, and no worries. Just existing in the present moment and feeling the sun warm on our faces. You are free to stay as long as you wish, and are always welome to stop by any time. Perhaps we can share some stories and get to know one another a little better.