Friday, March 31, 2017

It Always Takes Longer Than You Think

If I don't write it in my calendar, it is not going to happen. If a task is not on my list, I have a 50-50 chance of forgetting it.  Ah, the joys of the middle aged brain.

The older I get, the more I value my time.  I realize this is a precious resource and I work to treat it with respect.  I find myself wanting to be more present to my activities. I am more intolerant of multitasking.  I am more discriminant in who I choose to spend my time with.  I want to move towards activities and people that bring my joy and make my heart sing, and I want to eliminate activities and people that seem to suck the energy out of my soul.

I am enjoying my intolerance of intolerable things. In my journey to remove my intolerances, I have noticed that the simple and obvious little ditties are the ones that hold great power. So, the title of this blog is one of those simple and obvious little ditties that has been a bit of a game changer for me.

It always takes longer than you think it will take.

I will have an idea about how long it will take me to write a blog post, or prepare for a client, or organize a unit plan.  What I have learned to do, is think of my time like a renovation project.  You think it is going to take $10,000.00 to do the floors, but you budget for $15,000.00.  You always plug in a healthy cushion.  You might not need it, and that's a bonus, but knowing you have the buffer makes things run a little smoother.

I now do the same with time. I am writing a blog post, and I have to look up some references or search some photo or get a link and it takes time.  More time than I think it does.  Instead of getting frustrated, I just tell myself, this is all part of the task.  I am working on a new unit and I have to dig up references or activities and the books I am looking for are at my other work site and this is all part of the task.

Rather than look at every unexpected task as an obstacle I see it as part of the task itself. A tiny switch of perspective that has made a big difference in my stress level.  I find myself calmer and more relaxed as I get through my tasks.

What are your small switches that make a big difference in your world?  What is one thing you can do today, that will move you towards your joy?

Enjoy your day!

On CDs, Fundamentalism and Paradigm Shifts

Back in the technology boom of the 90's, I was an avid reader of the magazine Fast Company. I still have some of the articles, tucked in my research files.  I just can't find them at the moment.

One of the articles talked about the growth curve of industries.  At the time, CD's were still the way we consumed music.  The article was anticipating its decline with the rise of downloadable music and music sharing.  The previous year had shown a spiked increase in CD purchases and rather than herald a comeback, this spike was actually a symptom of its demise.

Industries and products have a life span and the end of the lifespan brings about a spiked increase and then a radical decline.


I think about this for a long time.  I was working on my thesis at the time, reading Kuhn's quintessential book on the arc of paradigm shifts, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I realize that the same process of life and death of a scientific paradigm, is the same for a product, a company and an organization. It is remarkable to me how this principle of self similarity exists within so many platforms.

A star dies, and just before it explodes, it grows larger and hotter.

A family system dies, and just before it explodes, there is often a calm and a peace.

A person will radically hold a belief and it will get stronger and hotter, just before it explodes into empty space and transformation.

I believe the same principles exist in global beliefs and ideologies.  Right now we are seeing a massive influx of fundamentalism.  What I mean by that word, is a black and white, dualistic way of looking at the world.  You are either right or you are wrong. My faith is right and every other faith is wrong.  My kind are good.  Your kind are bad. There is one way to make this work.

I know there are many factors that bring this to play - fear, massive power inequity, fear, an impending change of political power and fear.

But I believe what we are also experiencing is "the spike in CD sales" that will eventually herald the demise of fundamentalism and the rise of a new value.  For me, this is clue number 3,782 signalling a radical change in how we operate as communities, countries and global systems.

That may be too out there for some of you, but any way you slice it, there are all kinds of signals that our world is changing, and the tensions around all of this change are increasing.

What kind of skills do our children need as they evolve in a world undergoing a paradigm shift?

How do we help prepare our children for the realities of increased uncertainty and fear?

The answer is bigger than setting up a survival hut in the woods and learning to live off the land. And it is more than learning to participate in communities and government action in order to support healthy changes and power equity.

For me, it is about supporting communities with lots of practice at resilience, independence, and community building. It is about getting lots of practice at getting comfortable with discomfort, without expecting someone else to fix it for you. And much more...

Twenty years later CD's still exist, but they are a shadow of their former fame and you would be hard pressed to find someone under 21 who owns one.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

It Doesn't Have to Be This Hard

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Victor Frankl

It doesn't have to be this hard.

