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Nicole Arnold's Adventures

My impressions as I boldly go where I have not gone before.

Finding the Wilderness in the Labyrinth

Last Friday, I went away on a writing retreat. We were staying on a property set on Lake Simcoe. The setting was as beautiful as you can imagine – colourful gardens, older buildings rich with wainscoting and filled with bookcases and quilts. I was very excited about spending the weekend writing and meeting people who are also writing, but I was just as excited about the labyrinth.

The website for the estate, stated that there was a labyrinth on the property that people visited on day trips. From the moment my 8 year old self read the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (not to mention Icarus and Daedalus), I have been curious about labyrinths. In recent years, I have had the pleasure of making my way through many corn mazes, but not the high hedged labyrinths that sit in my imagination – helped along by JK Rowling in The Goblet of Fire.

I was pretty excited about the prospect of making my through the Loretto MaryHolme Estate labyrinth. So excited, that I came up early and was the first writer to arrive.  After settling into a bedroom that looked like a place that Anne Shirley would have slept in, I went to find my facilitators for directions to the labyrinth.  They pointed me across the laneway and assured me that I couldn’t miss it.

Little did they know.

A sign at the entrance of the path across the laneway assured me that I was going the right way and provided me with new information about labyrinths.  I learned that they have been built by Christian communities over time as a place for self-discovery and enlightenment.  I’m all for both, so I made my way on the path, my sense of anticipation growing. The path led me to a clearing.

LMHlabyrinth

There were several paths leading out of the clearing and a large rock garden sitting at the centre.  No more signage. I looked around for a clue of which path led to the labyrinth. Finding none, I chose a path and started walking it. Minutes later I found myself back at the centre. Another path led me to the parking lot. Yet another led me to an emotionally evocative memorial for Indigenous women who have disappeared or been murdered.

Memorial

But no labyrinth.

I took each of these paths again, wondering if I had missed a turn. Inevitably, I found myself back where I had begun. I was running out of time before dinner and the facilitator had warned me that the labyrinth can take at least 30 minutes to walk, so I was beginning to worry that even if I found it, I wouldn’t have time to enter it.  I didn’t find it. Feeling a little discouragement, but also resolve that I would return the next morning and find it, I left the clearing and went to dinner.

Later that evening, when I told my wandering story to some women who had visited the estate before, they looked confused.

“Did you follow the path?” one asked.

“How could you miss it?” another said.

This totally fueled my desire to find it. So, I woke up early Saturday morning and set out for the labyrinth.

If you were expecting a eurkeka moment when I entered the clearing again, I’m sorry to report that it didn’t happen. I did the same thing as Friday evening – I followed the paths out of the clearing and kept finding my way back there.

Finally, I discovered what some of you might have realized much earlier in the story.  I looked closer at the large rock garden sitting at the centre of the clearing and noticed that the rocks weren’t random.  They formed paths.  This was the labyrinth. I laughed out loud at myself, possibly scaring whichever animals were close, and then walked around the circle until I found the entrance.

Labyrinth2

Unlike the labyrinth that kept the Minotaur prisoner, this was a labyrinth I couldn’t get lost in. I had learned from the sign at the entrance that there was a single path, no dead ends, that would take me to the centre and then, when I turned around, take me back out again.

I enthusiastically started on the path, walking briskly, silently celebrating my accomplishment and wondering how many other things that I look for are right in front of me.

After a short time, I needed to slow down. The paths move back and forth, and all the changes in direction were making me a little dizzy. Plus, my feet kept hitting the rocks on the side of the path, knocking them out of place. When I slowed down, I noticed more. I could hear the crunch of the pine combs underneath my feet and the sun shining through the trees, lighting up all the different shades of green. It was difficult to tell how close I was to the centre because the path changed direction so much that I could never see more than 40 or so paces in front of me.

(Yes, I counted.)

When I reached the centre, I took a few moments. In the centre was a smaller clearing. It had what looked like stone chairs and a small area for a fire. There were two large feathers on the ground leading me to wonder what kinds of rituals are performed there. With a sigh of pure delight, I turned around and headed back for the entrance.

Over the course of the following 30 hours I returned to the labyrinth many times.  So many that I lost count, but I’m sure it was more than 7. Sometimes I went through slowly. Sometimes quickly. Two times I explored how it felt to exit the labyrinth without completing it, stepping carefully over the stones and marveling at how resistant I was to leaving the marked path.

