don’t hate the media, become the media

Last week I happened upon an unexpected sight: an urban labyrinth. I was walking to work on my favourite bridge, when I noticed the spiral design on the grassy bank below. Funnily enough, this was virtually the same place I spotted a random black (lucky) rabbit a few years ago.

The irony wasn’t lost on me that, in my hurry, I quickly took a photo and moved on. For it’s my understanding that labyrinths are contemplative in nature, meant to be walked purposefully, symbolizing the journey to the centre of oneself.

Several years ago, I competed a program in Digital Communications. Here we learned about all aspects of social media and design. I enjoyed the training and excitedly wrote about it here on this blog.

I’ve been pondering this experience a lot lately, because my views on technology have changed so much since then. I won’t repeat what I’ve shared in more recent posts, but suffice it to say that I’ve limited my time on social media, eliminating the platform that drained the most energy.

I’m also becoming increasingly aware of, and disturbed by, the extent to which certain sites are intentionally designed to encourage addiction and consumption through use of colour, design, and various other manipulative tactics.

So much of this happens at an unconscious level. I’ve observed my own tendency to automatically reach for my phone or mindlessly surf when I’m waiting for…anything. This mindlessness, this habitual stimulus-response pattern, feels dangerous.

What are the consequences of having our emotions and brain chemistry played with? How does it affect our ability to create true community, consciousness, and empathy? Is technology bringing to light our darkness, or creating it through repetitive stimulation of our reptilian cortex?

Loving communications as I do, there definitely are aspects of technology that tickle me. Like blogging. And when I’m beading – itself a meditative practice – I listen to inspiring interviews and podcasts. It’s illuminating to get perspectives from those with lived experience and wisdom different from my own. It’s expanding, enlightening, and feeds my curiosity.

In two interviews I’ve listened to – one featuring the fabulous Danielle LaPorte, the other referencing Jello Biafra’s statement ‘Don’t hate the media, become the media,’ the message is clear: We are the new media.

I love that. Mainstream media may be controlled by the few, and we’re extensively tracked and monitored online…but we are the users, the broadcasters. We have the power and agency to express ourselves. The mass challenge seems to be expressing ourselves with thoughtfulness, kindness, and accountability.

Perhaps more challenging: How do I bring kindness into my day-to-day interactions? It’s easy to espouse my views behind my screen, from the comfort of my own home. How do I deal with the tension that’s happening out there in the physical world? It’s often the most mundane activities – our commutes, at work, in line at the grocery store – that test us.

Circling back to the labyrinth (hehe). If I had ‘more time’, would I have stopped to contemplate it? I don’t know that I would. But hey – I noticed that about myself. I noticed that I want to feel more contemplative and in my body. I noticed that I’d like to slow down instead of feeling that general, unnecessary sense of rush.

And I noticed that I’m beginning to do that, in my own way.

In one post I alluded to stories of ancient civilizations that self-destructed because they couldn’t manage the advanced technologies they’d developed. Those tales once seemed farfetched. I don’t necessarily feel humanity is doomed to this fate, but I do think escaping it requires awareness like never before.

Destruction is not about robots or AI taking over. It’s about humans forgetting compassion.

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choked by the pink collar

Emotional Labour. A friend introduced this term to me a while back, during a time I was employed in a job I wasn’t happy in. Well, some days I was happy. Other days – most days – I was miserable, drained, and frustrated. The constant back-and-forth in my experience – the love/hate relationship with my work and what I felt it demanded of me every day – resulted in what could aptly be described as ’emotional labor’.

I’d been performing the same type of job for years, albeit in different environments, and I was finding it increasingly hard to continue the same routine. Every day my head would battle my heart in a ‘should I stay or should I go’ debate.

I left that job a few weeks ago. I was passionate about the vision of the organization, but that wasn’t enough.

It’s not the first time I’ve quit my job; and in previous instances, I’ve eventually returned to the same type of environment. And I understand why.