I find myself saying this often.  During my counseling sessions, in my bodywork practice, while talking to a staff or family member, or sometimes when I am talking to myself.

It doesn't have to be this hard.

What is that line, between the natural suffering and struggle that comes with growth and adaptation versus the suffering and struggle that comes with avoiding growth and adaptation?

When is the suffering about living from a point of view that no longer serves you? When is the suffering simply a signal that you are looking at your situation from the wrong story? Change the old belief, die to that old story and suddenly suffering disappears.

Where in our ordinary worlds, where do we complicate things so that we make things more difficult?

Most of us here live in a rarified privilege.  If you make more than 67k a year, you are in the top 1% of the planet's wealthiest. Even if we consider inflated food, energy and housing expenses, we are living a life most of the world cannot even fathom, and yet, we are struggling.

I say this to the mom overwhelmed with her child's resistance to the school routine.

I say it to myself when I worry about managing all of my work responsibilities.

I say it to my friend who is dating someone requiring more than she can give.

I say it to the staff who is working too many hours and feels overwhelmed with the workload.

I say it to the student who is devastated that his friends are walking away from him because he is so unkind.

I say it to the overwhelmed husband sitting across from me, wondering how his impending separation with his wife will affect his ability to see his children.

There are times life will be overwhelming. There will be crisis and major transformations. I don't want to minimize the enormity of life's big disruptions - the death of a child, the single parent who must manage children, home life, work and personal self care, war, or homelessness. The list is long. And I count myself as one of those people who believe our global catastrophe's have just begun.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Victor Frankl

Most of the time,  I believe we have a choice. and as Frankl points out, even in the most difficult of circumstances, we have the power to chose our response. When things are too much, it is a sign that something is out of balance. Something is out of whack and it needs your attention. Our task is to find a way, to turn towards the solution, and take small steps that move in that direction.  In crisis, those small first steps will be about taking care of your own physical body, enlisting support and staying safe. As you move from crisis to recovery, those steps will be about taking small, repeated steps that move away from survival and towards joy. This is everyone's recipe.

What are the ways we can choose to respond to our difficulties that move us towards growth and freedom? 

What are the ways you respond to your difficulties that move you towards growth and freedom?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Your Children Will Embarass You

Easy choices. Hard life.  Hard choices. Easy life. Jerzy Gregorek

Children have a knack at highlighting your weaknesses. They will do things, both in public and in private, that will make you question your choice at having them in the first place.  They will press your buttons, find your vulnerabilities and use them at your weakest moment.  They will stretch you and push you in ways you could not fathom.

If you do your job right, your children will embarrass you.  Allow me to explain.

We learn by doing.  Our brain favours action, behaviour and practice. We are hard wired to explore our environments, test our possibilities and look for change.  Depending on the developmental age of your children, they will find ways to manage their curiosity and by doing so, they will expose themselves to danger, suffering and physical/emotional pain.

This is how we learn.  Pain, failure, suffering, embarrassment, success, achievement - these are all functions that occur as a result of the behaviour.  It is the feedback loop that allows the learner to recalibrate behaviour for a more successful outcome.

Some of these failures will not be to our liking.  Some of theses failures will make us uncomfortable and embarrassed.  This is understandable, but we need to be careful here because it is not our children's job to make us look good, be compliant, and always keep us comfortable.  We don't want children to learn by taking care of our needs - that can be downright dangerous down the road when they hit adolescence and adulthood.

Exploring environments, testing possibilities and looking for change - these are signs you are evolving and growing. Growth doesn't always look like progress. Activities such as connecting with a passion that might not be one that you like, exploring different social networks, trying out different faith practices or ideologies, all help develop happy brains. These are signs that you are building independence, resilience and confidence.

You want children, and adults for that matter, to take risks, to not always play it safe, and to stretch outside personal comfort zones.

Well what if the skill sets my child are exploring are dangerous, or involve high risk activities?  What if my child is experimenting with Satan worship or horrors of horrors, contemplating joining Nickleback? What then?

Those high risk, or poor life choices don't happen overnight.  Even a 180 degree personality shift took years to evolve.  My thoughts around some of these questions can be found here.

We hardly ever ask the inverse question - What happens to the child who does not want to take risks? What about the child who constantly chooses the path of least resistance?  Or, what happens to the child who is constantly shielded from the practice by families that are all too eager to protect their child from failure?