In the early evening, fueled by some writing whiskey – I skipped and danced my way through the labyrinth. Bowing to the trees and at one time taking tree pose playfully mirroring a particularly beautiful tree that stood, rooted in the labyrinth.

treepose

On Sunday morning, as I made my way through the labyrinth several more times, I realized that I knew the paths now in a way that I hadn’t before. They didn’t all look the same. I could see further ahead. There were specific places that I loved more than others because of the view they afforded. I couldn’t believe how much my experience of the labyrinth had changed in such a short time – from missing it all together to knowing it like a part of myself.

I emerged from the labyrinth each time feeling more connected to myself, to the land that I was walking on and to the beauty all around me.

I believe that the labyrinth was my Wilderness for the weekend.

In the cycle of weekly Torah readings, we began a new book this weekend – Bamidbar (Numbers) – Wilderness.

The Wilderness we are to imagine in the book of Numbers, is quite different than my Lake Simcoe setting.  It is the Negev desert and the Sinai Penninsula.  It is a place of vast sky, marked with high mountains and desert as far as the eye can see.

Sinai

From an early age, many Jews learn that we wandered for 40 years in the desert. After the labyrinth, I’m not so sure that we were wandering.  In fact, the story that is told in Bamidbar (although not in this week’s parashat) is that we needed to stay in the desert until a new generation had come of age that could enter the Land with optimism and confidence.

I think there are many reasons that years spent in the Wilderness might lead to optimism and confidence.

Food was provided every day, delivered from a God that was believed to have deserted (no pun intended) the people for hundreds of years. This God lived in the centre of the encampment, providing a regular reminder of power and protection.

The combination of having basic needs met, feeling the power of protection while at the same time being challenged with defining identity is a good recipe for developing optimism and confidence.

Bamidbar is the story of a people learning to live with one another.  Learning how to move from slavery to freedom.  It’s not an easy story – there are rebellions, outside threats and the need to develop laws and community practices.

My short time in the labyrinth was like a microcosm of this experience.  First, I needed to find it. Then I needed to explore it – find my way, find myself and feel the connection to the earth beneath the feet. I could feel myself becoming a writer more and more each time I walked through.

Bamidbar is a Jewish story of becoming.  Between slavery and freedom is the wilderness or the labyrinth. I think it’s worth finding and exploring.

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There is Enough Time

There is enough time.

There is enough time to pause in the morning before I open my eyes and find something in the day that I’m excited about.  There is enough time to cuddle with my youngest daughter and see both her baby face and her 11-year-old face as she nestles into me. There is enough time to check if I’m breathing deeply and regularly.

There is enough time to see the sunshine coming through the trees and watch the shadows play on the ground as I walk with my puppy through the ravine. There is enough time to listen to the birds chirp at each other and feel the cool air on my arms.

There is enough time to think about what I want and what I have.

There is enough time to smile at strangers as we pass each other and wish them a good morning. There is enough time to pause when I stub my toe getting dressed and be curious about the pain and offer myself some comfort (instead of cursing the bed and my clumsiness – although there’s also enough time for that).

There’s enough time to feel the softness of my son’s hair and the warmth of his skin as I kiss the top of his head. There’s enough time to hug my husband and take a moment to really feel what it is like to hold and be held.

There’s enough time to write, play, dance, put lemon in my water and put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

There’s enough time to discuss conflict in Israel with my oldest daughter and feel the awe and wonder of her intelligence and engagement.

There’s enough time to look at my Mother’s Day roses and feel the love of my husband and children.

There’s enough time to make my to-do list for the day and strategize about how it can get done.

There’s enough time to give generously.

There’s enough time to take what I need and want.

When I believe there is enough time, there is.

Securing the High Ground – How to Find Joy in the Storm

Have you noticed that when it’s sunny and beautiful, we’re drawn to the scenery, taking in a ton of details about what’s in front of us? We don’t even always notice the sun – instead we notice the green of trees, the blue of the sky and great summer dresses. (The last part might just be me).

I’m looking outside my Starbucks window at an assortment of yucky weather. Snow, ice, steady rain, grey skies. Light brown snow banks that probably weigh 30 pounds per cubic inch. If mid November and mid March had a weather love child, it would be the past three days in Toronto. It’s hard to look past all of this to the trees, sky or the people walking by. It’s hard to see anything except for potential hazards.

storm

I see differently when it’s sunny out. I feel energized and excited. I feel inspired and surrounded by beauty. Seeing differently inevitably leads to feeling differently.

Sunshine

So, am I left to only feeling good when it’s sunny out?

My puppy, Lily, teaches me otherwise. She bounded outside yesterday to race happily around as little ice pellets fell from the sky. Her mind was on other things – in this case, birds, squirrels and whatever captivating treasures lie along our fence line.

dog in snow

Lily knows the way to the mental high ground and it leads her to find joy regularly – even through the storms.

