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’m now one of them. 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.

autumnal reset

In my last post I wrote about ceremoniously burning all my journals, clearing out my stories to allow space for the new. I was about to go camping on Vancouver Island, and could think of no better place to send my diaries than into the flames of a campfire, out in nature and under the stars.

Alas, Mother Nature had other plans. Due to record-breaking wildfires in British Columbia, campfires were strictly banned all summer. The journal burning would have to wait.

My time away was soul nourishing. We spent three days camping near a small logging town on the northeast coast of the Island. I hadn’t been camping in years, and was a little anxious to be out of my comfort zone. This feeling didn’t lessen when we noticed fresh bear poop on our site. Fortunately I didn’t have any close encounters, though we did spot a young black bear twice, ambling down the beach in front of us.

Despite the bear presence, it didn’t take long for me to relax and appreciate the natural beauty surrounding me. The weather cooperated and the other campers made for chill, respectful neighbours. We also saw humpback whales and porpoises, which was amazing.The absence of technology was particularly soothing to my city-jangled brainwaves, allowing my mind to breathe.

After camping, it was off to beautiful Tofino, for the wedding of a close friend. It was a sweet few days, filled with lovely people, food, music, beer (oh so much beer), and laughter. It’s hard to formulate words for the entire experience; they can’t fully capture the magic of the moments. Neither could pictures, which is why I took so few.

The journey felt like a major reset, probably amplified by the solar eclipse that preceded it. But I don’t feel rested and rejuvenated; on the contrary, since my return I’ve been extremely fatigued and lacking motivation. Even when it comes to blogging. I’ve started and stopped this post so many times and it’s been frustrating. But maybe that’s part of the reset. It feels different from resistance or procrastination. There’s no point in forcing something that’s just not happening, even if it’s something we normally enjoy.

our camping spot

And now we’re emerging from the new moon into the Autumn equinox, another potent time to focus on what’s essential. Though city culture can be wonderfully stimulating, my time away – short as it was – made me realize I’m longing for more balance. Simplification. Less dependence on conveniences, and more self-sufficiency. How would I really like to live, and what practical steps can I take to make that happen? What does living harmoniously with nature – feeling connected, having a relationship – mean for me personally, and is my life reflecting that?

Perhaps the idea of burning my journals was part of the drive to simplify. But since writing my post, I appreciate more fully the importance of honouring that journey before I let it go. This means taking the diaries out of the box. Putting them in order, lining them up, setting aside the uninterrupted time to read them.

I want to sit with all those uncomfortable emotions, giving them the attention they deserve. I can then release them with peace. And who knows, I might find unremembered moments of joy in those words. Maybe the biggest gem I will discover is the compassion for the person who wrote them.

This Autumnal reset feels like incubation and integration. The plug is being pulled on so many things, and we are waiting patiently as life organizes itself to respond to a new frequency…trusting, as best we can, that life is lovingly responding in these very uncertain times where no one knows what’s going to happen next.

As the days get shorter and cooler, and the leaves turn colour, I’m grateful to be where am, laying low and letting nature do her thing.

burn the journals

I moved a couple of months ago, and my box of journals followed me. I’ve carted this box around for several years, unsure of what to do with it. A part of me wants to burn these diaries, all at once, in some ritual release ceremony. But if I do that, I want to read them first – and this would take a while, given the sheer number of them. And the fact that it would be an emotionally exhausting process.

Why am I holding on? I’ve written about this in a previous post, and I’m still facing the dilemma. For the most part, my musings weren’t happy. I certainly don’t want anyone else reading them. And I don’t feel particularly joyful when I look at that box; if anything, it makes me anxious. I think of it whenever I hear the safety announcement on a plane. What if I died suddenly? Do I really want my innermost thoughts just floating around?

the box

I know what it is. I have this sense, this hope, that the diaries might provide a clue. A clue about what, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll contain a hidden gem that will give me some heightened self-awareness. A lightbulb moment. A traumatic memory unlocked, the key that brings missing pieces together.

Or maybe not.