A child with limited practice at risk taking, fear, failure and uncomfortable learning, is a dangerous child.  This is a recipe for poor self regulation, poor resilience and poor social-emotional skills. We cannot reward children for behaviour that makes us feel safe and punish them for behaviour that makes us feel unsafe.  And this is not just for parents because the same concerns exist in classrooms.

Children need practice at finding their way. Their life path, may be to challenge your version of "right" or "good".  Their life path may be to discover a passion which terrifies you but makes their heart sing.

Our role in supporting children is to help them make hard choices in order to live easy lives.  Our role is to provide an abundance of practice at doing uncomfortable things. Rigour, self responsibility, and a strong capacity to problem solve should be a part of the end game.

The next time your children embarrass you, consider the fact, it might actually be an answer to your prayer.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What Does Social Emotional Learning Have In Common With Video Games?

Easy to learn, hard to master.

This is the goal of every video game developer.  It is the hallmark of the gaming industry.  It allows a user to gain enough proficiency in a game so as to encourage further use, and gradual challenges to provide more and more complexity and effort.  It is a simple yet brilliant and complex task.

Along with many other reasons, this strategy is enormously effective.  According to some of the latest data over 60% of all households in the US have at least one person in the house playing video games 3 hours or more a week.  I think many individuals who work in high schools might find that figure a very conservative one.  Interestingly, the 2016 stats also point to an increased older group of users (26% are 50 years or older) as well as an increase in female players (41%).  This is no longer an adolescent boy's pastime.

I want to give you a sense of the prevalence of the gaming culture - it is an industry that has been tremendously successful at increasing game playing across both gender and age groups.

Easy to learn, hard to master.

Ironically, this is the strategy our brain uses to master social emotional learning.  I say ironically, because the prevalence of video game playing has contributed to the lack of mastery in social emotional learning, but that will be explored in another blog post.

Before we had all are critical thinking skills and the parts of our brain that helped us see the past, the present and the future, we had our feeling brain.  It is roughly 100 million years old. We felt before we reasoned and our feeling brain helped us survive. Your reasoning brain, the frontal cortex that is responsible for critical thinking, is roughly 40 million years old.

Your body took great pains to carefully conserve your feelings because they were critical for your survival.  Your feelings provide you with critical information about what is working, what is not working and most importantly, what needs your attention.

Your feeling brain, is deeply and intricately connected to your body.  As a result, social emotional learning does not happen as an intellectual process, it happens as a kinesthetic, physical process.  In practical terms, social emotional learning happens through feelings and through your body. The gateway points are play, physical contact and engagement with other human beings.  You need your body and your feelings to reinforce social emotional learning.

Just like video games, social emotional learning is easy to learn, hard to master.  In groups of children that have poor self regulation and low resilience skills, my strategies are to play a lot of "games" that provide children with practice at becoming aware of their bodies, getting comfortable with eye contact and spatial awareness. I will intentionally play high stakes, high energy games to give them practice at noticing big feelings and learning to manage them.

Practicing positive (or negative) social-emotional skills is easy.  It happens in the daily repetition of human connection, especially around humans where you feel valued and cared for. It happens in the daily repetition of physical chores and activities that contribute to the family household (and your body favours manual labour because of the millions of years in our evolutionary journey that required it for our survival). It happens in the daily repetition of play, especially physical unstructured play.  It happens in the physical practice of noticing your feelings, becoming aware of what is happening in your body and attending to them.

Mastering your social-emotional skills, on the other hand, is hard.  It is our lifelong practice.  It requires constant refinement, adjustment, failure, learning, success and more learning.  Levelling up requires more and more practice, slow response times, compassion instincts, and an ability to think about yourself and all the people around you. It means often making decisions that are unselfish.

Our job as educators, parents and life long learners is to fully engage in this lifelong practice.

It is also about modelling, encouraging and engaging children and youth to take the same journey. The work of passing this mastery on to future generations is one of the most important legacies we will leave behind.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Your Brain on Perserverance

One of my goals for 2017 was to increase my skill at swimming so that I can eventually overcome my fear of swimming in open water. As a part of that goal, I am taking intermediate adult swimming lessons at the local pool. Twelve people are enrolled in the class.  It is a smattering of ages and abilities and attitudes.  I am decked out in my Costco one piece with a lavender swim cap that has got to be 20 years old by now.  Nothing matches.

