Category Archives: Growth

Who Am I Now? – Leaving identity behind in transition

I’ve got one more day with my clients. One more day in my identity as a social worker, as a counsellor, as a therapist. Letting go of this identity was not something I thought would be so hard. I know, what was I thinking? Oh, wait, I was thinking, not feeling. That’s my default m.o. when I’m under stress.

I thought that all my work with grieving, transitions, and loss would prepare me. After all, I’ve left lots of identities behind over the years. I’ve graduated from various schools,  moved house, and even country, a whole lot of times. I’ve married, became a mom, even got (temporarily) un-married. Not that those transitions into and out of an identity were pain- or challenge-free by any means.

But I’ve never left a job that I loved before. I’ve left jobs because the contract was over. I’ve left jobs because the pay wasn’t enough to support me. I’ve changed careers due to burn-out. I’ve even walked out of a particularly bad job in the middle of the day -not exactly polite, but I’m very proud of the boundaries I set for myself that day!

Honestly, most transitions are more of a “one at a time” kind of deal. This one isn’t everything, all at once, but it comes awfully close. Tomorrow I leave a job, and soon I will leave a home, a city, and even a country, that I truly love… how do I do that? It’s one thing to move from one identity to the next logical one: you get married, you know you’re becoming a spouse. You have a kid, you know you’re becoming a parent. But what am I becoming? I look down into the void and I see infinite stars… it’s a good thing my scared little self has my bigger self along for the ride!

I started to write this blog a few weeks ago. The word “day” was “month.” Then I started again last weekend. The word was “week.”And here I am yet again. Sitting down to write is not coming easy to me these days. Watching endless old familiar TV shows is very easy. Reading old familiar and comfortable books is comforting.  Art – which “ought” to be my mainstay – is almost as uncomfortable to get into as writing. But at least I’ve done it a bit more consistently than writing, and so I thought perhaps it’s best to break this long silence and share what I’ve got.

Zoom!What is it about this awkward space between one identity and another? At the beginning, it was an incredibly exciting feeling, like bursting into a clear sky, with nothing but forward and upward momentum. Hooray! Bruce got the job in Crete! Amazing! Look at the incredible landscape! The food! The ocean! Ah the inspiration will be there for the taking, and I will have all the time in the world to become the artist I always wanted to be…

But… what if I don’t? 

I watched a crow down by the beach a week ago. I think it was young. It zoomed up to a forked branch in a tree, and perched there, one foot on one side and one on the other, wobbling back and forward. I stared for a while. The crow might have been more self-conscious if it had known the attention it was getting! But since its back was toward me, its feet splayed out in opposite directions and its tail-feathers flipping up and down as it tried to keep balance between the two ends of the forked branch, I was privileged to feel its struggles as if they were my own. And I felt it. Right down to the bottom of my own toes. All my “what if’s” flood into my legs and make them weak and wobbly.

What if, despite the job offer, the Greek consulate says “no, we don’t want you here.”? What if we get there The Earth is Shakingbut I totally squander my time, and end up watching Netflix while hiding in my shuttered house from the extroverted neighbours?  My wiser self (and sometimes that’s an inner voice, and sometimes it’s a supportive friend) asks me some better questions. What if it’s fine? What if your neighbours are really sweet and even a little introverted themselves? What if Greece doesn’t happen, but by making the preparations you end up opening a magical door you didn’t even know existed? What if you wobble a bit on your branch, and then take off and fly into the beautiful sky and sing above olive trees and a turquoise ocean?

Wait and see...What if I sit with this feeling of in-between-ness, of not-knowing, and just BE with it for a while. Underneath the noisiness of my fear, I can feel a steady bass-beat of something else. Back when this started I even said out loud that what I was seeking, in taking this chance to completely change my life, was an experience of free-fall. To so completely let go of what I know, that I would have the chance to learn who I really am outside of all the other definitions and assumptions. I find myself scrolling back up to the first drawing, looking closer… I want to see those stars close up. And I do want it badly enough that I will try again to re-settle myself into waiting and being with what comes.

So … one more day of being with my clients, who have blessed me over and over again in their own willingness to BE. And now I’m feeling it. All of it. And I’m sad.

 

 

 

100 Morning Walks

The Challenge

I took on a challenge a bit more than 60 days ago to go for 100 consecutive morning walks, and to post a picture from each one on my social media accounts facebook and Instagram. Initially the purpose of this challenge for me was to dip my toes into being more consistently visible in the online world, the introvert’s nightmare! I wanted to become more comfortable there, so that I could begin to be able to connect with, and hopefully help, more than just the few local folks who can come in for appointments.

Interestingly, and gratifyingly, it has grown into much more. What I notice happening is that it isn’t just the walking that has grown into a true “practice,” but the noticing has too. I would say that my intention and ability to see, to be aware, and to find some pleasure in the seeing and awareness, have grown exponentially over the past two months.

