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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unbecoming

There’s something special about the approach of autumn. For me, the feeling is unique to this time of year, and is entirely different than the change over of any of the other seasons.

Maybe it’s the promise of relief from the heat of summer with the cooler weather we know is surely on its way. Maybe it’s the return of some much-needed structure as the kids go back to school and resume the routine of their organized activities.

Or maybe it’s something far less tangible…the mere glimpse of hope, possibility, and new beginnings I feel waiting in the wings.

There’s a special type of magic in the air in September, and the feeling is even more pronounced for me this year than any other. While I may not be able to put my finger on what it is exactly, I know with great certainty change is coming. I can feel it in my bones.

It began several weeks ago with a restless ache in my body. What started as little more than a twinge in the pit of my stomach has grown much larger and is taking shape from deep inside. The structure of my cells is being altered as this ‘thing’ takes root in my core.

Having wiped away the dust and residue from the stories of the past that previously clouded my vision, I’ve started to see with fresh eyes. I no longer need to be shielded from the truth; no more distortion or protective filters required to paint a more palatable picture of the prevailing reality for my ego self.

I think it’s human nature to seek out evidence—a sign, or better yet, some type of actual physical proof—that supports our hypotheses and assertions. It’s normal to want to be able to see, hear, smell, taste, or touch something before we can truly believe in it. But sometimes, before a thing comes to life, before it’s actually manifested in the physical form, you just need to put all of your trust into its becoming.

And yet, evidence of change is all around for those who are willing to see it. Watch the leaves show us the wisdom of the natural world, as they change from their deep, glossy greens, to the glorious shades of golds, rusts, and purples. This is the leaves way of demonstrating their trust in the knowledge that their season of life is over and the time has come for them to surrender. Although temporary, the results are remarkably beautiful, even breathtaking to behold.

Not long after the beautiful display of fall colours, we also know the trees will shed their leaves to help conserve energy for the winter. The leaves that hang on will, no doubt, be torn from their branches by a swift autumn wind eventually.

As evidence of my humanity, on a purely physical level I can see my skin is changing and I’m shedding my hair like mad. I am releasing physical and mental clutter in every corner of my life. I am more committed than ever before to my own evolution and metamorphosis, and at the very least, I continue to become increasingly aware of my actions and reactions.

And I suppose that’s how I know with all I am that the time for harvest must surely be nearing. The seeds that were planted within me long, long ago are sprouting with the beginnings of new life. It’s a life that’s bursting with the hope that anything is possible—even really difficult things and maybe even miracles—when I believe and put my faith in the power of love over fear.

Through the infinite wisdom of a universe in which everyone and everything is connected to everyone and everything else, I am aware of the change that is occurring, both all around and deep within me. I trust not only in what I can see, but also in the less quantifiable feeling of what has not yet materialized.

Like the leaves, I am immersed in the surrender of my own unraveling. As I continue to challenge old beliefs and peel away the protective layers, I’m removing the costumes and masks I’ve worn. This is the real me; exposed and vulnerable. Just being.

It’s messy and complicated, and may not look like much on the outside, but when I get very still and quiet I know that a space is being created for something significant to enter.

I don’t know what it is yet, but I trust in whatever it will be.

This is the season of my unbecoming.

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.

 

Minding the gap between intention and action…

I had been thinking about the subject quite a bit anyway, when out of no where came a friend’s Instagram post of one Danielle LaPorte’s Conversation Starter app questions: “When you have moments of doubting whether your desires will come true, how do you restore your belief?”

Interesting. Very interesting. Prior to receiving the message that came wrapped in the riddle of LaPorte’s question, I have to admit that my own doubts were growing and gathering momentum on a daily basis. You see, I had been quite focused on observing what I call “the gap.” No, I’m not referring to the clothing store here, but rather the passing of time and space between my intentions and my actions.

Over and over and over again, my thoughts would return to how the length of the gap was growing in direct proportion to the amount of energy I focused on it. Like being hit by a ton of bricks, I suddenly realized how my own resistance was the most likely culprit in my {perceived} prolonging of said gap.

And it’s no wonder I’ve been feeling less than productive lately, as I can now see that I’ve been creating a veritable minefield of resistance, placing my desires in direct conflict with my resistance, thus inhibiting my readiness to receive. The opposing forces of fear, scarcity, and lack have been playing like a worn-out country song in my head, running defense and working in direct opposition to my aforementioned intentions.

Then I had another pretty major realization: I’ve been going about this stuff all wrong. My {perceived} inability to bring my desires to fruition is not the result of my own inaction at all. Rather, finding flow and moving in the direction of my intentions is actually more about aligning my expectations and releasing my resistance. Because the truth of the matter is, as long as I am not fully embracing the expectation that what I want is possible and I really do deserve it, it’s never gonna happen.

So, all this time I’ve been looking at the gap as a place of nothingness. No changes. No results. Just the sad and lonely never-never land place of incomplete intentions, dead goals, and broken dreams. I had allowed the gap to become a very scary, uncomfortable place—one that I was constantly looking to escape via the nearest exit. {Aha, more resistance!} Are you seeing a theme here?

But what if all this time, in all my black and white absoluteness, I’ve been looking at the gap all wrong? What if the gap actually does serve a very important purpose?

I am starting to see how the gap, this quiet time and space in all its infinite wisdom, is deliberately urging me to get still and quiet… to examine what’s true… and to become absolutely clear about my intentions. The gap is nudging me to come to a place of clarity, as this is the first step to creating alignment and focusing my energy where it needs to go.