Certain students are intimidated and overwhelmed.  They have just moved up from the beginner class and the expectations are a bit of a leap.  Some of the students feel daunted by the stronger swimmers in the group.  Their overwhelm seeps into the conversations.

"He shouldn't be in this class. He's too good."

"I am never going to get this kick right."

Certain students are motivated for fitness, or health, or losing weight.  A few just want to learn to swim.

Over the twice weekly sessions the class starts to thin out.  Increasingly more and more students arrive later and later.

By the end, there are 8 out of 12 students who complete the 12 sessions. I notice that all of the students with the overwhelm were the first to stop coming to the classes.

Perseverance, your ability to stick to something when it gets challenging, is a practice.  It is a skill you build by competing things, even when they get challenging. It is the byproduct of repetition.  It is a behavior - a doing.  Our ability to stick to something is not an overnight skill.  It comes from our ability to train our brain and our body to keep going, find a way and work through challenge.

It is a bit of an art form, because, you want to build for success and the way you build for success, is by having challenges in small enough pieces so that you don't feel like it is impossible to do. This is very important.

What good is a diet that you can only follow 40% of the time? What good is a fitness plan you will quit after 6 weeks? What good is a budget you follow for 3 months and then forget?  It is better for you to workout twice a week for a year rather than 7 times a week for 3 months.  Perseverance practice happens the same way resilience practice happens.  In small repeated steps that build the skill set over time. In a nutshell, it is the Nike slogan, "Just do it."

How can I build perseverance, or how can I help my child build perseverance?

Start with small challenges.  If a task feels too daunting, keep breaking it down into smaller bits until it feels more manageable.

Get to a place of discomfort but not so uncomfortable that it takes up all of your brainpower and willpower to complete.

Honor your successes.  Reward your effort, not your skill.  In perseverance training, the effort is more important than the skill.

Do what you can to make it more palatable.  Enlist a friend, tell those who will encourage your goal about your efforts, or do the work when you are most likely to complete the task.

Imagine your future self.  What will it be like, to have all my credit card paid off?  What will it be like to be able to swim across the lake?  What will it be like to complete my goal?

Be your own cheerleader.  Talk to yourself in ways that focus on success.  Your "head" can be your most effective self saboteur if you let it.  Train your brain to focus on where you WANT to go, not where you are AFRAID to go.

Every time you strengthen your perseverance skills.  Every time you practice consistently, tasks you want to accomplish, you are teaching all the people around you.  What you do and do repeatedly is what you teach.  Model perseverance and see the community around you inspired by your efforts.

Practice small.  Practice often. Just do it.

Right now, I gotta go.  I don't want to be late for my swim class and it takes me a minute to put my swim cap on.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Racial Profiling and High Quality Boullion Powder

I am a little nervous going through American customs.

My husband's skin colour and last name meant that when we were dating during the Bush era, he would constantly be detained for "random" checks. With the new change of politic I brace myself for another round of hold ups and special treatment.  Much to my surprise, I am the one who gets detained.

Customs go through my carry on luggage with great interest and vigour.  As the agent opens my bag, my wet two piece lies atop a mountain of coffee bags and chicken bouillon powder.

"Did you bring a pile of sand with you by any chance?"

"No! Just bouillon powder and coffee."

"Hmm, uh - huh"

The agent dabs the bouillon bag with a number of swatches, paying special attention to the edges and the picture of the chicken.  Finally, having checked everything to her satisfaction, she tells me to put everything away and be on my way.

Seems like the flagrant amount of powder substances in my bag were cause for some alarm. Alas my drugs of choice are good coffee and high quality chicken bouillon powder.  Nothing to see here people, move along, move along.

I am a little humpffy about the random check.  But I know, in my own job, I have made the same mistakes.  I have come to conclusions based on overall data, without enough specifics and then pounce at a judgement that was over reaching and sometimes embarrassing.   My years of experience means I have learned to slow things down, ask more questions and give everyone a benefit of a doubt before jumping to conclusions.  My impulsive nature and desire for a quick solution means I still fight to slow down and pay attention.

I am still hours away from home and my third flight is delayed.  I am going to be a very tired camper when I get home.  I will definately be a little rusty for work tomorrow morning. I am hoping the coffee and broth will remind me to slow down, get as much information as I can, and pause, instead of judge, or solve a problem that is not really the problem.