Through conversations with friends and loved ones, I know that so many of us have incredibly wonderful interests and desires, innovative business ideas that we know would fill our spirits and benefit the world around us. We want to feel that our work has meaning, and brings our particular vision of beauty to this planet.

We know the old structures are crumbling. We are aware of the early conditioning and mass programming that keeps us repeating the same patterns, and we work to shift that. But transformation doesn’t happen overnight. And in the meantime, there are bills to pay.

Things have changed so much in one generation, and the world today is very different from that of our parents. What is true security, in these times?

After the novelty of each new workspace wore off, I realized how bored I was. I also found myself straining to be nice all the time. Being ‘nice’ wasn’t in my job description, of course; but given the roles I was in, it was the underlying expectation.

Women often find themselves doing ‘pink collar’ work – jobs that are service-oriented and call for a perpetually pleasant and accommodating demeanour. For a long time I prided myself on being these things. Now I realize how unnatural this is. Sitting in front of a computer screen, indoors, under fluorescent lights, supporting people doing the work they are passionate about…it had taken an energetic and physical toll.

So many of us sense there must be something more. There is a heightened sense of urgency.

For the unfulfilled among us – it is our responsibility to step out of our secure, familiar ways and create the new. We already know this. It requires courage, entering discomfort zones, finding those whose vision aligns with ours, and trusting the universe. Easier said than done, maybe. But imperative, definitely.

It’s not frivolous to want joyful work. If consciousness is evolving and a new paradigm is emerging in all this chaos, it makes sense that all our creations, including our work, would align with this energy. In most of my conversations, a meaningful career has far less to do with individual wants and desires, and more about making the human experience better for all.

The un-learning and deconstructing of the past is important. So is patience and self-compassion. I don’t have any how-to’s or solid next steps. I only know that every minute is precious, and I must get these words out.

this blog’s about me…but aren’t i you?

I’ve written numerous times that one of my favourite things about blogging is connecting with kindred spirits across the globe. Through sharing in each other’s journeys, I’ve learned much about myself and others.

For the most part, comments on my posts are supportive and uplifting. But there is the odd time an observation rubs me the wrong way. In those instances, I have to step back and contemplate why I feel triggered. Usually, when a nerve is struck, that nerve was sensitive to begin with.

In my most recent post, I refer to my blog’s tagline, ‘wearing her heart on her blog’. This is a personal blog…recording my spiritual journey and my innermost thoughts. I don’t share it with friends, nor do I post (much) on social media. But I have many moments where I question the need to share myself so openly on the world wide web. Am I seeking external approval and validation? What is the root of my desire to self-express? To be liked? To channel my soul’s essence, for some larger purpose my conscious mind may not be aware of?

A recent comment prompted me to ask myself these questions yet again. It was pointed out that my blog, and whatever else gives me online attention, is feeding my ego and stimulating unnatural dopamine production. This wasn’t written in a particularly nasty way, but I admit, I got my back up. My mind immediately came up with some defensive replies, but I knew this was the lizard brain’s habitual reaction…so I waited it out. Any strong emotional response on my part was likely due to fear that the commenter’s suggestions were true.

And you know what I felt, underneath it all? Shame. My deepest insecurities about sharing myself openly – that I would be attacked, that people would think I was narcissistic and self-centered, that I was an imposter – came to the surface. Ancient wounds activated. I felt exposed. Deeply embarrassed. How many people feel this way about me? 

This blog is about me…but my main impetus is to create and foster connection. I struggle with many things as a sensitive being on planet earth, and I sense many others do too. In writing my words, I am helping others feel less alone, and in their responses to me, I feel less alone. It’s a creative endeavor that brings some hope and relief to a psyche that often feels quite heavy. It’s a joint venture.

Does ego come into it? Of course. And this too is something I’ve addressed several times. It would be foolish to state that my sharing can be completely ego-free. I’m a human being. Ego comes with the territory. I like ‘likes’. I take things personally. I get attached. I’m working on it, but I’m also trying to be easier on myself. Ego’s a beast I wrestle every single day, and I often fight myself much too hard.