All of this information has been coming at me, fast and furious, blowing my mind wide open. And while I can’t be certain, I have a bit of a hunch that the gap is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do for me. I have a feeling that I need to get clear in order to dissolve my resistance and bring me back into alignment with the love and abundance I so crave.

blogimage_whereuneedtobeIs it possible that you may also have a gap? If you do, let me assure you that despite any lack of tangible evidence or concrete, physical proof, the gap is probably doing its job for you, too. All any of us have to do is be still and patient, get crystal clear, ensure we’re not throwing out resistance, and allow the Universe to work its magic.

How do you mind your gap? Remember the energy you direct toward it may determine how things play out for you.

And with that I leave you with this beautiful quote that sums it all up in divine perfection.

“May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.”
― Teresa of Ávila

A {Digital} Postcard from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

love&possibility

It occurred to me early on in our fall break getaway that no one really sends postcards any more. In today’s world, which is so thoroughly dominated by convenience and immediate gratification, it seems they’ve gone the way of the dodo bird. So, in the absence of a post-marked card featuring the stereotypical photo collage or palm tree and sunset vignette from our vacation, I thought the next best thing would be to create a {digital} postcard. But, just as this is not your traditional run-of-the-mill variety, send-it-in-the-snail-mail-and-wait-three-weeks-for-it-to-arrive kinda card, I suppose it only makes sense that my rendition of our family vacation be equally untraditional.

They say life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans and I suppose I’d have to agree. You see, even though I should have been sitting in an airport waiting to board our fight home at the time of writing this, instead I was taking refuge from the heat of the midday Punta Cana sun in a cabana with an iceberg (beerguarita) in hand. We had other plans, but this was what life gave us. Tough break, right?

Because of the unanticipated delay of our flight home, there was some question from other vacationers around the pool as to whether we poisoned our pilot to evade our planned departure. While I can assure you we had absolutely nothing to do with the pilot’s untimely illness, I was nonetheless grateful for the found time it afforded me to reflect on our week at the picture-perfect Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana resort. (In case you haven’t already noticed, this {digital} postcard is brought to you by the letter “P”… and the number seven.)

We took an approximate seven-hour flight to arrive in our tropical paradise. Once there, my family and I spent seven days participating in a variety of activities, including bungee jumping, ping-pong, rock wall climbing, riding bicycles, making crafts, playing games, and aqua gym and spin classes in the pool. My daughter produced a gorgeous finger-painted masterpiece on her own with only a few simple instructions. (Move over Picasso, there’s a new painter in town!) My son loved dressing up as a pirate and searching for treasure around the resort with his friends from the kids’ club. My husband and “babies” went parasailing for the first time and I marvelled at their bravery, as my little daredevils absolutely loved sailing 400 feet in the air.

While the rest of my family was swimming or busy with the aforementioned activities, I could generally be found lounging poolside and catching up on some reading, often with a drink in hand. I particularly enjoyed the book A Man Called Ove, and the story of the curmudgeonly old Swede who lived a life of precise routines, always strictly following the rules, and letting logic and order dictate his every move as a way to protect his fragile, broken heart. I could certainly relate to Ove’s character, because I also thrive on order and predictability. I operate on the premise that most things in life should be done in a certain way or not done at all. And I, too, can be quite guarded—perhaps even cold—with my heart. But just like Ove, I am learning to open myself to love and possibility.

With this in mind as I reflect on our vacation, what strikes me most is how it was less about the location and more about just being present to enjoy the time with my family. The luxuriousness of sleeping in every day and awaking to find both kids in our giant bed for a family cuddle-fest. Seeing my daughter take great pride and pleasure learning to do a back flip on the bungee cords. Witnessing, first hand, what social animals my kids are, as they cheerfully interacted with the resort staff (fist-bumping, learning new phrases in Spanish, and faithfully uttering the “polo” echoed response to the drinky-drinky guy’s “Marco”), as well as effortlessly making new friends from all over the world. These are the precious moments I want to remember long after the tan lines have faded.

As part of my regular daily meditation practice that I continued faithfully during our vacation, I was reminded about how we have the power to create our reality through our own conscious awareness, and that what we choose to focus on expands. For this trip and beyond, I am making a conscious effort to shift my focus to noticing and appreciating the good in people. We had a fantastic vacation experience, and this was thanks in large part to the marvelous resort staff who took such great pleasure in ensuring our comfort and happiness. We were also very fortunate to meet many wonderful people from all over Canada and the US. To Ed and Lori, the lovely couple from outside of Toronto who will make the most amazing grandparents: despite our thanks, you may never know how much your kindness meant as you shared some of your vacation time with us, having fun with our kids at the beach and around the pool, and giving them each a token gift from the Dominican market. These seemingly simple connections with people from as near as Calgary and as far away as Brazil warmed my heart in a way I never thought possible.

It’s a curious thing for me to explain, but I feel as though a bit of magic happened when I dipped my toes into the sparkling blue-green water in Punta Cana. The tide came in, and when it rolled back out like the complementary exhale to my inhaled breath, my feet sank a little deeper into the ground as the sand that was taken back out to sea took a bit of my troubles with it. As I filled my lungs with the salty, tropical air, I had clarity in my otherwise busy mind—even if just for a moment. The only thing that mattered was the certainty of my breath. And somehow I was left knowing it was all part of nature’s miraculous give and take, the process of renewal—creating space in my heart for more love, and within my soul for greater peace.

I am grateful and forever changed for having had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people and to know Punta Cana’s beauty.