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 Long Way

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For as many times as I’ve heard the song, Take the Long Way Home by Supertramp over the years, which coincidentally was released in 1979 when I was a mere babe of three, I never actually paid much attention to the lyrics. And while I may never know why this particular song made a very peculiar, out-of-the-blue appearance in my consciousness yesterday, now that I’ve taken a closer look at the lyrics, I’m pretty sure it’s about a heck of a lot more than a guy who’s not so eager to get home to his less-than-loving wife.

Taking the long way is often perceived by the lazy as an inefficient waste of time. To those who suffer from chronic impatience, doing so seems plain silly. And to the faint of heart, taking the long way in anything can be daunting; every single step an unbelievably grueling grind.

But when we come to think of home as less of an actual physical dwelling and more an idealistic place of peace and comfort within ourselves—a way of living and loving from the heart, if you will—perhaps taking the long way actually does have its advantages.

It certainly calls to mind some important questions. For example: What would you do if you had more time? And, moreover, if all those things you want to do are really so important to you, why aren’t you doing them in the time you have right now?

The funny thing about time, though, is the realization that it has less control over our lives than most of us would care to admit. The truth of the matter is time becomes an easy target, a willing scapegoat of sorts, when it gets away from us, or when things don’t work out the way we plan. I am certainly not immune to this flimsy belief system, having fallen prey to its clutches on more than one occasion.

After only recently making the switch to seeing my life as a long game, I’m still trying to shake this belief system all the way loose and out of my consciousness. Because I’m no longer buying into the need to beat the clock or believing the perception that I’m running out of time.

And that’s why this year I am celebrating a different type of birthday than I have in the past; one that more accurately reflects the person I’m becoming with each twist and turn on this long and winding road. This year, my birthday is not about hoopla. There will be no confetti or balloons, and most likely there will be no cake. I am not looking for fanfare, because I’ve come to the point where this day is about much more than being showered with attention and gifts. And I’m perfectly fine with that. In fact, it is exactly the way I want it.

Instead, this year I am choosing to celebrate the depth of the person I continue to become, the complexity of my journey, and the bittersweet richness of doing this life my way.

Today, I will refrain from spending time on Facebook or Instagram, instead setting my phone to airplane mode. I will use my time intentionally and wisely. I may choose to do some writing or complete an art journal spread. I will almost certainly spend time outside, walking, enjoying the opportunity to breathe in the fresh air, and simply being in the calming presence of the trees. I may indulge myself in a handcrafted latte, some luxurious chocolate, and a gourmet lunch prepared just for me. I will, no doubt, sit in silence, listening to the wisdom of my heart. And I may just go ahead and dream up a list of 42 random acts of kindness to be completed over the course of my 42nd year on planet earth.

Continuing in this spirit of giving generously, I also commit to doing something meaningful for me: making myself a priority and giving myself the gift of time, not just today, but for the next 42 consecutive days:

  • 10 minutes of meditation
  • 20 minutes of writing
  • 30 minutes of movement/yoga/exercise

The idea and meaning behind this gift to myself is two-fold:

  • Writing down these intentions (and declaring them out loud for all the world to hear) is a major maneuver in holding myself accountable; and
  • Doing these things for 40 days in a row will set me well on the path to establishing these priorities as part of a nourishing daily ritual for myself. (I’m basically just sweetening the pot by adding on a bonus two days!)

In the place where I stand now, I’d like to think I’ve become at least a little wiser over the past 42 years. (If my grey hair is any indication, I should be very smart. You can ask my stylist. lol) But I’ve said it before and I’m not afraid to say it again, right here and now: I can be a slow learner. And so I continue to learn my lessons as I take the long way on my journey through life, all with the intention of finding my own unique way of living and loving from the heart.

One such lesson I’ve needed to receive on more than one occasion is about allowing what comes, to come; what stays, to stay; and to simply let go of the rest. And although I suspect I’ll always crave meaningful connections with my fellow humans, I’ve come to see the futility in grasping and clinging to people and circumstances that were perhaps never meant for me in the first place. And of course I continue to see the tremendous benefit of practicing gratitude on the daily. I am endlessly grateful for every single person and situation that has come my way, realizing they each held an important place in my world, whether in my life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

So, as I round the corner to 42 Street, it feels like I’m inching ever closer to finding my ‘heart home’ and tapping into a more permanent place of peace within myself. And as I do, it occurs to me that maybe birthdays are merely time and route markers on our journey. And then I wonder if maybe we’re all just taking the long way home?

