Soul Growth // Next Level Life

I’ve made it my business—my mission and sole purpose, really—to become the best me I can possibly be in this lifetime.

This is serious life work. It is bucking the trend toward mediocrity and refusing to be a slave to the status quo. It’s a rejection of merely going through the motions of a cold and robotic existence—one in which all responses are set to autopilot. And it’s a definite vote in favour of living with awareness and staying open to the full spectrum of what life has to offer, all the way from unspeakable bliss to excruciating, heart-wrenching pain and everything in between.

This commitment means being present with my feelings during the best of times, and even more so, the worst of times. By allowing my heart to remain wide open throughout times of my own pain and discomfort, I’ve learned that magic does, in fact, exist in this world, and that beauty can be found in the least likely places for anyone who is determined to find it.

Take it from me: there are many valuable life-affirming, soul expanding lessons to be excavated from the bottom of even the largest rubble heap, although it may require some serious digging, and perhaps also a very large shovel.

Living consciously and with awareness is no joke—and it’s definitely not something I get right 100 per cent of the time. Not even close! Being a student of yoga and meditation has given me some valuable tools for making the most out of my human experience. And these tools never fail to remind me that life itself is a practice, and the universe always delivers the circumstances that are in the best interest of my soul’s continuous growth. In other words, in spite of what things may look like on the surface, I know life is always giving me what I need to become the next best version of myself.

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But how do you explain this concept, or even propose to justify it, in light of why bad things happen to good people?
Well, I’m certainly glad you asked, because I recently had a conversation with a friend around that very subject…

And it went a little something like this:
Friend: “Have you ever noticed how good, honest, self-aware people seem to experience challenge after challenge and hardship after hardship, and yet there are others who do the most immoral, inhumane (and even illegal) things and somehow always seem to escape without having any consequences imposed against them for their actions?”

I was very intrigued by this subject, and got pulled into the conversation even deeper by the demands of my heavily bruised ego, having recently been a player in a number of different situations in which I felt like other people, who don’t seem to have any reservations or remorse about their own unscrupulous actions, had grossly abused their power and left a plethora of pain and suffering in their wake.

This is where I entered my default of the victim mode mentality. Over time, it has become increasingly easy for me to recognize this, as I’ve gone there many times before and I went there again in this particular moment. As someone who makes an honest effort to be a good person, to make good choices, and to always be kind to my fellow humans, I find it perplexing and hard to digest when I think about the injustices I’ve seen, both up close and from more of a wide-angle lens in the last while.

BUT when I take a step back and allow a moment (or two, or five) to process my feelings, rather than operating from my default or reactive mode, I am able to see another side to this story:

The challenges that get placed along our path—and the associated discomfort we  experience—are good for us. Although often painful, these experiences are gifts that help to move us from who we once were to who we are becoming. When we remain open, willing to feel, and ready to receive the lessons that are meant for us, our pain can be transformed into something greater, and our challenges become a powerful catalyst for helping us advance to the next level of our lives.

Consider your own answers to the following questions:
Is your pain and suffering ruling or serving you?
What if you were able to stop judging and labeling an experience as either a good or bad?
What if, instead, you deeply knew and truly believed that, no matter what experiences life gives you, it is exactly what you need? (Yes, and I do mean ALL types of experiences, including adversity, illness, job loss, accidents, financial stress, and even death.)

If we are to agree that soul growth is always the highest goal and the ultimate purpose on this journey, we must be willing to take full responsibility for ourselves, knowing that blaming others for our plight is nothing but a cop-out. We must also come to terms, solidly and squarely, with the understanding that life isn’t always going to be easy, nor should we expect it to be. Rather, in doing so we only set ourselves up, time and time again, for major disappointment and failure. And if we insist on living comfortably and in a constant state of complacency, never faced with or willing to face our problems and difficulties, we are also never in a position of adapting or expanding into our next level self to meet the demands of any new situation we might be given.

However, when we learn to see our obstacles not as barriers or deterrents to our own progress, but instead as challenges to positively overcome, (and that the process of doing so will undoubtedly make us stronger and more resilient beings), that is growth in and of itself.

I am a student of life, and perhaps one of my biggest lessons has been in learning to be grateful for every experience, even the stuff that doesn’t feel so good. Even when it’s not obvious and I can’t see it, I am learning to operate from the belief that life is not happening to me, it is happening for me.

