Chapter 43: Love is a Unique Achievement

Hello, loves. It’s me, My Phare Lady. Remember me?

It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt like writing, and what’s more, since I’ve felt like I had anything of interest or value to share. Being locked into a pretty solid funk since September of 2018 hasn’t helped, either.

Let’s just say these past 12 months have felt particularly draining and heavy. The time has dragged so slowly it felt like I was attempting to run through molasses. Yet—strangely, somehow—days, weeks, and months passed in the blink of an eye. The monotony of my daily responsibilities squeezed me like a vice, the pressure leaving me with an absence of desire to do anything more than the bare minimum.

After facing an initial series of strikes and blows about this time last year, I chose to get still and quiet. I was trying to stay present, to really feel into the sensations of the beliefs and emotions that were locked inside the cells of my body and keeping me jailed in a prison of my own making. But as the feelings of shame and discomfort continued to swell until I was almost certain they would swallow me whole, I slipped back into some familiar patterns.

I neglected my own needs and set aside most of the self-care practices that had generally kept me functional and (reasonably) sane. I numbed out the uncomfortable feelings and immersed myself in frivolous distractions. And through it all I used the excuse of being too “busy” to do the things I claimed were most important to my heart—to my happiness and wellbeing.

Maybe that’s why I am so incredibly grateful for the return of September—because it’s always felt like my ‘new year’. Historically speaking, it has been a time of re(birth), renewal, and new beginnings. It’s a time to wipe the slate clean and start anew. Not to mention, the time has come to close this last chapter of my life so I can begin the next—one in which I am the author of my own story.

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My kids’ schools are located just a few blocks away from each other in a mature neighbourhood in the town where we live. One of the best things about this area, in my opinion, is that it features the grandest trees (60-80 feet tall, on average) with the most majestic foliage. The other day at school pick up time, I nearly stopped in the middle of the road as I was driving when I noticed how the leaves had suddenly turned to the most brilliant shades of rust, gold, and even deep purple. The result was a glorious canopy of fall colour that shimmered gently overhead in the autumn breeze. Not only was it a splendid sight to behold, but also it reminded me (again) how there is so much beauty all around, if only we choose to see it and be open to truly receive.

As if right on cue with the changing of the leaves and the season, my outlook has shifted quite dramatically. My energy is increasing, and the promise of hope and possibility are returning to me once again. I am moving my body more, and remembering each day how glorious it feels to be outside—to take in nature’s splendor with all my senses, and to appreciate every aspect of my life as I welcome each new breath of fresh air into my lungs. Dare I say it’s almost as if I’ve been wandering around in the dark, wondering if I would ever see the sun again, when I finally feel a little warmth at my back and a glimmer of light on my cheek.

Everything seems just a little bit ‘brighter’ at the moment. My disposition, just a bit sunnier. Although fall’s official arrival is just around the corner, I have some extra spring in my step these days. While I’m not able to pinpoint why, exactly, I don’t even think the “why” matters much. All I know is that I am excited to welcome with open arms this change in my life’s season.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent a lot of time—far too much, really—worrying about how I am perceived by others, preoccupied with being accepted, and concerned about whether people like me. My previous operating system was entirely based on the fear and limiting belief of not being enough, or perhaps even too much, for others. In this new season of my life; however, I am turning over a new leaf by renewing my focus on gratitude, bravery, and above all, self-love. This shift has me feeling both refreshed and liberated.

So instead of recalling all the ways I’ve failed in the past (and the ways in which I believe others have failed me), and rather than analyzing and attempting to control the inevitably uncontrollable future, I’m consciously and courageously choosing to return to presence and the practice of gratitude. Because it’s nearly impossible to separate one from the other, this process also has me coming back to the importance of embracing love over fear.

Over time and through the lens of my life’s experiences, I’ve really come to understand how fear is an extreme form of rejection, whereas love, on the other hand, is the ultimate form of acceptance. When I think of these qualities in those terms, it shifts my way of thinking to a whole new perspective with a different meaning.