After all, maybe it’s the long way—with all of its peaks and valleys, detours and dead ends, speed bumps and plot twists—that makes this life worthwhile.

xo

Take the Long Way Home
Supertramp

So you think you’re a Romeo
Playing a part in a picture-show
Take the long way home
Take the long way home
‘Cause you’re the joke of the neighborhood
Why should you care if you’re feeling good
Take the long way home
Take the long way home
But there are times that you feel you’re part of the scenery
All the greenery is comin’ down, boy
And then your wife seems to think you’re part of the furniture
Oh, it’s peculiar, she used to be so nice
When lonely days turn to lonely nights
You take a trip to the city lights
And take the long way home
Take the long way home
You never see what you want to see
Forever playing to the gallery
You take the long way home
Take the long way home
And when you’re up on the stage, it’s so unbelievable,
Oh unforgettable, how they adore you,
But then your wife seems to think you’re losing your sanity,
Oh, calamity, is there no way out, oh yeah
Ooh, take it, take it out
Take it, take it out
Oh yeah
Does it feel that your life’s become a catastrophe?
Oh, it has to be for you to grow, boy
When you look through the years and see what you could have been
Oh, what you might have been,
If you’d had more time
So, when the day comes to settle down,
Who’s to blame if you’re not around?
You took the long way home
You took the long way home
Took the long way home
You took the long way home
You took the long way home, so long
You took the long way home
You took the long way home, uh yeah
You took the long way home
Long way home
Long way home
Long way home
Long way home
Long way home
Long way home
Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Take the Long Way Home lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Moving Toward a Healthier Me

I’m a little riled up and I need to get something off my chest…

I’ve spent a lot of time focused on self-improvement and personal growth over the past five years. I’ve made no secrets about this. My own physical fitness has been a significant part of this journey, and I’ve tried a number of different approaches.

I’ve been quite open about my love affair with movement. I’ve done outdoor bootcamps, running, group fitness classes, yoga, and a whole bunch of different home workout programs.

And I’ve even hinted at how I increased my physical activity while severely restricting calories in an attempt to lose weight, inches, pant sizes, and the shame I felt around certain parts of my body being bigger than they “should be.”

But what I’ve never really talked about openly before is how I’ve done a lot of different things with the goal of making my body into something it’s not, and may never be. How I’ve tried with all my might to take up less physical space in the world, with all of my efforts stemming from a deep-seated desire to correct my perceived flaws and imperfections.

Despite successfully losing nearly 20 pounds and close to as many inches in one particularly rigorous cycle of diet and exercise a few years back, buying into the vanity side of the health and fitness industry has left me hollow and jaded. I think I may have actually lost a piece of my soul as some of my fat melted away, but then it just came back again, with a vengeance (the fat that is, not my soul). The worst part is, at the end of it all I still feel as though I don’t measure up to society’s expectations, or my own.

I’ve been on this tireless quest to reshape my body into something that more closely resembles the ideal woman, with toned arms, flat stomach, firm legs, and of course, a thigh gap. But after trying and trying and trying, reaching and striving, grasping and clawing my way through the thick of my own dissatisfaction with myself, I just have to say I’m tired. Like, exhausted.

At the risk of provoking some and offending others, I’m just gonna go ahead and say what’s on my mind: dieting and exercising for weight loss and vanity alone is shallow and short sighted. That’s the simple truth. And I’m pretty sure those who go at it from this angle will find themselves in the same position of repeatedly regaining the weight they lose, just as I have. Because as long as we’re not addressing the underlying issues— the reasons why we eat crap, or don’t eat enough, and don’t move our bodies enough—we’re only masking the problem with a temporary band-aid.

The diet and weight loss industry is built on the fear and desperation of the people it serves; it preys on our vulnerabilities. The industry knows we’re all looking for a quick fix, and that’s why it packages up the promise of a better life for us in a shiny, irresistible package. The industry knows we’ll come back time and time again for more after the initial promise stops working. The industry knows there’s no such thing as a magic pill, but will sell one to us anyway. The long and the short is that anything that’s promising you extraordinary results in a short period of time is too good to be true. Period.

These are the lies we believe when we’re afraid we’re not enough as we are. This is the garbage we buy into when we don’t love ourselves, because we are motivated by our fears.

In my attempt to see this situation from all possible perspectives, I’ve run the full gamut of emotions—from frustration to anger and despair to resignation. And I suppose you could say I’ve reached a metaphorical crossroads in deciding that it’s time for something to change. The world around me isn’t going to budge, so I guess it’s up to me.

