2018 reflections, plus one word, a vow, and a blessing for 2019

With the holiday season, and all the excess that comes along with it, rapidly drawing to a close, it feels only natural to reflect on the past year in preparation for transitioning to a new one.

And while we’re talking about excess, I don’t know about you but my body is certainly feeling the effects of “too much,” particularly heavy, rich, gravy-laden food and boozy coffee. Too much noise and too much hustle and bustle have also taken a toll. I chalk it up to having a highly sensitive nervous system, because even though I knew it was coming, my efforts to brace myself and proceed with caution seem to have been for naught. 

As I languish in the slow, soupy, drawn-out days between Christmas and New Year’s, the in-between time when time is pretty much irrelevant, I’ve been hit hard with the awareness that I’ve gone pretty far out of balance. My body has been talking to me and reminding me it’s time to return to healthier ways again. And as I reflect on my journey through the past year, I can certainly see how ‘going out of balance’ in order to figure things out is a common theme that’s reflected in each of my key learnings. 

You may recall I chose three words to guide me in 2018: intuition, intention, and inspiration. Little did I know the starring role these words would play in almost the exact opposite way I had expected…or perhaps I knew precisely what I was doing all along? Ya, right. That’s it…

Hits of Intuition – I can see quite clearly in retrospect how, on numerous occasions, my intuition was giving me some serious warnings signs and signals that something was amiss. And I‘m certain I made things more difficult for myself by not listening and trusting the simple signs before me. As my chest tightened and my entire body constricted in the presence of individuals whose intentions were not the most honourable, I was literally being shown how energy doesn’t lie; only people do, and my body definitely knows the difference before my mind has a chance to catch up. I’d like to think I’ve learned a valuable lesson—the importance of trusting myself and my gut, beyond everything else—but I suppose time will be the judge of that. Still, I’m not giving up. I will continue to work on building up my intuitive capacity, flexing it like a muscle, and learning to listen to what it’s trying to tell me. 

Honouring Intentions – The biggest lesson I’ve learned about setting intentions and honouring them is that the time and action (or the energy) you commit toward nurturing their growth are what matter the most. And again this is something I had to learn the hard way. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve squandered countless hours, many of which were consumed with mindless scrolling on social media, to the extent that I decided to remove the Facebook app from my phone for most of December. And you know what? This may have been one of the very best decisions I’ve ever made in my life to date. It has clearly shown me the value of limiting my exposure to the impressions I take in from social media, and that I have much better ways I can spend my time, not to mention my life is better lived in real life. I also know now with greater certainty than ever that, if and when I decide to wade back into the Facebook world, I will certainly be treading lightly, and will do so only with very clear restrictions in place.  

Harnessing Inspiration – In the simplest terms, this year I learned that when I’m not trusting my intuition and not honouring my intentions, when I’m preoccupied with drama and negativity, when I’m emotionally exhausted and not taking proper care of myself, or wasting my life away on social media, inspiration is an elusive wench, plain and simple. And that’s really all there is to say about that. Except for maybe that I’m curious to see how I may be able to cultivate more inspiration in 2019, when I’m better aligned in other areas. 

The good news from all of this is I’ve learned which areas of my life I want to refocus on and place a greater amount of emphasis, and also with whom I want to spend my time and energy going forward. I know I am better poised to enter 2019 with awareness, the ability to set firm, clear boundaries, and the knowledge that I‘m no longer willing to trade my authenticity for someone else’s acceptance or approval. 

I’m also aware that all these failures and deficiencies sound quite negative. Let’s face it: 2018 wasn’t entirely kind in many ways. But as I’ve said before, I can see how the situations that brought me the greatest pain in 2018 were a necessary catalyst for my personal growth, and I can now look back with deep gratitude for the refreshing new perspective it brought me. Also, by being brutally honest about what really didn’t work well or serve me in 2018, I absolutely know what I need to move forward, which brings me to my word for 2019: 

FC36BC0C-A90A-4F24-8857-768C82BC249DAlthough there are many food-related connotations around this word, and even though food/nutrition is very much an integral component of the healthy life I am focused on creating, I actually chose this word, or perhaps it more accurately found its way to me, because it feels all-encompassing of the way I want to approach every facet of my life in the coming year—with the love, care, attention, and nurturing that I so want and richly deserve for myself. 