Maybe we can work on that one together.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

When is Cheese No Longer Cheese?

My love affair for cheese is well documented.  You can see my blog post on my cheese making course experience here.  If I ever go to jail, it will have something to do with transporting hundreds of pounds of cheese hidden in boxes labelled bocce balls.  I have listened to gastropod's history of cheese three times, just in case I missed anything. Although most of the time, I follow a paleo, non cheese food plan, when I travel, I do not limit my cheese intake.

I was shocked when I learned that a product could be called cheese without being cheese.  Parmesan cheese in those bottles can have up to 10% of stuff in it other than cheese. Filler. A while back someone reported that some of that filler was actually sawdust. If you call something a "cheese product" the percentage of "real cheese" is even less.

Here in Mexico, the cheese variety is extensive, fresh, and dam delicious.  Why can't I have this amazing dam delicious selection in Canada I wonder, but perhaps that is a topic for another blog. Most of the time, I opt for artesian or higher quality cheese in order to have a better chance of a full dairy cheese product. I don't have to make that choice as often in Italy, as they are sticklers for authentic.  They rigorously work at ensuring their food quality remains authentic and pure.

What about school?  How much of what we pass off as learning is the 10% filler?  Or worse yet, what are the "cheese products" of schools.  The Velveeta facsimile that only remotely tastes and looks like learning?

I think for many of us, "pure learning" looks like reading, writing and math, especially math.  Literacy and Numeracy.  Hard to argue with that, especially when we are seeing big links between academic success and literacy.  Let's add the holy grail of Science and Technology in there as a given. I'll even throw in History and Geography.

Things get tricky from here. Physical Education?  Fine Arts? Performing Arts? Social Emotional Learning? Meditation??????

The farther learning and schools resemble past practice, the more it can look like "filler". Traditional schools are appealing because they outwardly resemble the good old days where order and control appeared to have the upper hand.

Real cheese will always be about three ingredients: milk, bacteria and salt.  That's it.

Real learning, on the other hand, is a complex mix of culture, politic, brain development and values.  All of those ingredients are moving targets.  They do not remain static, even if there are those who try to claim it does.

Every one of these ingredients is a big conversation, I know.  Different systems work to address all of the complexity in a variety of ways. I just want to get you thinking about this so that we don't make the terrible mistake of thinking our illusions will make our children safe.  Like the illusion of desks in a row with a teacher up in chalk and talk mode.  Or the illusion that great math scores will ensure my child a good job.  Or the illusion that an obedient child is a socially emotionally well developed child.

I am going to let you chew on that while I savour a nice piece of delicious, 100% real cheese.

Your Brain on Repetition

When I was a teenager, I used to bake cookies all the time.  Hard to believe now, as I am continually teased about my poor baking skills, but back then, baking was something I did that comforted me.    There was the occasional mishap like the time I forgot to put in the baking soda and the offending hockey pucks were fed to the family dog, but mostly, the cookies landed on the family breakfast table.

I used to make these certain cookies.  They were some plain, coffee dunking cookies that my dad would dunk in his coffee at breakfast.  I baked them so often, I didn't use the recipe.  I knew them by heart, by feel, by instinct.  I knew this recipe like the back of my hand.  I can still remember some of the ingredients: 6 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of oil, 2 cups of sugar, the zest of one lemon.  For some reason, the amount of baking soda escapes me for the moment.

Neither here nor there.

There was something comforting, meditative and calming about repeating the same recipe. I liked the predictability. I liked knowing that they were being put to some practical use.  They were a "known" entity.

Some public spaces rely on this repetition to reinforce the learning, the familiarity and the invitation to keep returning.  In my own world, I see this played out in the rituals and routines of the Catholic Church, in public schools, even in my bikram's yoga class.

Your brain loves repetition. Your brain loves behaviour. Repeated behaviour is one of the most powerful learning strategies.  It is millions of years in the evolutionary making.  It is one of the reasons why routines are so effective. I think this evolutionary brain hack is underutilized and under rated.  We need to add repetition and rehearsal in our classrooms and homes as often as we can.

There are plenty of things that you do by heart, by feel, by instinct.

Your routines and rituals.

Things you do over and over again.

Your hobbies.

Your passions.

Your day to day practices.

What are the ways you can make repetion work for you?