In my last post, I wrote about it being the time of a full moon and an opportunity for completion. That weekend, I found myself going for a long walk, unexpectedly winding up in my childhood neighbourhood. I walked past the apartment building my family lived in at two different times; once when I was 4 and again at age 8.

I felt both light and heavy. When we lived in this small place, my family had not been in the country for very long. So many years later, I could more fully appreciate the trauma and uncertainty that my parents must’ve experienced during those early years. My heart exploded with love for my mother and father, and my childhood grief that I couldn’t make them feel better.

I love that this building is still there, but I have a feeling it will be gone soon, as the whole area is being redeveloped.

Somehow the timing of all this feels pertinent. If the full moon a couple of weeks ago was about completion, we’re now in the birthing period of the new moon and total solar eclipse. Given that it’s Mercury Retrograde too, it’s the time for inner reflection. Whatever we’re intent on releasing, whatever new thoughts we want to implant… it’s a cosmically potent opportunity to do so.

The little girl in the apartment, the teenager writing in those journals, the woman on her spiritual search…what is she ready to let go of?

The need to apologize. The need to people please, the fear of rejection, the feelings of not enough, the ancient pain in feeling so responsible for others. Letting go of those physical reminders, those powerful words in written form, frees her to experience more of the real her: the woman unbound by old self-definitions. The woman who laughs more, who truly values herself and doesn’t needlessly worry about others.

Perhaps there is no more auspicious time to set those journals aflame. Instead of fearing what I might lose – my childhood, my identity – I can imagine the space created from releasing those (mostly sad) words. My being extends far beyond the letters on a page.

As I walked past my old apartment that day, it occurred to me that I never knew the building’s name. I went up to the main door. “Le Chateau.” The Castle. Seeing that made me smile. It seemed very fitting.

technology & the divine search

It occurred to me that I deactivated my Facebook account around this time last year. How does it feel to be Facebook free? It’s still working for me. That doesn’t mean I’m anti-Facebook. It means I know my tendencies, and must limit social media for my own peace of mind.

Technology is a double-edged sword. While it’s mind-bogglingly cool to have this worldwide venue to express ourselves, the open-forum Internet easily becomes a platform where many react from defence and ego when their beliefs are challenged.

Using social media responsibly requires conscious attention and self-awareness. If we are not wise to our own projections, we might attack the other instead of looking within.

from my trip to paris, centre pompidou: františek kupka, ‘around a point’

I speak for myself more than anyone. For several years, I followed a woman on YouTube who regularly posted on spirituality and emotional healing. Her videos were targeted to sensitive people, and they brought me much comfort and guidance.

But in recent months, her channel has changed direction. She now posts exclusively on Jesus Christ and the Bible as the (only) true path to God. Her messages have included warnings to not practice yoga, for example, as it is ‘Luciferian’ in nature and invites demonic spirits in. Having studied many forms of new age spirituality throughout her life, she now views these as the ‘false light’.

I was very triggered by all this. I didn’t even know this woman, but her previous teachings had been deeply healing for me, and I felt an odd sense of betrayal and emotional pain. I began to doubt my own spirituality, including my views on yoga and ascension.

I was angry…but at who?

When I’m feeling threatened, it’s usually not about the other person. If I’d been truly secure in my own beliefs, maybe I wouldn’t have been so upset by this woman’s new messages. I’d understand that others have free choice to believe whatever they want, and it can be truth for them. I’d trust that there was room enough for all, in a way my linear human mind couldn’t comprehend.

I’m not contesting the Bible or the life of Jesus here, and I mean no disrespect to this woman. But I recognize that her new content had activated my old feelings of guilt and shame for rejecting the religion I was born into, and for pursuing a more ‘new age’ path. And I felt fear. Paralyzed by the ancient notion of God watching, judging, and waiting to punish me for one false move.

It is my responsibility to deal with my reactions and responses. So I’ve been asking myself: What do I truly believe? What do I know? I’ve previously written on honouring the inner authority, yet here I became so invested in another’s experience. When it comes to God and spirituality, have I taken others’ word for it, to the point where I don’t even know what mine is?