Just as a seed needs fertile soil, water, and sunlight to sprout and grow, my life needs the proper nourishment for me to grow into the fullest expression of my highest self in the coming year. 

I spent some time thinking about what feels nourishing to me—mentally, physically, and spiritually. And while by no means is the following list exhaustive, it will definitely serve as a guidepost for me as I look to bring the energy and spirit of ‘nourish’ into all areas of my life. And you’d better believe this stuff is going on my vision board, too.

I am nourished by:

  • Meaningful connection and deep, soulful conversations about the nature of the universe, life, and humanity.
  • Creativity and new ideas.
  • Movement—the mindful kind.
  • Introspection, quiet, solitude.
  • Helping others.
  • Positivity.
  • Time spent with good peeps, soaking up the good vibes.
  • Nature and beauty. Trees are my favourite, followed very closely by mountains and water.
  • Singing and dancing.
  • Music.
  • Writing. Reading.
  • Learning. Growing.
  • Sleep, glorious sleep.
  • Water.
  • Hugs.
  • Feeling supported by my peeps, knowing they believe in me and always have my back.
  • Riding my bike.
  • Movies.
  • Practicing gratitude.
  • Fresh air.
  • Walks.
  • Baths.
  • Deep breathing.
  • Simplicity. Order. Organization.
  • Doggie cuddles.
  • Beauty.
  • Sunshine. Rainbows.
  • The sky, the moon, and the stars.
  • Travel. Exploring. Adventure.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Presence.
  • Surrender.

As I dive, head first, into the blank slate that is this New Year, rather than making resolutions that come from a place of fear or inadequacy within myself, I am choosing to focus on what feels like a more positive, growth-based intention setting practice. That’s why, in 2019, I plan to  nourish myself deeply; my overall physical health, as well as my emotional and spiritual well-being. I want to devote energy to nourishing my creativity—tending to it and cultivating it as I would a garden of beautiful flowers. In all these ways and so many more, I intend for 2019 to be about choosing only to engage in what feels good and brings nourishment to my soul.

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Along with making NOURISH my faithful companion, and of course based on everything I learned from this past year—the good, the bad, and the ugly (because there was all of that and more, and I’m grateful for every part), this is my solemn vow to myself for 2019:

May I always remember my life is worth a billion blessings to everyone I meet on my journey. But I am not for everyone, and everyone is not for me. And that is ok. 

I was born of the heavens and am part of all that eternally exists in the sky above.

I am the vastness of my greatest thought,  and the infinite power that sources and sustains the entire universe.

On this day, I remember who I am, what I am here for, and why I chose the experiences that have come to me this past year.

Today, I promise to leave the smallness of my darkest thoughts behind and melt with open arms into the love of my highest self.

I surrender to the endless possibilities 2019 has in store for me, allowing each day of the coming year to surprise me and NOURISH the deepest desires of my soul.

I will remind myself to always return to the spark of the divine from which I was created, using my innate power to light the way forward, for myself, and for others, should they choose to follow.

This year, I will give to others what I want back for myself. If I want love, I will find a way, however small—a smile or silent blessing, to love every person with whom I cross paths.

If I want peace, I will think peaceful thoughts, say peaceful words, and pray for peace for all those experiencing chaos.

If I want success, I will work diligently to help those around me succeed. And I will focus on and honour the commitments I make to myself.

If I want respect, I will begin by respecting my own life—body, mind, and spirit. I will respect those around me and those who work to make this planet better for all of us. I will respect the earth, my body, my past, and the unique gifts I possess that I am meant to share with the world. 

I will surrender judgment in exchange for reverence, and in doing so, I trust that what I give to the world will be echoed back to me.

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As we all ride the wave of the last hours, minutes, and seconds of 2018, I extend my sincere wish for each of you to receive the  things your heart desires most in 2019. 

May you accept the love that is extended to you. May your heart embrace it fully and may it warm you to the depths of your soul. 

May your spirit know the deepest sense of peace.

May you be blessed with good fortune, and if not, may you be resilient enough to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and carry on with even greater strength and determination. 