The only thing that makes sense to me at this point is the realization that taking care of myself needs to come from a place of love, rather than being instigated by my feelings of insecurity, my hatred of my thighs, and the fear of not being good enough.

Let’s face it, exercise is not punishment for what I look like, or what I may have eaten last night. And it most definitely is not something I should engage in from the standpoint of being disgusted by what I see when I look in the mirror. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been guilty of this attitude in the past, but I’m really starting to see not only how damaging this is to my mental health, but also how counter-productive it is to continue down this road.

The ability to move my body is a privilege not everyone has in this life, and is something  not to be taken for granted. I want to move my body in ways that feel good to me. I want to take the best possible care of myself. I want to feed myself healthy, nutrition-dense foods, because my body—my physical container during my time here on earth—needs the highest quality fuel to function optimally.

So, if I know what’s good for me (and I’m starting to think I do), I can see how approaching nutrition and exercise as self-care, coming from a place of love instead of fear, could make all the difference. Instead of exercising because I feel like I’m not enough the way I am and feeling desperate to change what I don’t like about my body, I need to change my mindset, instead.

It’s a strange place to be in, and one that I’m not sure I entirely understand yet, but my goal is to cultivate the energy of loving myself as I am right now while being open to improving my health and wellbeing at the same time.

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The words of affirmation that will guide me (please feel free to borrow any of these if they feel right to you) are:
I am active because I love myself.
My body deserves to be treated well.
I feel good when I move my body.
I nourish my body by eating whole, healthy foods.

As I’ve already suggested, the reasons for leading a healthy, active lifestyle run way deeper and are far more meaningful than vanity alone. And according to one article I found online, thinking of exercise as beneficial for reasons other than weight loss helps people stick to exercising more regularly—about three more hours per week than people whose primary focus was solely on weight loss.

With this in mind, I’ve come up with the following list of reasons to exercise that have absolutely nothing to do with weight.

  1. Breaking a sweat is super healthy, as it allows the body to release excess sodium, keeps blood pressure in check, and rids the body of some environmental toxins. Just remember to rehydrate with plenty of water during and after a good sweat session.
  2. Increasing your heart rate with exercise strengthens the muscles of the heart, as well as reduces the risk of heart disease. With heart diseases and other related conditions on the rise, this is a very compelling reason to look after the health of your ticker.
  3. Any weight-bearing exercise, such as running, dancing, or resistance training, will help with bone density, thereby reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis that increase with age.
  4. It has been scientifically proven that those who exercise regularly actually live longer. Just 150 minutes of exercise per week (that’s just five, 30-minute sessions) can add up to seven years to your life.
  5. If you’re feeling fatigued or lacking energy, consider that exercise can leave you feeling like you have more energy thanks to the effect of endorphins—the feel-good vibes and rush you get after exercise, also known as “runner’s high”.
  6. Stressed out? Working out helps manage and release stress by battling cortisol, the stress hormone.
  7. Feeling blue? Exercise is a natural antidepressant and mood lifter, improving overall mental health and helping stave off symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  8. Aerobic exercise can reduce both the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS, alleviating mood swings, depression, fatigue, cramps, and even balancing out hormone levels.
  9. Regular exercise promotes improved restful sleep, lowers incidence of insomnia, and promotes higher quality of sleep.
  10. The habit-forming power of a consistent exercise routine is transferable. Some notable improvements you may notice as a result of engaging in regular exercise include increased ability to focus on tasks, boosting creativity, and fostering greater productivity in many areas of your life.

It seems to me these are the real and meaningful reasons to treat yourself well with regular exercise. It all comes down to putting yourself first. Loving yourself and being good to your body are the only “why” you need.

So for the love of all that is good and holy, can we just give the diet and fitness industry (and all the superficiality and lies that go along with it) a great big collective middle finger? Can we all agree it’s time to break up with the idea of being defined by our weight, measurements, and dress size? And wouldn’t it be nice to just go for a walk or ride a bike or do some other type of movement that feels good to us, and maybe eat a few extra veggies somewhere along the way today? How awesome would that be?

I’m kind of done with hating myself. I know it may seem quite radical, but I’m going to try loving myself from now on and see where that takes me.

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What if, right?

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

The Flip-side of Resistance

If I were to pick only one word to describe my life, one word to sum it all up just perfectly, it would have to be: Resistance.

Many of the people, circumstances, and experiences I encounter, I resist. I oppose. I withstand. As far as I can tell or remember, I’ve been resisting most of my life, and if someone were to make my life into a book or movie, it would have to be called, The Great Resistance.