I’m glad I was prompted to write this post. I feel clearer on my own motivations, and the charge I felt has dissipated. (Writing is so cathartic!) Like it or not – and I mostly like it – technology is here, and with social media comes a level of human interaction we haven’t yet experienced. It takes adjustment. It takes responsibility and mindfulness. And it takes supreme kindness, towards ourselves and others.

In Lak’ech. I am another you.

wearing her heart on her blog

Last week I received a ‘Happy Anniversary’ notification from WordPress. In December 2012 I created my account, though I didn’t actually post till the following month. Blogging still feels like a recent endeavor; certainly not something I started five years ago! I continue to meet new bloggers and friends, and learn more about myself as I write my own process.

An anniversary is always a particularly good time to reflect. There’s no question that blogging’s opened up my life in many ways, and for that I am truly grateful. But at several points along the way I’ve thought about taking an extending break, or even quitting entirely. I’ve often felt over-exposed and vulnerable. Or, I’ve put so much pressure on myself for posts to be perfect, that I’m exhausted before I even start writing!

So for 2018, I’m asking myself: can I re-make blogging a joyful priority?

Back in my early WordPress days, I would read articles with advice on blogging. These were instrumental in helping me understand the platform, and I did learn some useful tips. But I soon realized that I needed to form my own blogging conventions, appropriate to my life and the nature of my writing.

sonia picard’s ‘technicolor durga’

For example, I’d read that to gain readers and followers, it’s important to post frequently. This doesn’t work for me. Given that I mostly write about personal topics, it would be too emotionally taxing to continually write about my inner process. To post for the sake of posting wouldn’t be authentic, especially if I was motivated by the sense that I ‘should’, or the desire to have more followers. (‘Should’ automatically invokes resistance anyway.)

In social media, it’s generally accepted that more followers = better. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I quite often ask myself: why? What is the deeper need there…why does it matter? Will it mean something when I’ve hit a certain number? Will I feel more validated? (Actually, I’m not overthinking it. Without mindfulness, ego runs amok.)

I try to view all this with self-compassion and understanding. Of course it feels good to receive likes and follows! It’s hard to not make it about other people. We don’t live in isolation; we’re in a relational, hyper-connected world. I am choosing to share my thoughts on the Internet, after all; others are participating.

And for many of us, blogging is perhaps the only arena we feel most understood. Connecting to kindred spirits across the planet is amazing, and one of my favourite things about this medium. The likes, comments, and follows do mean something, when they’re authentically given and received.

But as soon as I’ve made it solely about other people, blogging loses its spark. When it involves comparison and perfectionism, it becomes heavy. A blogigation.

Writing the perfect post isn’t possible. There will forever be tweaks and adjustments to improve it. Someone else will have better photos, more likes, be making money off their blog, etc. Whenever I find myself questioning whether I should continue, I remember that in the actual writing process, time stands still, or flies by. That in itself is the purpose, the goal. That is creativity. There aren’t many activities where I can lose myself in this way, and it’s something to hold on to.

For 2018, I’m going to ditch the pursuit of perfectionism – not just with blogging, but with life in general. Priorities can be re-invented and reinvigorated with a new perspective. My tagline here is ‘wearing her heart on her blog’, and I’m going to re-commit to my heart being the guiding principle in all matters.

Happy Anniversary, new moon, solstice, and new year! And thank you for reading. ❤

befriending my teenage self

I’m so glad I didn’t burn my journals.

I’ve only read up to age 16, and already so much is illuminated. I see patterns emerging from a young age. Seeds of self-doubt are being planted, forming the roots of what I’ve struggled with for many years. I see a growing disillusionment with female friendships. And at 16, rage is rearing its head.

Before this point, I tried to minimize my anger – even within my own journal. When I was upset with a friend or family member, I immediately felt ‘bad’. I tried to see their point of view. I apologized to my own diary for being negative! Anger was unacceptable to me – but at 16, it spilled out on the written page.