Every effort you make to create small repeated behaviours that move you towards your passions and desires is success. In terms of learning, what we do repeatedly wins.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Magic of a Name - Noticing Your Feelings

Your brain knows your name. The millions of times you hear your name and respond to it have created a speedy neural pathway that has become a shortcut at receiving information.

When I am working with students who are having big feelings - frustration, overwhelm,, anxiousness or angry - they are often unaware of what is happening in their own body. Sometimes supporting these students means I simply mirror back what I notice.

Your hands are shaking.

Your two eyebrows meet in a straight line.

Your eyes are facing the floor.

You look uncomfortable in your own skin, you can't stop moving.

Your ears look hot and red.

Your breathing is shallow.

Your shoulders are curled in.

You are having a big feeling.  Can you tell me what it is?

Feelings are inherently a body response.  We experience our feelings throughout our body.  It isn't just something that happens in your head.  It is enormously valuable to be aware of all of your body responses that are associated with a feeling.

It may take a bit of unpacking to see what is underneath the big feeling, but step one is simple.  Notice what is happening in your body and name it.  Say it out loud so that you can hear yourself acknowledge it.

We help children notice their physical responses to big feelings but we can help ourselves and our loved ones do the same thing. The more we do this, the better we get at noticing our feelings.  The better we are at noticing our own feelings, the better we get at helping those around us do the same.

This is one of those skills that falls under the category of "easy to learn, hard to master" but it is well worth mastering.  As soon as you can focus on your body responses, the wisdom of your feelings will slowly become available to you. And that is where the magic happens.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Suffering as an Art Form - Chicks, Shells and Survival

When my mother was a little girl in Northern Italy on a small family farm, she would  watch baby chicks hatch out of their eggs. She was fascinated by the cracks and the the small puncture marks that would arrive signalling the arrival of a baby chick.

There were times she would feel sorry for the chicks.  There were always the ones who would struggle deeply to get out of their shells.  So she would help them out.  She would help those baby chicks out by picking away at the shell.

I used to think about this story a lot when I was a teenager and a young adult. I guess I am still thinking about it now as a middle aged woman.

It seems that evolution and natural selection throw a series of fitness, strength and stress tests to all species to ensure survival of the fittest. These tests do not arrive when you are trained, practiced, rehearsed and ready - they happen at your edges.  You have outgrown your container, your food source, your requirements for survival.

Passing these tests, being able to successfully pull yourself out of your egg, benefits you and it benefits your species. Picking at the shell of the egg, strengthens the chick, gives her practice at pecking which she will need as she learns to feed herself. If you can pull yourself out and survive, you pass on your genes to the next crew of chicks and you help ensure a stronger gene pool.

If you are unable, you are too weak, without assistance, you die.  You do not pass on those genes.  Your genes don't make it into the next crew of chicks.

Helping a chick crack out of it's shell takes away important practice and skills a chick needs to survive.  It may alter natural selection.  On the other hand, it might save it's life.

The same dilemma plays itself out hundreds of times in our own lives. When do we step in and help our children, our friends, our co-workers or our families?  When does helping turn into enabling turn into controlling or fearfulness?

Some struggle is necessary for anything to survive.  It is billions of years of hardwiring that says, growth comes from struggle, conflict, and change. And so does death.

It is relatively easy for me to work with this razor edge relationship between suffering, life and death when I am working with a client. A client is already motivated enough to get help. I can listen to the story, work in small increments, see results, work in bigger increments, see results, setbacks, results, setbacks and then transformation.   Often, exactly in that order.

It becomes more difficult to do when someone close to me is in the suffering. I have to fight the impulse to go over and "crack the shell" myself. I want to fix the problem, in part, because it is so painful for me, to be in the presence of someone I love, who is suffering.

A few years ago, I felt a significant and very loud urging to step forward and help someone close to me.  "You need a hand.  You are struggling. I can help you."  She said yes, and so for a part of her journey, together we cracked a few of the gritty  pieces of the shell. I imagine, I hope, there is enough trust and love that the next time she feels stuck, she will once again be okay with a companion and a guide  to move through an unbearable edge.

It is an art in knowing when your assistance is enabling weakness or encouraging strength. I see the danger of families protecting their loved ones from their suffering to such a degree as to teach them weakness.  I see the danger of families unable to walk alongside their loved ones suffering, thus missing an opportunity to strengthen both their relationship and their courage.  It is all a fine line.