When it comes to actually feeling all my feelings, receiving feedback, and trying new things, my first and natural reaction is to resist. I resist listening to and following my intuition, being consistent with self-care, and accepting love that is offered to me. Allowing myself to fully participate in positive experiences and doing what I know is my calling? Yup, you guessed it—even more resistance! And when I encounter struggle or conflict, I put up resistance with a capital “R”.

As you can see, I take resistance to a whole new level. You might even say I’m the master, Grand Puba, and high priestess of the resistance department. I am literally resisting my own life, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a bit like trying to sprint through Jello.

If you’re wondering how that’s working out for me, well let’s just say it’s not really.

I have enough self-awareness to know that simply being aware of my resistance is no longer copacetic. Capiche? (You know what I mean?) The Great Resistance is preventing me from experiencing sustained joy and happiness and blocking me from finding my flow, ya know?

I had a little A-HA! moment when I realized: The flip-side of resistance is acceptance.

This is BIG, life-changing stuff here, people!

acceptance

I’m not talking about taking the road of acquiescence, passivity, or even resignation. I’m talking about being able to take whatever comes my way for what it is. Greeting every moment with interest and curiosity, rather than judgment. Setting aside all of my expectations and preconceived notions about what my life should look like in favour of receiving whatever it is. And believe me when I say that for me this is as much about allowing the good stuff as it is about welcoming the negative without a bunch of unnecessary drama and hoopla.

I think I’m starting to get it…

What I need, and what I’ve been searching for all along, is acceptance. I have a choice: I can continue to cause my own suffering by resisting everything, all the time, or I can choose to walk the road of acceptance, instead.

“Acceptance does not mean you agree with, condone, appreciate, or even like what has happened. Acceptance means that you know, regardless of what has happened, that there is something bigger than you at work. It also means you know that you are okay and that you will continue to be okay.”
Iyanla Vanzant

Resistance is a close cousin of fear, so it only makes sense that acceptance is one of love’s siblings. With this massive revelation, I’m setting my sights on seeing my resistance for what it is (essentially, fear in disguise), and gently moving beyond it to a place of loving acceptance—in all ways and with all things.

radicalacceptance

Starting right now, I am choosing acceptance over resistance, and committing myself to making acceptance a daily mindfulness practice.

One day at a time, one breath and one baby step at a time:
I will practice accepting whatever comes my way.
I will practice letting go of things I cannot control.
I will practice seeking solutions instead of complaining.
I will practice listening to the whispers of my sadness, pain, anger, and frustration.
I will practice seeing the beauty that exists in the world.
I will practice gratitude and focus on positivity.

Yes, I do get it now.

I accept responsibility for myself—all the good and bad parts.
I accept that I’m human, and I will have both good days and bad days.
I accept that acceptance is a practice.
I accept that this is where I begin.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat the practice of acceptance, times infinity.

See you on the flip side…
of resistance.

Has anyone else chosen to walk the road of mindful acceptance? Do you have tips, an experience, a story, or a comment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to drop me a note in the comments below.

Good Day

Two geese are meandering in the grass near the shoreline.

Several trees are rooted in place mere feet away from the water’s edge, but one in particular catches my eye. It’s early spring, and like so many of the others, its leaves are just beginning to bloom.

But this tree is different than the others. It’s special. This one is my tree.

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I approach, gently placing one hand on its bark; a gesture meaning, “I come in peace”.

My tree looks strong, with five main limbs branching out from its trunk.

I take a few breaths before I slowly begin to move again.

The lowest of the limbs is a little higher than my chest, and looks solid enough to support me.

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I scan to see if there’s anyone around, anyone whose disapproving glances may prevent me from accomplishing my secret mission.

Only my friends—the two geese and my tree—are here with me.

I come up with a quick game plan in my head.

Get one foot on top of the low limb and then hoist myself using upper body strength assisted by the two higher limbs? Can’t get my hand position right and not enough leverage. Ironically, the realization takes me back to the challenge of indoor rock climbing, and the frustration that ensued.

With renewed determination, I take a few deep breaths and try again. The geese are honking, and I imagine they’re cheering me on. Alas, both feet end up back at ground level.

I approach from another angle; one hand on each of the higher limbs that ascend almost as straight up as the base of the tree itself, as I use my feet to scale its trunk.

My grip is slipping again, and just when I think I’m not quite strong enough and will have to let go, I get one foot up into the crook of my tree.

I pause for a moment—to catch my breath and figure out what’s next.