Although it’s been difficult in many ways, this past year has taught me so much. Most important of all, it has shown me that, in order to achieve the inner peace and harmony I want, everything I do—every action and reaction—must originate from gentle, loving acceptance. This perspective also reminds me to view my life with loving kindness, to speak and act from love, to remain open to receiving the energy of love, and, most importantly, to love myself first so that I may be able to extend my love to others.

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It’s been an interesting year…

I haven’t been that visible in this online space, but rest assured I’m still here.

I am not making any excuses about where I’ve been, and I will not be making grand claims about what I plan to do in the future. (The beauty of being present is in taking one baby step at a time.)

This is just me sharing a glimpse of how I am evolving, while at the same time staying grounded in who I am; remembering what I stand for and why I am here.

This is me loving and accepting who I am in this moment, while not giving up on the person I want to become.

There is no doubt about it—this thing called life can be challenging at times. It’s both undeniable and totally ok. No one ever said it would be easy. And in case anyone out there needs a reminder, it’s alright to not be ok all of the time. (I keep seeing this message all over social media, but it bears repeating here, nonetheless.) You can surely count on the fact that life will knock you down, and also that you’ll need to pick yourself up off the floor, wipe off the dust and dirt, and be willing to try again the next day.

And I suppose that’s really what this post represents—me picking myself up off the floor for about the 8,376th time in my life. And after all I’ve seen, done, and been through in the past 43 years, all I really know to be true for sure is that:

  • Living in the energy of love feels infinitely better than constantly being motivated by fear.
  • Keeping your heart open to love through the difficult times ain’t easy, but it is worth it.
  • Loving and accepting myself exactly as I am, flaws and all, is the secret sauce to feeling whole.
    –AND–
  • A willingness to continue to return to love through all of life’s triumphs and hardships, is, indeed, a unique achievement.

“If I asked you to name all the things you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?”

It’s taken me the better part of 43 years to figure it out, but now that I have, I’m ready for my next chapter.

 

 

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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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.

The Summer I Changed My Mind

A funny thing happened on the way to (and from) summer vacation—I changed my mind. I am well aware of how odd this probably sounds, but I think all should become clear if you just keep reading.

I could have chosen to write this post about the misfortunes and mishaps along the way. In fact, I probably could have dedicated multiple posts to how our original accommodation plans didn’t work out and we had to adapt on the fly (twice); how, we were already passed Banff when we learned we’d left the city without any way for my parents to get into our house to let the dog out and therefore had to call a locksmith to come break in; how, in all our moving about from one place to the next we misplaced several articles of clothing and other personal items; or finally, how I got sick with a nasty cold that has lingered for weeks.

But instead of focusing on the perceived bad stuff, I’m choosing a different path. Rather than staying bogged down in my own stories and negative soundtrack, I am making a conscious decision to focus instead on the true gems—those rare and precious moments that could have easily been overlooked and gone untold. I’m excited to share the following five stories from my summer vacation because, after some time and reflection, I honestly believe that these are the stories worth telling.

1. The drive. It’s been many years since I completed the drive from Alberta to B.C. through the mountains and Rogers Pass, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the glorious wonder of it all. I mean come on…the winding roads literally cut into the base of solid rock, surrounded on either side by 200-foot tree walls. The layers of variegated green foliage covering the mountain faces, with only pieces of jagged rock peeking out in intermittent patches. And the crystalline mountain streams and lakes that sparkle in the sunlight. I am quite convinced that the stretch of road between Banff National Park and Mt. Revelstoke National Park offers some of the most stunning scenery on planet earth, and I can honestly say that I haven’t truly appreciated the breathtaking vistas and majestic beauty that is our country before this drive. I have a renewed appreciation for Mother Nature, in all her glory, and I hereby solemnly vow to spend more time with her on a regular basis.

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Captured this beauty shot somewhere west of Revelstoke, B.C. Love the ethereal quality of the low lying clouds and their reflection in the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. A day on Lake Okanagan. It’s no big secet that my husband and kids love the water. (I’ve often wondered if the three of them may have been fish in a previous life.) Early on in our trip, we rented a boat for the day and were able to enjoy a fantastic day exploring beautiful Lake Okanagan. Sharing the day with some of our BC and Alberta family made the experience that much sweeter. The kids had an absolute blast tubing, and the some of the guys gave wakeboarding a shot. While the water in the middle of the lake was pretty choppy, we found a bay where the sun was shining bright and the water was perfectly calm. We anchored our boats for lunch and stayed to play for several hours after, completely losing track of what time it was. A small rock island projecting out of the water about 10-12 feet at its highest point made the perfect platform for jumping in and provided hours of entertainment that day. With so much fun and so many memories created, our day on the water is one I don’t think any of us will soon forget.