I think Lily’s life is simpler than mine. I definitely took a more complicated route to discovering the formula to the mental high ground. First, I needed the find a physical high ground.

Despite the messy, icy streets, I decided to walk to my neighborhood Starbucks this morning. There are no school buses today, so the kids happily took the opportunity to be cozy at home. That was tempting to me too, but work was more tempting – so out I went, with my eldest daughter vigilantly confirming that I made it down our steps without mishap.

I spent the first half of my walk assessing the sidewalks, in an effort to determine if enthusiastic 50lb+ Lily  will pull me off my feet when I take her for a walk later this afternoon. (Okay, I’m obsessed with the puppy.) Those thoughts occupied me until I reached an intersection that needed more of my attention. The snow plow had just gone by, redistributing the snow and ice into a very fast moving slushy water barrier.  It reminded me a little of McTavish and Doctor Penfield after a storm. This weather always evokes Montreal for me.

mctavish

I gingerly made my way across the slippery road, negotiating the quick moving slush. When I triumphantly reached the middle of the street, I smiled at a man standing in front of his driveway and happily said, “You just gotta find the high ground.” He looked around frowning and replied, “That’s just the problem, isn’t it? No high ground to be found.” I looked down, incredulous. There was only asphalt underneath my feet, no water, snow or ice. What was this, if not a high ground?

I realized that I saw a high ground while he did not, which led me to the question:

“How often am I missing the high ground when it’s right in front of me?”

I contemplated this for the rest of my walk to Starbucks.

Like any budding scientist, first I needed to define the high ground. That felt easy. I was always the kid with my hand up in class for these sort of questions. The high ground = out of danger. A place of safety.

This led me to reframe the question from:

How often is finding the high ground a matter of perspective?

TO

How often do I think I’m in danger when I’m actually safe?

I did some quick brainstorming on that when I got to Starbucks:

Here’s what I came up with:

I am most likely to misread danger when…

I am tired.

I am hungry.

I feel rushed.

It wasn’t hard to make the leap from this list to some concrete examples of when I am misreading danger. For example, when I’m tired, rushed and hungry (or really, any combination) and my husband asks me if I need help, I’m pretty likely to snap at him. Sometimes, I angelically exercise self-restraint and only silently resent his ‘interference’. In these situations, he doesn’t look like he might bring me close to safety, instead, he looks like danger.

Why does this feel like danger? Well. First of all, even the effort of having to respond to him feels like a burden, an expenditure of energy, that I just might not be able to afford. Second, he’s is reminding me and anyone who is listening that I don’t have this under control. Third, by asking, he is telling me that he knows that I don’t have it under control.

The whole interaction can feel energy draining and devastating to my self-esteem.

None of this feels like a matter of perspective – it feels like truth.

Except for these truths:

  • It’s unlikely that responding yes or no to help is actually going to be a costly physical expenditure.
  • There is no time when I have EVERYTHING under control. Who does?
  • His offer of help is usually anchored in his desire to be helpful versus his assessment of my helplessness. He likes to be helpful – it feels good for him.

I can see all these additional truths when I have the benefit of the high ground. But, when I don’t, I can’t see the high ground even when it’s right in front of me.

blindfold

So, how can I be like Lily and find sunlight in the storm?

I think the solution lies in my brainstorming session.

Before I started brainstorming, I imagined the cues would be relationship-related. Instead, generated a list of states. I believe the key to recognizing safety more often and seeing danger less also begins with my state.

I brainstormed a list of when I am likely to feel safe or quickly recognize that the danger I see isn’t real. Here’s what I came up with:

When I am well-rested.

When I am productive

After a yoga class.

After journaling.

When I eat in healthy ways.

Even though I already knew these as my building blocks to thrive, this exercise brought them front and centre for me. Monday is my week planning day, so seeing this list in black and white led me to think about how to make time for each in my schedule.  I want to be on the high ground as much as possible – it’s the best feeling!

Here’s a 5 minute exercise to help lead you to your high ground this week:

  • Set a timer for 2 minutes. Close your eyes and imagine feeling safe, excited and hopeful. When do you feel that most? Brainstorm a list.
  • Set a timer for 2 minutes. What can you do to feel this way more often? Brainstorm a list.
  • Set a timer for 1 minute. Identify one action you can do today that helps you feel safe, excited and hopeful.

 

Let’s all spend more time on our high grounds this week! Let me know how it works out.