I’ve been afraid of heights since I broke my arm falling off a four-foot structure when I was six. It’s interesting how much I changed and how I learned to embody fear on that fateful day…

I’m only about five and a half feet off the ground, but my heart is racing. Part exhilaration, part fear. The exact ratio of the two is unclear.

I walk my feet forward over the lowest limb, very slowly, testing to see if it will hold.

There’s no discernible movement in the limb, so I lower myself into the crook, shifting my weight forward slightly to settle into this perfect resting spot.

Here I am now, grown woman in a tree. Not a care in the world—except for maybe how to get myself back down to the ground. But for now I’ll just stay up here in my tree, enjoying the view for a while.

From my sturdy perch, I look out beyond the thick of branches over the water. My thoughts are consumed by the simplicity of nature. Its sheer existence is breathtakingly beautiful.

Birds are singing to each other in the manner of call and reply. The water is still. Grass on the verge of turning green. Sky above, earth below.

In these precious moments as the trees and shrubs begin to emerge from their winter slumber, there’s a prevailing sense of calm, and a palpable sense of hope for the future.

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A penny for my thoughts?

Despite my struggles to get here, I feel strong and supported.
I feel as though I’ve come home.
I am at peace.

The auspicious nature of this day far exceeds finding two quarters in the grass on the way back down.

It is neither luck, nor coincidence.

It is all meant to be.

Every detail unfolding exactly as it was written in the grand design of it all:
The geese and the tree. The struggle and the climb. The perspective and the view.

The journey and the destination.

No doubt in my mind I’ve arrived here, in this place, on the wings of an idea called freedom.

I’ve waited a long time to be here and to feel this.

I know there is immeasurable joy to be found in simple pleasures, like riding my bike and climbing my tree. Remembering what it feels like to be a kid.

There’s so much life here, and I finally see I’m part of it.

Now that I’ve found this place, I’ll definitely be back again.

Good day? Yes, I suppose you could say that.

Signs of Spring

Anyone who lives in Alberta will attest to the fickle nature of our weather. It can be hot and sunny one minute and then a full-scale blizzard the next. As the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Hence, marking the change of seasons using the traditional method of calendar dates can often be futile and meaningless.

Case in point: the calendar told us spring officially began on March 21, but over the past month and a half we’ve had a substantial amount of distinctly more fall and winter-like weather (including a few good snow storms), interspersed with a small percentage of shades and hints of spring. As I’ve already mentioned, this isn’t a departure from the norm, but year after year we Albertans somehow expect things to be different. When will we ever learn?

Despite my familiarity with the predictable unpredictability of our weather patterns, I am also impatient, and was beginning to feel as though Mother Nature was going above and beyond simply playing hard to get. Our spring season was being an outright tease, holding out and intentionally eluding us all. And even though I generally try my best to not allow the weather to dictate my moods, I was a little bummed out by the constant gloomy skies and cooler temperatures.

But all of that changed for me today.

As I raked the dead grass and leaves from the front lawn, sun shining down on me and birds chirping overhead, I paused to observe the Schubert Chokecherry Tree in my yard.

I noticed a series of glossy green shoots bursting forth from its branches. I admired the darling buds, not only as visible signs of life, but also the beginning of something new and inexplicably beautiful. In that moment, I understood how each one inherently holds the promise of transformation, both for itself and the greater whole of the tree from which it grows. And until the time comes for these buds to explode with new life, they  continue to lay in wait, simply trusting the intelligence of their instincts.

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And just like that I was filled with renewed hope. My faith in the divine timing of the universe—and my life and the seasons—was restored. Yes, sometimes it is that simple!

It’s exciting to bear witness to the natural world in action, and to be reassured that seasons of waiting and trusting are rewarded. And just as I am confident the buds on my tree will surely bloom into a show of breathtaking purple leaves, I understand the relevance of this observance as it applies to the current season of my own life.

Growth happens at the cellular level.

Transformation takes time. Important changes need to be allowed to simmer below the surface in order to work their way into being.

Renewal is largely invisible to the human eye, but the process is an absolute prerequisite for the physical manifestion of change.

There is no need to rush the buds to bloom. Only they can decide when the time is right to make their debut.

I know this much is true. I see the signs of spring all around me, and I feel it in my bones.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for your wisdom and showing me there is a season for everything.

Some things truly are worth the wait.

 

Freedom and Liberation, 40 Years in the Making

Never mind what the haters have to say about the trappings of turning 40. Mid-life and over the hill, my ass! And yes, I did just say ass, TWICE!