Am I allowed a direct relationship with the divine? Do feelings of unworthiness block me from receiving this? Can I be unshakable in my faith, but not so rigid that I proclaim my way as the only way?

My spiritual search has been about undoing the ego – a constant, likely never-ending process. And with that comes humility. The ability to admit that I don’t know.

Here in the west we have so many philosophies, including yoga, to choose from. But does one or the other make me more ‘spiritual’ or ‘ascended’? Perhaps I don’t need to do so much, to try so hard. (I’m reminded of my trip to Italy, where I felt very connected to God while taking a break from all things I considered spiritual.)

On this planet of limitless preferences, I would think that there are endless ways to express and embody love. If God can feel this frequency in us, this sincere desire, maybe little else matters.

And here, technology becomes the blessing. Through sharing perspectives, it raises questions that – with conscious awareness – bring me deeper into my own truth.

just. keep. writing.

Writer’s block is an enigmatic phenomenon. I could be out for a walk, on the bus to work, heck even at work doing my job, and in under a minute I’ll mentally write an entire blog post. The words and ideas stream in so fast I can’t possibly record them, but I promise myself I will later. I’ll remember this, I think. But when I sit down to write – nothing.

Earlier this week, my colleague – an amazing poet and teacher – spoke to a group of high school students visiting our university to learn more about our creative writing program. (A post on ‘worlds colliding’ should follow this one, as the students’ teacher is coincidentally my best friend, who now lives south of the border.)

I attended the session, but didn’t expect to be so personally impacted. When I was in high school, ‘creative writing’ wasn’t a thing. I remember English classes and learning about form, structure, and grammar…and we did do some writing…but for the most part, creative expression wasn’t truly nurtured or celebrated.

Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy.

I can’t help but wonder how different my younger years would’ve looked, had I been encouraged to experiment with all forms and genres in writing. If studying the craft had been presented as a valuable, worthy calling.

Of course, there’s no real point in going there. It’s easy to get carried away with the ‘what if’s, thinking we were somehow shortchanged in our past. But we can’t really know how things might’ve otherwise turned out. Maybe in the end it wouldn’t have made much difference.

My poet friend was so inspiring in encouraging the students to express themselves, and I ponder why writing – a process that can literally be a life-saver for some – often remains so elusive for those who love it most.

Is it vulnerability? Putting ourselves ‘out there’ in any capacity can be intimidating…but with writing, it feels heightened. It’s our heart and soul we’re baring, opening ourselves to others’ perceptions and projections. We tell ourselves not to get caught up in likes, follows (or unfollows), and comments…but how can we not be impacted by those things?

Is it perfectionism? We might think we don’t have time, or that we’re too stressed, to write. But maybe it’s fear: fear that our written word will never look as great as we hope and envision. Fear that someone will make a negative comment, or we’ll sound pretentious or get it wrong. Or, maybe worst of all – that we’ll be exposed as an imposter.

Blogging breaks are sometimes necessary…but I am feeling the creative muse’s call – no, order – to keep writing. It doesn’t have to be blog posts; it doesn’t have to ‘be’ or look like anything. It can just be for me.

When it comes to nurturing our passions, there is always time. But it is on us to carve it out. Fortunately we now have the world of WordPress, where everyone can express themselves to their heart’s content! It’s not too late.

For all those sensitive people so attuned to the reactions of others, I say… I get it. Express yourself anyway. It doesn’t matter if you’re not experienced or published or getting paid for it. If you’ve found something that gives you even the smallest hint of joy, DO IT. Don’t even question why.

It is meaningful, it does matter, and it is making a difference. Just keep writing.

success is in the heart

For the first time in my life, I have a job where people don’t say, “You’re capable of so much more.” After years of working in more junior roles at the same organization, a few months ago I accepted a management position in a field I’m passionate about. Finally, I thought. For the first time, I can be proud of what I do. I have my own office filled with plants and books – and business cards! I don’t have to explain my career choices anymore.

And yet, something feels off.