During my twenties, the anger didn’t dissipate, despite my sincere attempts to understand it. I would lash out at those closest to me, especially my best friend and my boyfriend. I would then try to ‘make up’ for it, only to have it happen again. It was a vicious spiral and I felt powerless to stop it.

I endlessly analyzed where my anger came from. Was it because I’m a woman? Because in Indian culture – at least the household I grew up in – women were not encouraged to express anger? Was it karma, past life issues, taking on others’ suppressed emotions, too much sugar?

None of that seems relevant anymore. What I see clearly now is that, at such a young age, I didn’t have a safe outlet to express the feelings I considered negative. They were perfectly understandable feelings, but I felt such guilt and shame about them, and they festered within.

Was I ever really ‘angry’, or was I hurt and confused, particularly when it came to my friendships? I experienced what I perceived as ongoing disappointment with girlfriends. I felt abandoned, deserted, competitive…rejected. I see now that this probably mirrored my own (lack of) relationship with my biological sister, and led me to attending many women’s circles in the years to come.

These gatherings helped, but still today, my relationships with women can be strained. If the Divine Feminine is indeed returning to the planet (not that she ever really left), it makes sense that all this would be coming up to heal.

As I read my diaries, I’ve also been going through old photos of myself in my teenage years. In most pictures, I am smiling and look happy. To read about those years, and simultaneously watch the story unfold through pictures, has been a tender process. I had forgotten so many details and events, yet I can feel myself right there, back in that space and time, feeling exactly how I felt then.

Our past experiences are still very much alive within us.

I’d thought that burning my journals would clear away all my stories, help me become a phoenix rising from the ashes. But the phoenix can’t rise if I’m trying to escape the more painful parts of my journey. I must claim the entire story first.

And something good is happening. My journals have given me a second chance to re-live those years. I was so hard on myself. I can now bring in the self-compassion I couldn’t before.

In revisiting those painful emotions, I’m also re-discovering parts of my younger self that were pretty freaking cool. She was perceptive, sensitive, and spunky. I laughed out loud many times, reading her entertaining musings. She’s still here, and her inner fire is being rekindled through my presence and attention.

I’m going to enjoy being friends with her.

you are irreplaceable

“You’re replaceable,” a colleague said to me last week.

These words, seemingly harsh, were delivered with fierce caring and passion upon my return to work after being away for back pain. “I’m replaceable,” she continued. “If I die tonight, my job will be posted by Friday. But I’m not replaceable to my family and loved ones.”

I’d just expressed that I felt ‘bad’ for having missed so much work, after only recently starting in my current position. “Let me tell you right now,” she responded. “Nobody is thinking that but you. Nobody cares. I mean, we care…but we’re all too busy and wrapped up in our own little worlds.”

It was clear I had limited mobility and was still in some pain. “Don’t push yourself,” she cautioned. “Nobody is going to take care of you, but you. Are you taking care of yourself?”

This is perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning from back pain: the need for self-care. I had been pushing myself, but didn’t recognize it. ‘Pushing myself’ was just so…normal.

The emotional root of low back pain, I’ve read, is feeling unsupported. There were many factors leading to my injury. I didn’t take enough work breaks, I sat improperly and for too long, my yoga practice had lapsed. But the emotional explanation resonated. I’d long felt I was ‘going it alone’ in life: I was misunderstood, my financial situation was a bomb, relationships with men were painful, God was disappointed in me.

But was any of that actually true? Or was it that I felt deeply unworthy of receiving support?

I know this is about my experience of being a woman. I haven’t wanted to be a burden on others, to take up too much space or be seen as too demanding. I’ve tried to be independent and accommodating. On the occasions I have been called ‘selfish’, it’s kicked me right in the gut. For a woman, there can be so much loaded in that word.

Hence the compulsion to people-please, to over-accommodate. The all-consuming worry about what others will think, the inability to make a decision because I’m weighing in so many voices. These aren’t conscious behaviours; they’re deeply ingrained, woven into my cells after many years – probably generations – of conditioning.