From where I stand, 40 seems to be the exact right number of years needed to walk the earth, facing trials and triumphs and learning how to appreciate the polarities at both ends of the spectrum. That’s right, the real gifts of this milestone have everything to do with a 40-years-in-the-making perspective on life that I’m in awe of being able to call mine.

To me, turning 40 represents a surprising sense of freedom, the likes of which I’ve not experienced since my youth, but with the added bonus of a broader perspective, more experience, and whole lot more wisdom.

I’m talking about the freedom of shedding layers and feeling safe enough to take off the façade of perfection.

Freedom from falsehoods and limiting beliefs I’ve finally been able to set down like bags of garbage.

Freedom from the fallacies and rigid definitions of what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother.

Freedom from the heaviness of all the expectations, including both the ones I accepted from others and the ones I imposed upon myself.

Freedom from the need to derive my sense of belonging and worth by putting the needs of others ahead of my own.

Freedom from the sick and twisted compulsion to continually sell my ideas, and myself, short.

Freedom from unnecessary guilt and shame, about…you name it. (Not sure if there even is such a thing as necessary guilt, but you catch my drift.)

Freedom from playing the role of the victim.

Freedom in the realization that there are absolutely no guarantees and I have no control.

Freedom from caring too much what others think about me. (Okay, maybe I’m not totally there yet, but I am working on it.)

I’m not sure exactly what it is about 40, but it feels as though all the jigsaw pieces are finally beginning to click into place. The shapes and patterns and colours are starting to interlock and fit together just right. The outlines of each individual piece dissolve and reveal one breathtaking composite image. The vivid watercolours continue to bleed into each other to create a beautiful mess infused with the grace and love of both the darkness and the light.

I absolutely love this Sophia Bush quote.

I absolutely love this Sophia Bush quote.

And while I’m on the subject of light, just last week I had the honour of attending the Step Into Your Starring Role retreat, led by the mesmerizing Tanya Geisler. About midway through the afternoon during a break, with her unique brand of sincerity and shoot from the hip candor, the luminous Tanya, whom I had only just met the same day, remarked that I really have my “stuff” together. My ego jumped up and down with the giddiness of a young child and squealed with delight, as she was a genuine and unbiased witness to the work I’ve being doing on myself.

But this simple exchange did so much more than stroke my ego, it marked an important point in my continued evolution, my liberation from the shackles that have kept me frozen with fear and paralyzed by perfection. I know this is true because the ‘me’ from five years ago wouldn’t have been able to sit with her words. The ‘me’ from five years ago would have  squirmed with discomfort. The ‘me’ from five years ago would have refuted Tanya’s observation, handing over the reigns to my imposter complex with a string of nonsense about how she must be mistaken and I must just be good at faking it. But in another surprising twist of fate, that’s actually not what happened at all.

Do you want to know what really happened? In a sense, I stepped into my starring role, and I got bold. After taking a moment to collect my thoughts and let Tanya’s words settle into my soul, I took a deep breath in and simply said “thank you”. I had allowed myself to be seen AND accepted a compliment in one fell swoop. And you know what? It felt really good.

So as I sit here on my birthday eve, reflecting on this step and the many others that have brought me to this point, I’m excited to finally be showing up for the party that is my life. I am grateful for all my blessings, as well as the struggles, knowing each one has brought me to now. There’s been a lot of toiling and trudging to reach this place, and yet I know the real big and meaningful work of my life is likely just getting started.

But I’m really curious to see what lies on the other side of this proverbial hill. And I am wearing a smile about a mile wide because I know I’ve finally arrived, right where I need to be. 40 is here and it’s right on time.

Signing off with an amazing song lyric from The Strumbellas that couldn’t be more apropos for the occasion.
“I don’t want a never-ending life. I just want to be alive while I’m here.”

Check out the video for this great song here.

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.

Andrea-8

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.

Andrea-11

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.

 

Remembering: A Love Letter to Ko Olina

I’ve been blessed to visit Ko Olina on the island of Oahu with my family a number of times, although there is some debate among us as to whether this year was our fifth or sixth trip. Regardless, our series of tropical vacations to this idyllic Polynesian paradise have not only offered me considerable time for relaxation and introspection, but also given me so much for which to be grateful. And you may be surprised to learn my gratitude extends well beyond the predictability of the precious memories I’ve created with my family.

Still, saying goodbye this time is a touch bittersweet when I think of all the fun we’ve had together on Oahu. Visiting the Dole Plantation, North Shore, Pearl Harbour, a few too many trips Leonard’s Bakery, Waimea Valley, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, and countless hours of fun in the sun are definitely among the highlights.