I’m not sure that I was aware of my need to find pleasure when I started,

but I can tell you, that to do anything every single day for that long (with more than a month yet to go) it’s absolutely vital to be genuinely interested in it!

It hasn’t been completely delightful every day. Some days it’s been cold and wet and I’ve been grumpy and tired, so “pleasure” wasn’t really part of the story. But even those days, there was something happening, or something to see, or focus on through the camera lens, that engaged me, and pulled me out from underneath my dripping hood.

I recently co-hosted a webinar with Jann Dodd, PhD, a psychologist from Houston, Texas, on the subject of Positive Psychology. Her community is still pulling itself back together after Hurricane Harvey, and before we talked, I wondered if it was a bit of a stretch that she could so wholeheartedly be coming from a place of positivity.

One of the things she really brought home to me during the webinar was that the real definition of “happiness” in the research and science of Positive Psychology, is NOT rainbows and fluffy kitten unicorns, but a combination of three factors.

Pleasure, Engagement and Meaning

Pleasure is the one we usually think of, and it’s certainly part of happiness, but only one facet. The other two, and far more predictive of a “happy” life, are engagement and meaning.

To consider ourselves happy, in other words, research has found that people need to be actively interested and engaged with life around them – friends, family, hobbies – whatever it is that keeps us attentive and involved. And that we need to be using our skills, strengths, and character for something that has meaning to us. Often that means a larger purpose. It doesn’t have to mean an earth-shattering Nobel Prize winning purpose, just something that has greater meaning to us, like giving our customer great service and a smile, to make their day better. Pleasure is part of the recipe too: we need to know how to feel it, but it needn’t be present in huge quantities or all the time, for us to live happy lives.

When I started it, I had no idea that my #100MorningWalks had anything to do with happiness – with pleasure or engagement or meaning. Yet two months into the process, I had the wonderful synchronistic experience of learning that what I was doing was something perfectly calculated to increase my happiness! Having a solid practice in place (my public promise to show up every day!) has given me engagement, meaning, and enough pleasure to make it a reasonable gamble to keep going outside for that walk every day.

I will keep you posted, but I think it’s working.

Even with the downpour, and even though I absolutely reserve the right to be cranky once in a while, I do feel lighter.

For those of you who have joined me visibly in the #100MorningWalks posts, thanks for the company! And I sincerely hope that it has begun to work its magic in you. If you haven’t tried it, you might find it “enlightening!”

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Are you interested in using your creativity to heal, but don’t live in Victoria?

Are you more comfortable seeking help on-line?

Did you know that Frances offers her services on the web as well as at the studio?

If you’re a new client and would like to explore whether on-line sessions with Frances would fit for you, you can book a “Your Way Through Grief, Loss & Change” Free Consultation at
https://openhearthstudioschedule.as.me/

Mindfulness: Reflections on an Emerging Practice

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has emerged over the past couple of years as a major buzzword in both mental health and spirituality. Various forms of meditation have existed for centuries as a vital element in just about every form of spiritual and religious life across all cultures. Jon Kabat-Zinn was probably the first westerner to introduce us to the physical and mental health benefits of attuning our attention to the present moment, without judgment. In his words:

 Mindfulness is never about doing something perfectly, because it is not about doing or accomplishing at all. It is about allowing things to be as they are, resting in awareness, and then, taking appropriate action when called for. Silence, deep listening, and non-doing are often very appropriate responses in particularly trying moments — not a turning away at all, but an opening toward things with clarity and good will, even toward ourselves. Out of that awareness, trustworthy skillful responses and actions can arise naturally, and surprise us with their creativity and clarity.  (From this website: https://www.mindfulnesscds.com/pages/faq)

Meditation and mindfulness have taken a greater and greater place in my life as I have matured. I first encountered meditation in my studies of world religions in university in the 80’s. I embraced it at the time as a way to reduce some of the stress of my perfectionism. It didn’t hurt that many of the guided meditations I participated in were also meant to evoke pleasant visions and experiences of spiritual connectedness.

My mindfulness practice began with curiosity.

Through the years I continued to explore. I have practiced the body-centered mindfulness of yoga, the centering prayer of the ancient Christian tradition, and attempted to empty my mind according to some branches of Buddhism. I was searching for a way to feel whole, free, and deeply connected.

As a young counsellor, I found myself teaching my clients meditation as a way to lessen their anxiety or stress. When I became a parent, mindfulness showed up in my preparations for childbirth and guided meditation became a part of bedtime rituals for my young children when they had a hard time falling asleep. I wasn’t disciplined in a daily way, but it was always there in the background.

 And then, somewhere along the way, my eclectic practice dried up completely. I can’t place exactly when it happened. I just find, looking back over the tapestry of my history, that there is a hole in the weave, a place where the mindfulness thread broke.

Suffering brought mindfulness back to me.