And may you be healthy and know what it feels like to be completely nourished in all the ways that bring you the greatest joy in the year ahead. 

With all my love,

my Phare Lady

A Sign

A song played at the end of last week’s episode of This is Us. The lyrics stirred up something from deep inside me, like I’m talking on the level of my soul.

I grabbed my phone and quickly opened the Shazam app. The result came up in about 2.3 seconds: 42 by Mumford & Sons from the band’s 2018 album Delta.

I did a slight double take when I noticed the song was called 42.
Well, that’s very interesting, I thought…

I hit the button to purchase the song on Apple Music without hesitation. And I’ve pretty much been listening to it on repeat ever since.

As much as I love a nice melody or sweet harmony, the soulful strum of an acoustic guitar, the unexpected twist of a bridge, or the dynamic rise of a full orchestral crescendo (special thanks to my college Music Appreciation class for this knowledge and terminology), it’s usually the lyrics, or the message a song imparts, that evoke emotion and make it memorable, keeping me coming back for more.

I’m actually kind of obsessed with song lyrics. Case in point: I recently told a friend how I constantly think in lyrics, like pretty much ALL. THE. TIME. My husband and I have entire conversations in song lyrics, both by text and in person in a call and response fashion. AND I have a secret dream about writing song lyrics. Oops, I guess the cat’s out of the bag now and it’s really not a secret anymore.

The words are layered over chords played on an organ, as the song begins with a feeling reminiscent of a church hymn…
“Where do I turn to when there’s no choice to make? And how do I presume when there’s so much at stake?

Building…
“I was so sure, oh, of it all. And what if I need you in my darkest hour?”

Fear. Uncertainty. Isolation. I have been marinating in all the feelings, and it often feels like a certain type of darkness. So many questions plague my mind, yet so few answers have appeared.

An electric guitar is layered in over the baseline and back beat…
“And what if it turns out there is no other?”

I’ve been doubting myself again lately, in all the majorly important ways, and then I this song comes along, so unexpectedly, as the punctuation mark at the end of my most favourite TV show. Really, the only show I watch religiously each week. And it feels a bit like a hug from an old friend, as if it was played specifically for me.

Quieter, with guitar strings plucked to a staccato beat…
“If this is our last hope, we would see a sign, oh, we would see a sign.”

I’ve scoured the Internet, and I cannot find any indication of why the song is titled 42.

My mind trails off, as I think about how I am building a new foundation—one that’s based on a strong sense of my truest self. As I process and grow through my challenges, I continue to learn I am wise and wonderful and capable of anything I want to do. And I am doing everything in my power to integrate this knowledge into my way of being.

Yet, I find myself needing to learn and relearn these truths. Repeatedly teaching myself as I attempt to believe—fully and completely—in all that I am. I remind myself that I am everything I need, and that all of the answers to my own questions are already within me. I also know that as I follow this path—my yellow brick road to freedom and peace—I will continue to stumble, and to forget, from time to time.

I suppose it’s quite normal, really, for those of us who identify as seekers to look for answers, validation, and signs beyond ourselves. I believe it’s our humanity that makes it so. We are wired for connection to other humans, after all; we are literally programmed to seek out others to whom we can relate and with whom we can share this human experience. It’s a fundamental part of our existence. Through all the joy and the pain, we just need to feel like we’re not doing this life all alone.

Louder again (mezzo forte)…
“If this is our time now
we wanna see a sign, oh,
we would see a sign…”

I am exactly 42 years old (and two months plus a handful of days, if you want to get technical), and dare I say, albeit strange, this song is a very timely reminder. It’s a sign so simple and obvious that I could have easily missed it had I not been paying attention.

It is a true beacon of hope. A clear signal of inspiration. A symbolic guiding light, if you will, giving me the courage and strength I need to continue on.

Everything has been building to this precise moment. It’s a sign that, in spite of how I’ve been feeling, I am not alone. I know I am loved and supported. Life is giving me what I need in each and every moment, and everything is working out for me exactly as it should.

THIS IS MY TIME.

I thank the universe for this message of gentle reassurance, delivered in the best possible way, at the perfect time for me to hear, all while lovingly wrapped in the beautiful poetry of the special lyrics of this song.