Although it is difficult to capture in words the depth of what Ko Olina means to me, it’s nonetheless important that I try to do so because this place of joy has effectively changed me. It is the birthplace of my spiritual awakening, and I can honestly say I don’t think I would be where I am today without having experienced the elixir of its inexplicable charm and intoxicating beauty.

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I’m not too sure exactly why it is or how it happened, but Ko Olina has woven some strange and powerful magic over me. Whether it’s the extreme relaxation it induces, the salty ocean air, being close to nature, the immersion in the Spirit of Aloha, or some combination of all of these, it’s nothing short of amazing how this place has opened my eyes to a world of possibility and led me to a deeper connection with my true self.

For anyone who may not be familiar (and even I had to look it up to be sure my understanding was correct), aloha is commonly used as both a greeting and a farewell throughout the Hawaiian islands. The word itself is difficult to translate, though, as it encompasses many different meanings ranging from love to a friendly attitude of acceptance toward all things. The definition of The Spirit of Aloha that really resonates for me is: To consciously manifest life joyously (or the joyful sharing of life energy) in the present.

It seems more synchronicity than coincidence to me that I’ve been working on being more conscious and aware, more joyful, and more focused on the present moment for each of the years we’ve been coming. As a result, I’ve softened in my natural state of being, yet I am more bold in my dreams and actions. My compassion for others has grown and my heart is more open.

Our trip in 2013 is particularly memorable, as it served as the punctuation mark (a semicolon) between leaving a job I had been in for 12 years and starting a new one. Then, by some further divine guidance during our trip in 2014, I began to hear my heart whispering that I needed to leave my corporate job if I wasn’t happy there. Not long after returning home I gave notice, and the time since has continued to be about listening and heeding my inner wisdom.

I’ve written before about the ensuing process, which has entailed digging deep to learn about myself, excavating limiting beliefs, and remembering the many enduring universal truths my soul always knew. Again, I owe Ko Olina a huge debt of gratitude for showing me the way forward and setting me on this path of self-discovery. At the very least, you could say she lulled me into a position of surrender, allowing my truth to bubble up to the surface and helping me find the courage to break free from my fears. It’s really incredible how, progressively along with each visit, this place of joy has amplified my intuitive voice and encouraged me to peel back the layers to reveal the more authentic version of myself.

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In her infinite wisdom, this year Ko Olina gently suggested that the big wide world is calling. With her blessing of loving reassurance, she signaled to me that the time has come for us to expand our horizons by changing up our Spring Break travel plans.

And with that I give thanks to this place of joy for the grace she has shown and all the many gifts she has bestowed upon me over the years. For it is here, right beside the vast blue Pacific, trade winds blowing and sun smiling down on me, that I found a magical place where my remembering and my light intersected.

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From this trip I am most grateful for:

  • Reading Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsh, as it helped me to remember the energetic nature of our world, the remarkable power of thought, the importance of gratitude, and while I do not consider myself religious, that I am free to engage in meaningful dialogue with my Creator whenever I choose.
  • Two weeks of morning meditation and moving toward the light. In these moments of silence and stillness, I remembered I am not my mind.
  • Among a slew of scantily clad strangers lounging poolside and playing in the ocean, I remembered I am not my body.
  • Amid the lush vegetation of the Waimea Valley, I remembered my spirit is most at home in nature.
  • New friends, the kindness of strangers, and all the other signs that helped me remember love will always find me if my heart is open.
  • The realization that, when I set aside labels and judgments, I am free to remember the truth of who I am.

I remember I am (So’ham = I am that):

Expanding awareness.
Infinite potential.
Pure love and light.

I am not the same person I was when I first visited Ko Olina, and for this I extend my heartfelt gratitude to her for helping me remember.

Aloha & Mahalo,
Andrea

“Each soul is a Master—though some do not remember their origins or their heritages. Yet each creates the situation and the circumstances for its own highest purpose and its own quickest remembering—in each moment called now.”
Neale Donald Walsh
Conversations with God

P.S. If you’re searching for your true self, I encourage you to get quiet so you can hear what your heart might tell you. You may even want to try the So’ham meditation technique. Instructions can be found in this article on the Yoga International website.

All the Shiny Things // C’est La Vie

With the first month of 2016 more than half over, I am finding I’m just not where I thought I’d be. I am no clearer on my purpose and priorities, nor established in routine, nor closer to finding any sense of what normal will mean for me this year. On the bright side; however, one small, yet important revelation has emerged out of my marathon of mental murkiness: I am beginning to recognize my pattern of avoidance and distraction.