For a number of years my family went through a period of deep disconnection – from our own selves and from each other. Our marriage broke down. We, and our children, suffered the confusion, despair, and anxiety that such a rupture can create. In our individual and family healing work, each of their stories is their own. The story that is mine to tell is that my healing came largely from observing my son as he took on a dedicated practice of compassionate mindfulness.

 I sometimes say mindfulness saved his life.

While that over-simplifies the story, on a feeling-level, for me, it is absolutely true. I watched him gradually transform from someone I no longer recognized to a more peaceful, loving, and happy person as he went from learning the basics to studying the deeper philosophy of Zen Buddhism. That process reawakened my own desire to engage in the practice again, and in the process, brought me back to my life too.

 My longing for a deeper wholeness and connection to the true Self that lies behind and beyond my habits of personality has returned more strongly than ever. I am assured that this is an entirely “age-appropriate” development! In our second half of life we look beyond the concerns that preoccupied us during our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Meaning eclipses success in our hierarchy of needs. And where else can we find meaning, joy, life, and connection other than in the present moment? Our past is gone and unchangeable. The future is not yet, and is far, far less controllable than we thought when we were younger.

 While I’ll probably never give up my eclectic tendency to explore the many avenues and traditions of mindfulness, I have seen first-hand how powerful a regular practice is, and this knowledge supports me in setting down roots in a morning routine of sitting meditation. Not to mention, it gives me lots to talk about with my kids!

 This winter I invite you to join me in an exploration of several mindfulness paths that intersect with the world of art. You never know, one of them might just fit you perfectly! On Saturday February 3rd I am offering Slow Threads, a workshop on meditative stitching. And on Monday, February 26th there will be an evening workshop on making and using prayer beads from several traditions: To Hold A Prayer In My Hand. See the Workshops page for information on all Open Hearth Studio group offerings. I hope also to have an online Basics of Mindfulness course up and running by the fall!

The Geology of My Spirit

Have you ever felt like certain landscapes nourished your spirit?

Sixteen years ago I took a road trip all by myself for about six weeks. Sometimes it still feels like yesterday. During that trip I spent about two weeks exploring a string of National Parks in Southern Utah from Arches near Moab through Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion, and some of the surrounding country. I was immersed in a landscape of otherworldly rock formations and a warm red colour palette completely foreign to the “50 shades of green” of the Pacific Northwest that I was accustomed to.

Somewhere in my spirit there was a desert rat just waiting to run free.                                                                                         

I listened with awe to Park Ranger lectures on desert plants, animals, and the history of the original human inhabitants of those lands. I went on that trip during a time of personal distress, when I felt worn out, lost and not at home in my own life. My spirit felt as dry as sandstone. I hoped to find myself again by getting a little lost out in the world. Coyotes, lizards, eagles, ravens, and a surprisingly beautiful tarantula let me see what belonging looks like to them. The tang of juniper and the burnt caramel scent of Ponderosa pines, and the prickling dry heat of the sun drying my skin after swimming in a cold river brought my spirit back home to my own body and senses.

Who knew my biggest learning would be from a Ranger talking about rocks?

I don’t honestly remember which park I was at for that lecture – but the impact has remained. The words themselves, “sedimentation, lithification, uplift, erosion,” still echo in my spirit like a drum, a poem, a call. The cyclical process of growing and forming, then being undone in some way, to reform in a new shape, is so universal that even rocks go through it. You could think of this as just psychology, but for me it touches on something essential enough that I choose to call it spirituality.

These incredible canyons, cliffs, and stone arches were formed when mud, sand, stone, and gravel were eroded from other mountains, swept downstream, and deposited in new layers (sedimentation.) Over time, with the pressure of its own weight, and with the help of minerals in the water, those materials became stone again (lithification.) More time passed, and forces from deep within the earth forced the layers upward (uplift.) And the cycle begins again as wind and water cut through the rock, eroding it and exposing the layers to view (erosion.)

All at once I could see myself at every place in that picture.

At that time I felt scraped thin, with all my layers, good and bad, exposed. I think that’s how it is for most of us at one time or another. Wherever we land in life, we build up layers of what works: thoughts, beliefs, habits – all the stuff that we end up thinking is “us.” We can turn into a kind of stone: brittle, unbending.

 Sooner or later though, a bigger force comes along, like a change or a loss, or even just the passing of time. But it acts on us like an earthquake, to shake us up. Maybe it lifts us up, maybe cracks us open. Then all those layers of habits and old beliefs, all the things good and bad that make us tick, are out there for everyone to see. We’ve been trying to bring the skills and the story of who we were before, along with us as we grow up or change circumstances, and it just doesn’t work. Hopefully seeing leads to learning, maybe a little loosening, but for sure it leads to change.

 And so we’re swept down another river again, until we can settle again into stillness and a new shape, until that no longer serves us, and we get to ride the whole process again.

Want to see the actual geology? Check out this site: https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/geology.htm