 

Check out my new website: www.positivelymotivating.net

Coaching – Curious George Style — Positively Motivating

Curious George’s values sit at the centre of my coaching style. This doesn’t mean guiding my clients to make really cool newspaper boats (and hats). It means inspiring people to find joy and courage through curiosity, laughter and kindness.

via Coaching – Curious George Style — Positively Motivating

Just in time for Valentine’s Day – 15 minutes to Love

I admit that this is my most shameless click bait title yet. Although Puppies and Sex   ranks a close second. That being said, I stand by my 15-minute pledge to receive love.

I believe I’ve discovered a path to the most loving Valentine’s Day yet – no matter your relationship status or relationship state. I happened upon this when I conducted a casual experiment for the month of January. I think I’ve accidentally hit on the best love tool ever.  Nope, this isn’t an advertisement for Lelo – it’s all about self-compassion.

Experiment might be an exaggeration for what I did. In January, I read an article that directed me to the practice of self-compassion letter writing. (It’s awful – I can’t find the article – I’ll keep searching and update the blog with the link when I locate it.)

I can’t say exactly what drove me to practicing self-compassion weekly by writing a  letter to myself. It’s possible that particular day I was more aware than other days that I’m pretty hard on myself. It’s also possible that I had recently read about the strong positive connection between self-compassion and well-being. Last summer, I read (a lot of) Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion (which includes this self-compassion letter exercise). Maybe it had penetrated my consciousness in such a way that led me to prioritize this activity.

Whatever the case, I did what I now do when I want to start a new habit – I put the activity into my Streaks app. It took me some time to figure out how to create a weekly task, but I prevailed and then sat down to write my first self-compassion letter for January.

I challenged myself to think about an activity or aspect of myself that I feel THE WORST about. Something that causes me shame and that I find myself circling back to numerous times over the course of any day.

Then I wrote a letter to myself, where I imagined that I was someone who loved me and wanted to provide me comfort about my hard feelings.

selfcompassion

The whole thing took fifteen minutes.

After I wrote it, I felt warm – like the way I feel after my kids hug me and I take the time to smell their hair and feel the softness of their skin.

Over the course of the week, I found myself feeling more compassionate and loving – both about myself and others. When there was a choice to be generous (to myself or others) or be unkind – I was aware of a growing ease in choosing the kind choice.

I have noticed the impact of my increased compassion on my relationship with my husband in two big ways: 1) I’m not looking to him to validate my weaknesses (or me in general) as much. I don’t need to because I’m feeling compassionate about my weaknesses. I’m not looking for compensation (as often). 2) I’m also not as frustrated with his weaknesses. I’m more likely to see the bigger picture and understand that they’re part of his strengths. I’m also more likely to feel self-compassion for feeling irritated by them, without blaming him for having them.

This opens a lot of space for loving connection. It’s the space that opens up when I realize that I have what I need, giving me the opportunity to consider what I want. It’s the shift from survival to flourishing.

This is what I’m getting for 15 minutes of formal self-compassion practice each week. Way cheaper than Lelo… What could be more effective for feeling love than feeling good about yourself?

I hope these 15 minutes lead everyone to a Valentine’s Day filled with love!

Here’s the link for the self-compassion letter activity.

Why Do You Blog?

Why do I blog?

I asked myself this question as I walked over to Starbucks tonight. There were lots of reasons to stay home. It’s cold, the puppy was really cute and my daughters were in sweet form. Not only that, but I’m midway through a delicious read – The American War. This would have been a perfect night to curl up on the couch.

fireThe fireplace is symbolic. If I actually had this wood burning fireplace, I might not have left my house.

In any case, I made my way across the cemetery towards Starbucks, contemplating why I blog.

Here’s what became clear to me:

Writing this blog is for me.

Writing this blog is in hopes of starting a conversation with you (all the yous that might be out there).

Both of these statements resonate strongly for me.  Even though they might seem contradictory.

This blog is for me. It gives me a place to record my thoughts. I spend an awful lot of time thinking and putting the words on a screen (or paper) is often helpful. Writing brings me perspective, clarity and joy. The more I write, the better I feel – particularly when I let go of what the finished form needs to look like and just write.

Ever since reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I have been inspired to practice writing daily. Well, almost daily. I keep thinking, “Writers, write”. I want to be a writer.  Sometimes I even think I am a writer.  Thus, I must write. Happily, each time I have that sequence of thoughts, it nudges me along and makes writing feel pretty appealing. Enough to get me out of the house on a cold night for an hour or so I could write my blog.

That sounds like this blog is for me, right?

The thing is: my writing doesn’t need to go in a blog. Everything I write could sit somewhere on my computer or in my notebooks. Yet, I post blogs.

Why do I blog?

I think a blog is a way to have a conversation. I really like to have conversations about how people make decisions and what I’m learning from books I’m reading, as anyone who has ever talked to me for more than 5 minutes (and sometimes less) will attest to.