First things first, I had to determine whether avoidance (to avoid) and distraction (to distract) are, in fact, the same. Just to be perfectly clear so there is no confusion, the meaning of avoidance is: to avoid or keep away from something. I will use the term in a sentence for illustrative purposes:
I’ve clearly been avoiding my office—the place where I write my most prolific works.

A distraction, on the other hand, can be anything that divides the attention or prevents concentration. However, there is also another connotation of the word: that which amuses, entertains, or diverts. In other words, distraction (to distract) is a sly little term, and an even sneakier phenomenon, as it is manifests in a variety different sizes and forms in our daily lives.

Thinking and journaling on the subject has led me to conclude that even my own thoughts must surely qualify as a distraction on the road to pursuing my goals and dreams. But the following are the big three SHINY distractions that have kept me away from writing since the beginning of January:

  1. The Holidays and a Decorating Debacle

Not long ago there was thing called Christmas and the holiday season, which really is the ultimate distraction from everyday life. And of course there was decorating for the holidays: SO. MUCH. SHINY. Pretty twinkling lights. Shimmering decorations. The shiny glint and glow of packages wrapped in metallic paper and sparkly bows. I think you get the picture. The holidays are a beautiful time of year, and in many respects a welcome distraction from the otherwise mundane nature of our routine-driven lives.

And then there was un-decorating after the holidays, which took away all the shiny and replaced it with the bland and lackluster. In fact, my house looked so naked after the un-decorating process that I was forced to go out in search of more SHINY things to cover up a certain unmentionable spot in my poor naked house. This became a rather tedious process of trial and error that included many hours of shopping, buying, trying, rearranging, and returning. But in the end I’m pretty happy with how it turned out—because of all the shiny things, plus it’s better than leaving a glitter covered reindeer and frosted garland up all year long. Don’t you think?

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2. Books and Reading

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
Samuel Johnson

It goes without saying that, in my eyes, books are irresistible SHINY things. I am currently enthralled with Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, and I plan to move on to Autobiography of a Yogi when I’m finished. There are so many other titles waiting in the wings that I honestly wish speed reading was a viable option. (I took a course a number of years ago, but something tells me I wouldn’t get nearly as much out of the process that way.)

“For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.”
Eudora Welty

3. 21-day Journaling Challenge

I stumbled upon a free 21-day journaling challenge (on social media—the most dangerous of all the shiny things) that started at the beginning of January. The challenge, titled A Journey to Genuineness, has proven itself to be a particularly interesting and unexpected shiny thing. If helping to establish a daily writing practice isn’t enough of a benefit on its own, pointing me in the direction of who the heck I really am certainly can’t hurt, either. Learning to distinguish my genuine self from my inner critic, who quite frankly is an obnoxious B-I-T-C-H, and journaling on topics such as my strengths, feelings, and values, has been both enlightening and cathartic. Incidentally, my number one strength is appreciation of beauty and excellence. Coincidence? I think not. It’s also not surprising to see honesty, love of learning, prudence, and perspective ranked high on my list.

The lesson I’m learning is a shiny thing can be anything that distracts you from what you think you ought to be doing. But this rule and schedule-following girl is also beginning to soften into the perspective that it’s alright to give in to the temptation.

What’s more, maybe it’s a good thing to be completely consumed by the sparkle of what catches your eye or captures your heart; to get lost in the beauty of something—simply for beauty’s sake. I’d even like to be so bold as to suggest that you allow yourself the indulgence, particularly when the call is coming from the very deepest part of you (your genuine self). Go all in—with no guilt and no regrets—and just enjoy. This is part of life. Heck, this is life, or as they say en Francais: “C’est la Vie!”

Sure, being disciplined is important, but getting distracted and veering off course temporarily isn’t the worst thing one can do, either. As I slowly come around to welcoming that which amuses, entertains, or diverts as an essential part of my life, I can see how these distractions are often the experiences and things that add colour, shine, and visual variety to my world, not to mention providing much needed mental stimulation and a break from the monotony.

I’d like to think that, even with some scenic stops along the way, I will still get where I’m  going eventually—and right in the time I am meant to. Stopping to smell the roses, swim in a freshwater stream, or climb a tree will no doubt delay me temporarily, but more importantly these distractions are experiences that can teach me valuable lessons, lead to important discoveries, or present a new path I hadn’t seen before. And even if none of these things transpire, C’est la Vie! I am willing to bet that I’ll enjoy all the shiny things I saw along the way.

I’d love to hear about your ‘shiny’ things. If you are so inclined to let me in on your beautiful distractions, please leave a comment below.