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Climbing ‘The Rock’ and getting ready to jump in the water on the other side to cool off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. I fell in love with a tree more than three times my age. On the recommendation of friends and family, we had dinner at The Minstrel Café the one night in Kelowna that we were without our kids. We were seated outside on the patio, directly below the stunning 148-year-old London Plane tree for which the restaurant is known. I’ve never met a London Plane tree before but I can easily say this one was simply amazing; I’m talking regal, wise, all knowing, and breathtaking in its beauty. The size of its trunk a testament to the number of years it has been growing in the every spot where it was originally planted. With twisted branches sprawling out in all directions, it provides both a shady canopy for daytime patio goers and the perfect perch for the strands of white lights to twinkle like low-hanging stars above the heads of those who dine there. This tree had to be one of the most mesmerizing living creatures I’ve ever encountered, and it easily has to be the oldest. I can only imagine how much that great tree has seen in its years and the stories it would be able to tell! I wanted to caress its bark and wrap my arms around its body. If we hadn’t been in such a rush to leave for the concert and I had been dressed more appropriately for tree climbing, I most certainly would have found a way up onto one of its branches to just hang out there for a while. Although our time together was short, one thing is for sure: that London Plane Tree wove some strange magic over me and I left a piece of my heart with it that night.
Sidenote: the food at The Minstrel Café was also very good, and I would highly recommend going there if ever visiting Kelowna.

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Look way up! This was our view sitting under the magnificent London Plane tree.

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And here she is in all her glory from the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The road trip as a right of passage. Aside from driving to B.C. when our daughter was only nine months old, which doesn’t count because my son wasn’t born yet and she was too young to remember, this was our first major road trip as a family. Up until now I’ve been reluctant to take vacations that required long drives because I was fearful that all the bickering and whining from the backseat might drive me mad on the way. At the same time, I think a good ol’ road trip is a right of passage that all children (and parents) must be made to endure, um I mean enjoy, at least once. But I really must say the drive went much better than I anticipated. The kids did quite well overall. Granted, we came prepared with plenty of snacks and broke up the drive into smaller stints, stopping regularly for meals, bathroom breaks, and to sleep overnight. (And it probably didn’t hurt that we just got a vehicle with a built-in entertainment system and Bluetooth wireless headsets.) Regardless of the reason, there were minimal complaints of boredom, and we only had to make one emergency pit stop for my son to hydrate the foliage at a roadside turnout. Now that’s what I call road trip success.

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Our first road trip pit stop, lunch and a bathrrom break, in Banff, AB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Lessons in receptivity and being present. The ability to experience a situation by staying present, fully processing it, letting it go, and carrying on without attachment is the very definition of receptivity. This is a muscle I continue to strengthen by doing the work. And although our trip didn’t go exactly as we had planned, I can honestly say I am grateful for its gifts—the realizations it afforded me to come to and the lessons it reinforced. Through this experience, I’ve been able to see with softer eyes the soul of all things in the world around me, and the invisible connections between everything and everything else. While it has taken me some time to wrap my head around it, I’m now able to smile with each breath, knowing I am part of the magnificent web of life.

It’s interesting how the way you choose to look at a situation can dictate how you feel about it, and maybe even determine what happens next. But this is profoundly true. These five stories changed the way I viewed my entire vacation experience, reshaping and reframing it from something undesirable to somewhat of a miracle. And so I guess this may just go down in history as the summer I changed my mind—literally changed it. It’s a bold statement, I know, and there’s a great deal of unfinished work on my part, but that’s the beauty of it. From a place of awareness and presence, I get to choose my reactions to situations and how I want to engage with the world. It really is a beautiful thing, and it’s only the beginning.