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This is also a sign. Clever, isn’t it? Found while on vacation in Paia Town, Maui in 2017.

And, for what it’s worth, I also strongly believe this isn’t just about me. I feel compelled to share this story with you, for the universe works in strange and mysterious ways, and just in case you may also be looking for a sign of hope or reassurance, too.

So let me do a quick recap just in case you might have missed it:
You are strong enough to get through anything life throws your way.
And you are enough, period. Exactly as you are.

xo

Do you believe in signs from the universe? I’d love to hear from you!

Where do I turn to when there’s no choice to make?
And how do I presume when there’s so much at stake?
I was so sure, oh, of it all
But what if I need you in my darkest hour?
And what if it turns out there is no other?
If this is our last hope
We would see a sign, oh
We would see a sign
Well I’ve been running from the ashes we left
Forgiveness begs for itself but how can I forget
When there’s a stain on it all
But what if I need you in my darkest hour?
And what if it turns out there is no other?
We had it all
If this is our time now
We wanna see a sign, oh
We would see a sign
So give us a sign
I need some guiding light
Children of darkness, oh
Songwriters: Benjamin Walter David Lovett / Edward James Milton Dwane / Marcus Oliver Johnstone Mumford / Winston Aubrey Aladar Marshall

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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Bad Blogger (Made for More)

Hi, I’m Andrea, also known as MyPhareLady. I’m going to make a bold and shocking statement: I might just be the world’s worst blogger, by social media industry standards, anyway.

The following is a list of eight solid reasons to support this claim:

  1. Historically speaking, I haven’t done the best job of posting regularly and consistently.
  2. I don’t have a large following.
  3. Sometimes when I put my stuff out into the world via a blog post, I have absolutely no idea if anyone ever reads, or moreover can relate to what I’ve written.
  4. I don’t receive many comments on my posts.
  5. My blog isn’t driven by a specific product or service. (I’m not trying to sell anything to anyone.)
  6. I don’t put much energy into curating beautifully staged photos with perfect lighting to complement my posts.
  7. I make absolutely no money running my blog. I don’t have companies approaching me about sponsorships and endorsement deals, nor do I accept paid advertising on my site (not that anyone has ever asked me about any of these things…lol).
  8. I don’t really advertise or promote my blog, apart from sharing with family, friends, and on my personal social media feeds.

There. I said it. These are my blogging “failures.” The many reasons I suck at blogging. But I can also say that none of these things had anything to do with me wanting to start a blog in the first place.

So, the next (and most obvious) question is, if you’re not doing it to make money, why bother having a blog, right?

Well, the reason I started this blog was simple: because it originated with a tiny whisper from my heart. And although this small voice from within was barely audible, I was incapable of ignoring it. Well, I suppose I did try for a while, but it was persistent and just kept getting louder and louder, so I eventually caved to its demands.

I couldn’t make much sense of it at the time, but I knew I must honour the deep longing to share my writing with an audience, even through my uncertainty and fear. There was a reason for listening to the whispers of my heart that I couldn’t comprehend then, nor am I even sure I understand now—to not only take that leap of faith into the world of creative self-expression, but also to make myself vulnerable to a vast Interweb of strangers at the same time.

courage

Switching gears—and please bear with me as I promise to bring these thoughts full circle by the end of this post—I recently discovered an author, momprepreneur, and all-around magical unicorn of a woman by the name of Ms. Rachel Hollis. Seriously, this woman was not even on my radar two months ago, but a friend invited me to go see the final screening of her documentary, Made for More, in our city in August. I jumped at the chance (because, who doesn’t want a night out with a girlfriend?), and I was pleasantly surprised to learn how authentic, raw, and vulnerable she is, not to mention her determination to inspire and uplift other women is unstoppable. Needless to say I found the documentary (and Rachel) to be refreshing and inspirational in every possible way.

I’ve since started following all of her social media, devoured her book, Girl, Wash Your Face, and, in an effort to end 2018 with strength, intention, clarity, and grace, have been participating in her #last90days challenge. In the relatively short time I’ve known of Rachel Hollis, I’ve received so much inspiration from her work and the simple truths she has made it her mission to share. Among these are the importance of: being completely and unapologetically yourself; maintaining a growth mindset; going all in, as in being 100% invested in your goals (still working on this one); paying no mind to other people’s opinions; and, last but certainly not least, that all women deserve to belong and be supported by community.