So, if you need me, I guess I’ll just be over here, focusing on being a good human, being vulnerable, feeling my feelings, and expanding in response to change as I continue to ‘level up’ in my own life.

But first I’m just gonna run out real quick and grab myself a great big shovel. 😉

MyPhareLady

Do you share this perspective on allowing your challenges to help you grow? I’d love to hear how you apply this concept in your life. Drop me a line in the comments below!

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The Alchemy & Magic of Having My Picture Taken

Do you see yourself the way others see you?

If you asked me that very question only a few  weeks ago, I likely wouldn’t have known what to say, and my answer would have been different from today.

Allow me to explain…

When my dear friend and photographer, Linda Patterson, offered me the opportunity to participate in a photo shoot to celebrate my true essence, something very interesting happened. Despite my discomfort with being photographed, and before my inner Nelly naysayer had a chance to speak up, I agreed to do it. And with my intentions of not falling into old patterns and honouring my word of the year, TRUST, I knew I absolutely must follow through.

I’m rarely at a loss for words, particularly in my writing, but all I can say is what has happened within me since can only be described as a series of alchemical reactions  so powerful they surely must have been precipitated by magic.

You see, I’ve had it in the back of my mind for quite some time to have photos taken of myself before my 40th birthday, which is quickly approaching in September. But the problem was I never had any shortage of reasons to defer the timing. Too busy, need to lose 10 pounds first, face broke out again, and don’t like my current hairstyle were just a few of my many excuses.

What’s more, I had come to really dislike having my photo taken. I dubbed myself the Queen of Unflattering Photos for my uncanny ability to close my eyes and screw up my face at the exact moment the shutter closes. I warned Linda about all of this in advance, and I don’t think she believed me until she quickly learned she wouldn’t be able to use a flash during my session.

But with Linda’s quiet insistence and gentle encouragement, I was somehow able to get past all of the mental noise and nonsense. And as I’ve already alluded to, I’ve experienced significant changes and growth as a result. So, in the hopes of inspiring and encouraging others, I’d like to share some of the major themes and lessons that have developed for me.

My {Close-up}: A Focus on Me

Literally everything about the day of the photo shoot was about me and for me. Linda took care of all of the details, and all I needed to do was show up. She served lovely snacks and drinks. She made a playlist of all my favourite music. She arranged a professional makeup artist to style my hair and apply makeup to ensure I looked my best. This was integral to the experience, by the way, and after having the royal treatment—seeing (and feeling) the  results, and allowing the effects to ripple through and settle into my cells, I am finally starting to understand the psychology behind it. Us women, who are typically busy with life (taking care of our families and loved ones, running households, and fulfilling career goals) don’t often take the time to focus on ourselves. Putting the needs of others ahead of our own is natural and habitual, thus it is easy for us women to lose our sense of self in the wake of everything else.

But as Linda so wisely knows and demonstrates through her lovingly designed boutique photography service, women have every right to be taken care of, fussed over, and celebrated. While it may feel a little uncomfortable at first, allowing yourself to be the centre of attention and receive some well-deserved pampering is a beautiful gift every woman deserves to experience.

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Meeting Discomfort with Courage and Grace

Being in front of a camera can feel a little (ok, a lot) uncomfortable, particularly for those of us who are clearly not supermodels and have a less-than-stellar track record of unflattering photos to our credit. One might reasonably wonder where all this discomfort comes from. For me it has everything to do with being a {recovering} perfectionist, paired with the ever-present fear of not living up to my own impossible standards. Further, I am generally someone who prefers to fly under the radar, so being in front of a camera is naturally at odds with where I’m comfortable. And even further still, if it wasn’t a quantum leap for me just to have photos taken, I had to go ahead and up the stakes by doing some semi-nude shots. For me, this was as much about pushing myself outside of my comfort zone as anything, because I’ve come to understand, from direct experience on a very personal level, that when something scares the pants off of me (sorry, not sorry, for the intentionally placed pun), that is the reason I absolutely must do it!

Facing my fears to do something so extremely uncomfortable, and that I wasn’t sure I would be able to follow through with, was both liberating and empowering. It illustrated for me the sheer power of exercising mind over matter—that I can do absolutely anything I set my mind to. I’m not quite ready to leap tall buildings in a single bound and I don’t think I’m invincible (yet), but I do have a renewed sense of strength and confidence that I haven’t felt for  a very long time.