I don't have any answers, but I imagine, it is the work of our species to dance that razor's edge in finding ways  to strengthen and fortify the generations and generations and generations to come.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Be Still

It is evening, we are both tired from the travelling and colds that keep lingering in our lungs.

We sit outside the balcony of our unit watching a beautiful sunset.  I have a glass of wine in my hand.  

We have a magnificent view.  We are silent.

We let the sound of water breathing in and out be our voice.

I am very aware that this is a privilege most people on the planet cannot afford.  The 2/3's of the global population living on $2 a day or less, the African famines, the Syrian crisis.  There is plenty of pain to go around. 

For the moment, I am grateful that I can be here.  I can see, hear, feel and be in a magnificent space. All my senses are still able.

That is all I am going to do for the next few days. Write. Walk. Swim. Breathe. Eat. Drink.  And feel the utter gift that I have all the resources I need to be still.

Be still.

Life Learning Vs. Good Marks

I am helping one of my nieces, Fabiana, with one of her papers.  It is a difficult and dense topic. The requirements are meticulous.  We are working sentence by sentence.

Somewhere in the middle, we take a break and we Skype my sister.  Many years ago, I helped my twin edit her PhD thesis. It was a difficult time in my own life, and I remember spending many a Sunday in the UBC Education building holed up in an office, escaping my own demons while immersed in my sister's paper.  I was almost always alone and so I felt the freedom of  running around barefoot in the halls in between the patches of editing.

It is funny the bits you remember.  And the bits you don't.

"Hey Fabiana, I remember when Zia Emi was editing my thesis, she even edited my acknowledgements!"

I had forgotten this part.

"I thought it was some of my best work, I was crying when I wrote it, and I was thinking, she is going to cry when she sees this too.  Instead, she was tapping on the backspace button and deleting all the good parts!"

Oh yeah, it was all coming back to me now.

Her acknowledgements were a wordy sentimental mash of gratitude, fatigue and overwhelm - a blend of the best and the worst of my twin's gifts.  She  has always been a superb cheerleader for the people around her - friends, family and especially her children. She is a master at celebration but she fought her griefs and disappointments with a fury.  I was her opposite, embracing my grief and disappointment with a vengeance.  I wrapped myself in a coating of it - it became my identity, while always praying somehow for that pair of 'life is great' glasses my sister always seemed to be wearing. Over the years we have been each other's teachers, embracing both sides, so that now in our middle age, we have a little bit of each other's gift.

I am worried that all of the doing and undoing of the editing with my niece might be soul depleting. At the end of one of my editing sessions with her I say, "All this editing, it's not so much about getting a good mark on your paper.  It is about getting clear with your thoughts.  The practice of learning to write well is the practice of learning to think we'll.  It helps you get your points of view across to yourself and to others.  It not only helps you write a good essay, it helps you become a better person. It is a great life practice."

So that is what I think all of our learning should like. In an ideal world, we create conditions where learning is about sharing the communicable strengths and weaknesses of a collective, where every "educational" assignment can be understood as a practical and empowering life practice and where both the collective "good" and "evil" can be exposed, examined and shifted.

What are the ways you do this in your home, your classroom, your workspace?  What are the ways you do this in public spaces?  I await your suggestions so that I can learn something from you...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fear is Easy

Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. 

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Steven Pressfield

I believed, for most of my adult life, that my life partner was something that would come to me.  All I had to do was “be good”, faithful and obedient.  I just had to work hard and somebody would notice me.  At one point, a close friend, “Why are you not working at getting a partner?  If you put half the energy into finding a partner, that you have been putting in your career, you’d be married by now!”  I remember feeling slightly insulted by his words.  Old stories die hard.

Eventually, I took this to heart, and I began putting myself out in the dating world.  I put up a dating profile on several online dating sites and set aside time to “work” on meeting a partner.  I went on loads of dates.  I took everything personally. I painted every “no” as a failure and a sign of my unworthiness. It was difficult – Sometimes fun but mostly scary. It eventually got easier, and after every encounter, I learned a little bit more about myself and how to date but it never stopped being challenging. It took me a very long time to break my old belief.            

One of the things that I learned along the way was that sitting in my pit of pitifulness had some real advantages. Believing that I am unworthy or a failure gave me a good excuse not to face rejection.  