My body had long been giving me warning signals, straining against the push to live up to expectations that were largely my own. I felt so responsible to do a good job, and guilty when I let others down. Breaking my back, bending over backwards. How bad does it have to get?

stop and notice the pink

There have been many blessings inherent in this pain. I’ve had to be vulnerable in relying on loved ones for help with everything from cleaning to driving to putting on my socks. I’m physically vulnerable to strangers. Walking to work on the downtown sidewalks, people barrel towards me. I see how fragile this body can be; one random bump could re-trigger the pain.

I’m used to being the one rushing, becoming impatient with slow walkers. I’ve discovered that it’s a relief not to rush – to have no choice but to go slow. Some people give me space, and sympathetic smiles. These are small things…but they’re not.

I hope I can hold on to all this, as my back heals. I like being vulnerable. I’m self-protective, but not on the defence. I feel softer, more raw and trusting. And my vulnerability gives others, particularly my loved ones, the chance to show kindness to me.

In receiving this care, I’m realizing that I’m the only one who saw myself as a burden. And I no longer wish to carry that belief. I’d rather be irreplaceable.

7 life lessons from back pain

I was all set to write another post on blogging a couple of weeks ago, when I threw my back out. Not for the first time…but this was unlike any other episode. Excruciating spasms. Unable to stand up on my own. Putting on socks? Forget it.

I’ve been thinking about a good friend who was in near-constant back pain for months. Most health care practitioners were unable to help, and she eventually had surgery. I remember meeting with her while she was struggling with pain. I see now that I was unable to be truly present with her. I wanted there to be a solution: I wanted her to discover the emotional root of her issue, the ‘why’ of it.

Artist: Maxine Noel

And now, as I write these words, I realize I don’t know the ‘why’ of my own pain, and how presumptuous it was to think I could know it for anyone else. But I have come to some insights about what this experience is teaching me personally.

Listening to my body’s warning signals: as mentioned, it’s not the first time I’ve thrown my back out. I’d had warning signs for years, and knew what I needed to do to prevent future pain from happening. But I always put it off. This time, my body made sure I was paying attention.

I am vulnerable: I never knew just how much I need my lower back. Now I need help with so much. I’ve had to reach out to friends and loved ones for assistance with the most simple of tasks. I’m not used to this, and it is humbling.

Which brings me to Gratitude: I am blessed that I have people in my life to help me, and who ask nothing in return. This is no small thing, and it’s probably the biggest gift of all.

Compassion: I think of all those who don’t have caring support. I see where I’ve missed opportunities to be compassionate and helpful. When we’re feeling good and healthy, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to be in pain, especially chronic pain. I wanted to fix my friend’s problem by helping her discover the emotional root, but that wasn’t what she needed. She needed to feel validated and understood for what she was feeling in that moment.

Meds can be a good thing: Is there an emotional root to my pain? Probably. Low back pain is suggested to indicate a lack of support. And I have felt that, for many years. But it’s interesting that the pain is also revealing to me the support I do have. Beyond the mind/body connection and my holistic practices, I’m grateful for the medication that’s reducing my pain. This is noteworthy, as I’ve always been somewhat anti-medication – you wouldn’t even find an Advil in my home – and had a bit of an ego about that.

I am not in control. I can play my part in my healing, but my body is on its own timeline and will recover at its own pace. This has required patience and surrender that I’m not accustomed to. Forcing anything is only going to set me back.

Self-care is a priority: I’ve never missed so much work, or relied on others to take care of me. I notice how guilty I feel about it. Thoughts that I’m a burden on others, that I’m taking ‘too long’ to get better, surface repeatedly. No one has given me this message. It’s been eye-opening to realize just how hard it is to take care of myself first.

This entire experience has been very humbling, and I’m learning to trust that my body knows what it’s doing, even when my mind objects. I’m thankful that I’ve had no choice but to slow down and listen.