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.

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.

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.

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.

a compassionate february

I have been waiting for February. February feels like fresh air and moving forward. Not ‘moving forward’ as in doing a bunch of things; in fact, as I write these words, I feel utterly exhausted. I can barely grasp the gravity of what’s happening in the U.S., and the tragedy of the Quebec mosque shootings. It’s all slammed me in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Which is why I’m taking extra care to be aware of, and conserve, my energy as much as possible. 2016 brought into sharp focus the consequences of not honouring my energy. So much of my attention was directed outward, and I felt the severe financial, emotional, and spiritual impact. What I thought made me feel good was actually draining my life force, slowly but surely. By the end of 2016, I was running on empty.

It’s hard to imagine 2017 being more intense than last year – but it likely will be. How are we going to handle it? I don’t tune in to social media or the news, but that’s not necessarily the solution. This isn’t a time to bury my head in the sand. (It wouldn’t work anyway; I’d still feel what’s going on globally. We are interconnected.)

purple-tulips

January was about wrapping up loose ends and completing, or moving forward with, projects and commitments I’d procrastinated on. At times it felt like a bit of a slog…but I’m glad I took care of these things, because the more I clear the energetic cobwebs, the greater space I have within. And the better equipped I am to handle what 2017 will bring. The good, the bad, and the ugly/beautiful.

On another note – or maybe it’s completely related – I recently attended some mental health training sessions as part of my new job. Though I registered in these courses to assist those I work with, the training unexpectedly helped me on a very personal level. Not only did I come away with a greater empathy and understanding for those with mental health issues, I felt self-compassion and insight into my own journey.

We never know what’s going on in someone’s interior world. Our assumptions, wounds, and projections are so strong that we can completely miss the humanity in another (and in ourselves). These past few weeks I’ve realized that I often assume others are ‘okay’, when maybe they’re really not. This all feels very timely and relevant to the world stage.

Many of us are grieving. Collective healing begins with self-compassion; when we acknowledge our own vulnerability, we recognize it in those around us. Compassion dissolves our hardened walls. When we cut out the superfluous ’stuff’ of our lives, we draw on our inner resources and share them with others. We become creative in totally new ways…creative with people, love, and relationships. We become leaders in our own lives.

Reaching out to others is courageous; it’s much more comfortable to stay in our cozy little spaces. But withdrawal and isolation won’t work. Our survival as a species – if that’s what we want – hinges on the awareness that we need each other, now more than ever. Baby steps quickly become leaps and bounds. Compassion is the way.

I wish everyone a peaceful February.

it’s no shock he won

My first thought when the twin towers fell was, Oh, fuck. My last name’s Abdulla. Actually, it was more like intense dread imploding my gut. I knew in that moment life would never be the same. My last name, which had always felt like a curse, was more loaded than ever.

It didn’t help when, a few years later, my name mysteriously appeared on a no-fly list. I was issued a redress number, which I now must quote every time I fly to the United States, to prove I’m not a terrorist. Apparently it was a case of ‘mistaken identity’.

Right.

Prior to the no-fly incident, when I’d explain to friends my ongoing hassles at the border, most would brush it off. Oh, they do that to everyone. Well, no – they don’t do that to everyone. I found myself shutting down in such conversations, as I had for years. It was difficult to articulate the subtle (and not-so-subtle) discrimination I experienced. People thought I was overly sensitive, imagining it, or – my personal favourite – “too angry”. I told myself those very same things.

An Indian Game (Juggling the Books) - Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun

An Indian Game (Juggling the Books) – Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun

I wasn’t the least bit shocked Trump won…and truthfully, I’m not as upset as others. And not just because I live in Canada. Trump is the glaring, heinous expression of what we have collectively suppressed and brushed off for too long. Maybe now people will truly wake up and realize there’s a problem here. One that affects everyone and has become so gargantuanly big it can no longer be swept under the rug; in fact, it has become “the leader of the free world”.

This shit has gotten real, and it’s about time.

I don’t believe Trump could’ve won unless a huge amount of people (including some identified as spiritual, liberal, democrat, etc.) didn’t hold his patriarchal, racist, and misogynistic views somewhere in their psyche.

I include myself in this group. For years now, I’ve been facing my own inner patriarch, and what I’ve uncovered hasn’t been pretty. It is a long process. The inner bully is loud-mouthed, yet stealth and sly, and hides in pockets. Patriarchy, racism, and misogyny run deep in humanity, and reflect eons of false conditioning. They’re not going to go away without a fight. And when someone like Trump wins, there can be a sense or failing, futility, of wanting to escape it all.

Which is, of course, exactly what the patriarchy wants you to feel.

Most of us avoid facing the grief that underlies our programmed fear. It’s much easier to eat or drink or point fingers or hate. But look at the world we create when we shun our own pain. Who were we before we starting hating ourselves and others? Are we ready to travel the layers within to reach that place?

Are we willing to let go of whatever privileged status we have? Do we secretly cling to it like a security blanket? Have we become so accustomed to privilege that we don’t even recognize it as such? Are we ready to move past experiences of discrimination and forgive, at a time when discrimination has reared its most ugly head?

Here in Canada, we suffered through our own version of Trump for over nine years. Things appeared to turn around when Justin Trudeau was elected Prime Minister in 2015, but not everyone was happy about it. Only time will tell of significant change.

For Americans, now is not the time to immigrate to Canada or move to a foreign country. There is work to be done right where you are. It is a huge challenge, which contains the seed of a huge blessing. Now you know what you’re dealing with: the collective shadow stands right in front of you.

I’ve heard some beautiful sentiments expressed these last few days; those resolving to be more kind, more caring, more compassionate. I myself have felt very raw and open in my interactions lately. We need each other more than ever. No one is exempt.

This is a catalyst for humans to discover their true power. We can choose to connect with others in creating a new paradigm…or we can sink into fear and apathy. That’s the beauty of free will, and it ultimately has nothing to do with who is ‘leading’ the country.

To live in love consciousness, the volcano must explode. Will we be part of the wreckage or the cleanup?