Believing that I had to be obedient and good in order to receive a relationship meant that I did not have to do the work to put myself out in the world.  I didn’t have to expose my vulnerable parts.  I could stay safe in the cocoon of ‘I am not worthy’ thus never exposing my terrifying fears to those around me.            

I am in the middle of the process of publishing my first book (working title: Hearts Guide to Crisis). There were a few times in the writing process where I became paralyzed with self doubt and overwhelmed with the rewrites and my mediocre writing.  I was listening to a number of podcasts and reading blogs on writing but I could not write. 

I woke up one morning and it was like a fog lifted and everything got crystal clear.  Writing a good book is not supposed to be easy.  The discipline of crafting and redrafting the work is all a part of the creative process. Rewrites and discipline are part of the process. 

I feel like I have spent my lifetime proving to myself that I deserve to be in "the arena" while at the same time, constantly avoiding the limelight and minimizing my skill set.  My whine that I am not good enough, that my writing is mediocre, was just an excuse to not do the hard work of doing the work.  

I know that sounds obvious, but for me, this was a lightbulb moment.  Once I understood this, I was able to focus my time on my writing and I stopped listening to the whiney voice of "I am not enough".  This was a game changer for me.

Fear is easy.  It lets you protect your vulnerability and your ugly. It lets you nurse your story that says you are are not enough.  Fear will freeze you in your victim thinking - It can paralyze you into believing that your only choice is to do nothing but feel miserable.         

The antidote is to this paralysis is available to you. Move. Do something.  Take steps towards your dream. Focus on what you can do and table everything else.  When you hear yourself complain how the other guy has it so good, and you have it so bad, remember that's just the fear talking. Keep moving, right through your fear.  

It won't work.
I can't do this. 
I'm too old, too young, too dumb, too smart. 
I can't do this by myself. 

The list is long.  I know, because I could write another book on all the things fear tells you.

Fear is easy and very very chatty. Don't listen.

Instead, use your energy to do the work.  Everyday. Repeat.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Fear Can't Win

I am sitting across from a client. We have worked together over the last few years so I have been able to witness some significant and courageous transformations. He has been sober for over two years. Employed,  engaged in healthy habits and routines. As with all transformations, many deaths occur. He is divorced. He is working on establishing new, honest and authentic relationships with his adult children.  He is trying to do the same with his aging parents. He doesn't even look like the same person who entered my office three years ago.  He is engaging with the world in an entirely different way.

I have been a witness to his tremendous acts of courage.  How was he able to make those changes and transformations?

Healing is never a straight line.   It is an evolution, a series of small imperceptible steps repeated so often, it becomes an unconscious habit. Big steps. in moral development terms, happen in progressive baby tiny steps.   Like Lao Tse's famous quote, "A one thousand mile journey begins with one step," big achievements happen in small repeated choices.

How did this client transform his life? What brought him the courage to take the one step and how does he continue to chose healing even when it feels lonely, painful and impossible?

"I was tired of living in my small box. I figured there had to be something better than my small world of addiction and pain. I was tired of letting fear win."

That is the challenge.  Everyday.  Fear can't win. You have to get out of your small box of what you know. Whatever that might be - debt, dis ease, disrespectful relationships, safe but unfulfilling jobs - there is a place in your life that you are tolerating, that is probably slowly eating away at the quality of your life.

If you are lucky, it is the small uncomfortable nagging space that feels like the pebble stuck in your shoe. If you are resourced, courageous, and well rehearsed, you deal with the discomfort.  Most of us, though, pretend like we are fine with the pebble, ignoring it, telling ourselves  life is full of compromises and this is one of them.  Most of us will ignore it until the pain is unbearable, the pebble has gouged a hole in our heal, infected and almost ready to take out our entire foot.

Fear can't win.

The transformed client in front of  me is the global metaphor.

Success comes in small steps, repeated thousands of times. It is the behaviours, the doing that bring about our heart's desires. It is not the occasional game changing leaps or awareness nor is it the occasional significant setback that bring about transformation.  It is the boring small little daily behaviours that move us forward.

What is your fear? What is the preoccupation that keeps you up at night? What are the small steps that you are willing to take to challenge that fear?

Think about the steps you can take. Small behaviours repeated over time. That is what transformation looks like.

And from here, it looks magnificent.