Discovering Rachel Hollis has reminded me about what’s really important to me, what’s important in life, and also why I started this blog in the first place. For me, it was never about making money and having a billion subscribers. Rather, it was always supposed to be an online space dedicated to authenticity, growth, community, and connection.

Thanks in large part to Rachel’s wisdom and teachings, I’m able to see it all so much more clearly now: my passion, and ultimately my goal for this blog, is to bring women together in the spirit of community to create dialogue around topics that matter. This is a vehicle for sharing my thoughts, opinions, and experiences, and using them as a catalyst or starting point for conversations with other women. It’s a way for me to use my voice for good, to help others on a parallel or intersecting path—to build a sisterhood of like-minded souls who, just like me, are seeking a community in which love, support, and kindness reign supreme.

Even though I know all too well the metrics that define a successful blogger, and even though I admittedly fall way short of these metrics on all accounts, I cannot shake the feeling that I must continue to forge ahead. I must keep writing. I must keep sharing the pieces of myself and my life experiences I feel called to share. I must do so, not because I’m seeking fame or notoriety, but because this blog is here for a reason, and dare I say I think it’s supposed to serve a far greater purpose than anything that can be defined solely by monetization or subscriber statistics.

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And perhaps most important of all, this blog has taught me, time and time again, that when my heart speaks, what it’s telling me is not up for negotiation. I MUST listen. And if listening to my heart and following my dreams in spite of the evidence that’s stacked against me means I’m the worst blogger out there, I suppose I’m alright with that.

And I’m pretty sure that it’s all because I’m learning (and maybe even starting to believe) that I am made for more.

With all my love,
MyPhareLady
xo

WAIT! Don’t go yet…just one more really IMPORTANT thing:
I want to know what big dreams and goals are you working on, and more importantly, what are you doing to get through the challenges and push past the setbacks you encounter along the way? Are you working toward something that feels so completely out of reach, or even impossible, that you often think about giving up, but choose to keep going anyway?
I’d really love to hear from you. Let’s get this conversation started…drop me a line 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.

branches

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.

perch

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.

Lessons from the Universe, Cooked Up in the Kitchen

I awoke yesterday morning with extremely dry, cracked skin on my fingers. This was unusual for me, as the skin on my hands is normally very soft and smooth, so I noticed the difference right away when my fingers caught on the sheets and duvet cover as I made my way out of bed. Later, rolling my thumb over my index, middle, and ring fingers on my right hand accentuated their roughness in contrast to their normally smooth surface. I got lost for a moment in the motion of rubbing my fingers together, as I pondered what may have caused them to become so rough over night. And then I remembered how the glass baking pan shattered into countless shards as I opened the over door to remove dinner the night before.

The moment the pan was met with a blast of cooler air from the outside, the glass cracked and popped and shattered. I was a bit stunned trying to make sense out of what had just happened. My first reaction was to rescue dinner from the wreckage. With extreme heat blasting me in the face, I fumbled to fish the Basa filets from the shards of broken glass on the solid rack that divides my oven into two separate heating compartments.

The next most pressing issue became addressing the piles of broken glass that were strewn across my kitchen floor. I called out to my daughter, asking her to bring me the vacuum, which despite hooking up normally did not work—no power, no suction, no nothin’. This moment of frustration added insult to injury, because the dog was now nosing around through the debris, as I am sure he could smell the juices from the fish mixed in with the glass. My daughter came to my aid once again, taking the dog outside while I resorted to using a broom and dustpan to clean up the mess.

By this point, I was tired, frustrated, and hungry. With the remainder of the glass contained to the oven’s main compartment and warming drawer, I decided to leave the rest of the cleanup until after dinner, which would allow time for the oven to cool and then I could also figure out what was wrong with the vacuum. Sensing my exasperation, after dinner my husband kindly asked what he could do to help with the clean up—bless his heart and bonus points for him! So together we removed all the interior racks from the oven to clean out the broken glass, picking up the larger pieces by hand and scooping up the smaller pieces with a hand broom and dustpan.