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Coming Face-to-Face with the Real Me

About one week before my photo session, Linda asked me some very specific questions about the personal qualities I wanted to connect with and the types of images I wanted to achieve from the shoot. It took me some time and serious thought to come up with the words to adequately convey how I wanted the images to feel, but I eventually settled on feminine, soft, and womanly. I chose these words or feelings knowing they were important aspects of me that I don’t necessarily show on a regular basis.

In photography, a multiple exposure is the superimposition of two or more exposures to create a single image. This concepts reminds me how we, as humans, have many different facets that comprise our personalities, working together to create the composite image of who we are. This process has allowed me to rediscover aspects of myself that I’d all but forgotten were there: my softness, femininity, and vulnerability, contrasted by my courage and fierce determination. And while I don’t necessarily show the world these traits all of the time, they are and always will be part of me. Allowing Linda to capture my true essence—and sharing these images with others—has reminded me how important it is to allow myself to be seen, and to step out of my own shadow and into my light.

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Learning to Accept Praise and Compliments

Over time, I’ve noticed how I deflect when someone pays me a compliment. If someone tells me I look nice, it would be typical for me to say, “Oh, ya, I actually spent some time getting ready today,” or “Really? I am so tired and the bags under my eyes are huge!” It’s quite an intricate dance to avoid actually allowing myself to accept kind words and feel good for a moment. But from this awareness I’ve been working on simply receiving a compliment—accepting it into my heart, letting it settle into my being, feeling OK about myself, and then moving on. When a person says something flattering about me, I am working on simply saying, “thank you”. And this is a big part of why I felt it was necessary to share these images and my story with others—not because I am trying to bolster my ego with further praise, but because it’s a helpful exercise for me in learning to accept a genuine compliment. And I can tell you the absolute best thing I’ve heard from sharing these photos was my friend telling me they portray exactly how she sees me all the time. Wow!

Loving Myself, Exactly As I Am

It’s appalling how easy it is to get tangled up in the trap of self-hatred, constantly picking myself apart based on my perceived flaws and imperfections. My own feelings of inadequacy are only perpetuated when I measure myself against the impossible and unrealistic standards that are perpetuated by our media-driven, beauty-and body-obsessed society.

This theme or lesson is the hardest one for me. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it, and it’s probably why I bawled my eyes out when Linda led me around the corner on the day of my viewing to be met with 20 beautiful images of myself looking back at me. Needless to say it was completely overwhelming, and my instinctual response was a giant stream of tears. I cried to see my true essence reflected back at me in pictures, and for the pieces of myself I felt I had lost that were found once again.

As I’ve said, one of my greatest challenges is resisting the terrible habit of picking myself apart. It’s something I’ve been working on for the past couple of years, and it will most likely be something I need to continue working on for the rest of my life. Because self-condemnation is a slippery slope to self-loathing, and I’m learning it’s much better for my self-worth to take a kinder, gentler approach. This means remembering to view myself with kindness, compassion, and always through the lens of love—both in pictures and in life.

I’ve also come to understand the beauty of many photographic images comes from contrast. That contrast is often represented between the interplay of shadow and light. The greatest photos are great because they convey a depth of feeling that goes beyond  form. It’s a beautiful thing when a photo tells a person’s story or provides a glimpse into who they are on the inside, and that is precisely what Linda has done for me. She facilitated a way for me to see and appreciate my beauty—not in spite of my physical flaws and imperfections, but because of them. I am grateful to have these images as a reminder of some of the best parts of me, as I continue working to love every part of myself exactly as I am right now.

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A Few Final Thoughts

I feel incredibly honoured and blessed to have been invited to participate in this photo shoot with Linda. The process I have undergone since March 17, 2016 has been nothing short of amazing. In this very short time, I have experienced a series of changes—so powerful and necessary—I’m not even sure how to explain it.

What I can tell you is this: somehow through these beautiful images Linda held up a mirror that allowed me to see my true essence. A genuine smile has returned to my face. I have renewed sense of confidence. I am beginning to feel more comfortable in my own skin. And I’ve had the chance to see myself the way others do.

If anyone can explain to me how this incredible journey of self-discovery could have transpired if not for the effects of alchemy and magic, I’d certainly love to hear about it.

*Linda Patterson of Vision Icon Photographic is a talented and passionate photographer  specializing in portraiture for women. She also happens to be the picture of warmth, kindness, compassion, and grace as a human being. If you’re a woman living in the Edmonton area, I would highly recommend scheduling an appointment with her. You certainly won’t regret it.