In my previous position, a colleague once said to me: “You don’t seem particularly career driven.” I don’t think this was meant offensively, but I was slightly triggered and pondered her words for some time after.

The fact is, she was right. When it came to a day job, I never wanted the responsibility that came with senior level roles. I was always content to serve in a more support-type capacity, because I didn’t want to carry home any unnecessary stress. I liked being behind the scenes. I took pride in doing a good job, and I could forget about work at the end of the day.

For the most part, I was always motivated by something else, something much deeper for me. It was a personal, inner – spiritual – search. This occupied most of my energy, and that was hard (and often pointless) to explain to those who were more outwardly focused and who questioned why I didn’t challenge myself more, work-wise.

Fundamentally, I also never cared about title and prestige. It was an interesting paradox to feel triggered by the opinions of those around me, yet know deep in my heart that it ultimately means nothing. I understood I was so much more than my career.

Now here I am poised for change yet again, and I ask myself (yet again): what do I really want? Can I feel and follow the beat of my own drum, unplugging from others’ notions of what ‘success’ looks like? Seeds have been planted, and movement in a new direction is imminent. This involves leaving the company I’ve been with for many years and starting over in a new organization.

As I previously wrote, my home environment is changing too. In these times of upheaval all around, some of us are moving back to our roots (as the wonderful Laura mentions in her comment on my post). I’ve been spending time in the very neighbourhood I grew up in and, more than ever, it feels like home.

For so many years, I wanted to live anywhere but there. I had visions of starting life over in a foreign country where I knew no one and had no shackles of the past. And now, the place I grew up is the only place I want to be. I’m seeing my childhood, and the awesome beauty that surrounded me, with new and appreciative eyes.

In a way, it feels like rewriting time and history.

My friends laugh at me for moving and changing jobs so much. And yes, I am feeling a bit exhausted and want some stability. But then, is anything really stable these days? Can we accept that flux is the new norm? Though this little birdy is looking for a place to nest, she will always be grateful for the ability to fly to new surroundings and expand her horizons.

For now, my new direction feels good and as long as I trust my heart and intuition, I can’t go wrong.

year of the jellyfish

It’s my 4th WordPress anniversary this week, and since we’re in a New Year month, it seems fitting to re-blog my very first post from 2013.

I had the sense, back then, that a new world was opening up. And now, 4 years later, with friends made around the world and so many stories shared, I have a newfound appreciation for those early words.

Reading that first post, it’s clear that I was feeling hope and relief in shedding some long-held beliefs; something had shifted within, and it was palpable. Looking back now, it’s like the stage was being set for me to discover just how deeply ingrained these beliefs were in me, and in my family, culture, and ancestry. These past few years have been about diving down, exploring, and uprooting.

I also see that my journey has taken on a new dimension since 2013: self-compassion, humility, and forgiveness have grown. I’ve learned that spirituality is not all ‘love and light’, and that spending time in the muck is an essential part of healing. Also, after years of resisting, I’m becoming much more comfortable with silence. Stillness speaks volumes.

Happy Anniversary, Happy 2017, and Happy Year of the Rooster! No doubt this upcoming year will be monumental. My intentions? To breathe, meditate, feel all my feelings, and remember I’m not alone. And oh yeah, to blog. 😉

Sat Nam, Namaste, Aloha. Thank you for reading!

alohaleya

jellyfish Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

a few years ago a relative told me i reminded her of a jellyfish.  i was confused and she explained: she saw me as translucent, a pearly bubble ready to burst with all the colour and potential and goodness inside me.  she said i couldn’t see it, but she could.  it was a sweet conversation and one i remember once in a while.

maybe it’s all the end-of-2012 talk, but lately i’m beginning to feel those colours emerging.

something has shifted. like i’m breathing a sigh of relief. like i made it to the other side of something. i don’t feel quite so intensely compressed, like i’m a tube of toothpaste and someone is trying squeeze every last bit out.   although everything looks the same, something unseen and profound feels to have taken place.

i can’t hold onto anything anymore. i can’t blame anyone anymore. i…

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