Upon reflecting on the many challenges I encountered while trying to get dinner on the table the other night (in a week I am PMS-ing, no less), I believe I handled the situation much differently than I would have only a few short years ago, when I most likely would have yelled wildly, cursed profusely, possibly lashed out in anger, and ultimately broken down in a heap of sweat and tears. Instead, I believe I handled these challenges with a good measure of maturity and grace. At the very least, I did the best I could with what I had and let go of what was beyond my control. And for someone who has a strong history of reacting in situations such as this, I’d definitely call that progress.

As I sit here now, intermittently rubbing my fingers together feeling the friction as the rough skin catches, I continue to rehash the experience in my mind, knowing there’s a lesson in everything we are presented with in life. It’s all part of the grand design, after all. I honestly believe recognizing and learning from these lessons is where true growth takes place, which is why I bother to continue thinking about it at all. And while I’m still decoding the deeper meaning behind the events that went down in my kitchen the other night, I do have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share…

The first thought is how the first thing that comes to mind is not always the cause, the reason, or the lesson. Rather, it’s sometimes necessary to dig a little deeper and question the validity of your initial assumptions, such as I should have done when I first attributed the cracked skin on my fingers to picking up the pieces of broken glass. This is because I later remembered that, while everything was taken apart to remove the bits of broken glass, my husband and I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean the inside of the oven. So the more likely cause of my excessively dry skin was the heavy-duty highly corrosive chemical cleaner we used to clean the greasy food residue out of the oven. Doh!

I chose to share this little story because I think it’s a great example of how, as humans, we are prone to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. This is an actual psychological phenomenon referred to as confirmation bias, which basically means we are more likely to see what we want or choose to see. From this simple understanding of how our minds are naturally hardwired, I strongly believe we should always be willing to question our initial assumptions and remain open to other possibilities that don’t necessarily align with our beliefs. If you are someone who is at all interested in thinking about, learning, and understanding our world and the people in it, or even from the standpoint of advancing your own personal growth, it’s helpful to know that real and meaningful change takes place when we are willing to challenge ourselves to consider differing points of view.

The second thought I had is how the glass baking dish I used to cook the fish had been subjected to opposite extremes of a high heat followed by a sudden blast of much colder air. Therefore, although I was shocked and stunned in the moment, it isn’t all that surprising that it literally cracked under the pressure. This reminded me again of human nature, and how we often subject ourselves to extremes when trying to handle the stress, pressure, and expectations of our everyday, modern lives. Likely from the fear of appearing to be weak, we compromise our own health and wellbeing by taking on too much—until we reach the point of not being able to take any more and then we crack. Oh, by the way, I am speaking from the direct experience of having been there and done that. But if we choose to see my glass baking dish as a reminder about the danger of trying to remain strong under pressure for too long, we understand the importance of learning to recognize the warning signs and taking action before things get too hot and completely out of control. This begins with throwing the “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” mindset right out the window.

Taking time for yourself, reaching out to ask for help when you need it, maintaining strong personal boundaries, and ensuring you’re getting enough rest should no longer be regarded as forms of weakness. Rather, these are the marks of a strong person who understands the importance of self-care and their own self-worth. So what I’m really trying to say here is that you are important and worthy of your own attention. We all are. And paying attention to your own needs along the way is certainly preferable to cracking under the pressure of exceedingly high expectations and trying to do too much and then falling apart into a million irreparable pieces.

In the end, I realize the lesson I was supposed to learn in the kitchen the other night could have been one of the above examples, a combination of them, or it could have been something else entirely. In fact, it could have been something as simple as a test of my patience and resolve on that particular day. Heck, if you ask my kids they would probably tell you the lesson was that we should never have fish for dinner again.

But even if I’ve missed the boat entirely and if I glean nothing else from my reflections on the situation, hopefully this will serve as a reminder for me to at least remember to put on a pair of rubber gloves the next time I clean the oven.

Do you have something to add here, perhaps something to refute or challenge around the idea of confirmation bias, or an experience you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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.

Andrea-9

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.

Andrea-3

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.