No surprise then, that I blog about the same subjects: choices and books (very handy for me that there’s a large genre of books about choices).

I have been taught to cherish the written word and the story for my entire life. I come from a family of story lovers, so much so that I think story has always occupied a significant part of my world. I have so many wonderful associations with writing and books.

I love the idea of adding myself to the bank of storytellers. Bloggers are storytellers.

So, that’s why I blog: I blog to grow and learn about myself; I blog to connect with you and plant seeds of conversations; and maybe more than anything — I blog to help me practice storytelling – because of the goodness that story brings me and others.

Why do you Blog?

(Feel free to post comments and start a conversation)

How to Gain Stability (or what I learned from Morpheus while holding Toppling Tree)

Calling a yoga pose “Toppling Tree” doesn’t suggest stability. Yet, stability is exactly what is required as I stand on one leg and bend my torso forward while kicking my other leg to the back of the room. At last Friday’s yoga class, our yoga instructor (Elliott Bettencourt, who inspired me and sounded like Morpheus from The Matrix) directed us to scan our bodies for weakness as we tried not to topple to the floor. What he said next was the best: he intoned (in Morpheus style) that we are easily distracted by the wobbling in our standing leg’s ankle – but that’s not where the weakness lies – that’s where the stress is focused. He told us that if we want more stability then we need to tighten another area. Once we did that, we would find that our ankle would stop wobbling. I scanned my body and found softness in my torso (no surprise there). When I tightened my back and my abs, lo and behold, my ankle stopped wobbling.

toppling tree

As I have made my way through the week, I have found this frame very useful in several situations.

Around 11am this morning, working through tasks felt like wading through molasses.  I started to question my desire to do the work in front of me – but that’s not where my weakness lay. I wanted to do the work, but I was still wobbling. I realized the weakness was in how much sleep I had last night. Anything less than 7 hours and I wobble my way through the day. As soon as I understood that, I resolved to be gentle to myself for the rest of the day and to go to bed in time to get 7 hours of sleep tonight.

Yesterday, I was writing a blog post and kept getting stuck. I initially worried that I was done with my 500 word/challenge – that I had exhausted my creativity. But that’s not where my weakness lay. When I scanned for weakness, I understood that I hadn’t scheduled enough time to write. It takes me at least an hour to write a blog post and I had left myself around forty-five minutes. I kept looking at the time and wobbling under the pressure.

I like this practice of scanning for weakness. Seeing weakness as a problem to solve, an area to strengthen, versus an indicator of failure is a perspective I want to practice as much as possible – in yoga, in my writing, in my business – in all areas of my life. I don’t want to be afraid to wobble and at the same time, I don’t want to focus on the wobbling site so much that I’m distracted from where the work really lies.

So far, I’ve learned that I need to tighten up my back and torso, get 7 hours of sleep each night and leave ample time for writing. Feels like more stability already.

How my Goal Setting Turned into a Wall of Resistance

I hit a wall this week.  Hard.  I didn’t want to do anything and the desire to curl up into a fetal position was strong. I am diagnosing the problem as too many goals. Here are the goals that I’ve been working on and their associated platforms/structures:

Streaks Goals 

  • Daily flossing
  • Stretching for 10 minutes daily
  • Journaling for 10 minutes daily
  • Logging my food daily
  • Writing a self-compassion letter to myself weekly
  • Mindful meditation for 10 minutes daily (I also entered at 21-day Mindfulness Challenge in January that had the same goal – 10 minutes daily).

Because I embrace moderation and reasonableness, I took the three times a week, 15-minute strength building session out of my Streaks app about a month ago.

There is also the writing 500 words/day for 31 days that I started last Wednesday and the flash fiction contest that I’m currently in the midst of writing. The deadline is midnight tomorrow for posting a 2,500-word short story.

Then there are my business goals – such as developing two business lines for January and following up on all of my leads.

My Fitbit goal is set at 10,00 steps a day.

I aim to walk our dog twice a day for 30 minutes each time. That has maybe happened three times in the five months we’ve had her, but maybe that’s because I haven’t put the goal into Streaks??

One of my favourite lines in the movie, Shrek, is when Donkey and Shrek are standing in front of Farquad’s ridiculously large castle and Shrek says to Donkey, “Think he’s compensating for something?” I look at this list and think (with Mike Myers’ questionable Scottish accent), “Think she’s compensating for something?”

That’s an easy one for me: I am regularly compensating for the sense that I’m not accomplishing enough (that’s code for: not enough). Brene Brown’s work has helped shift my thinking tremendously in this area.

The wall I hit this week didn’t feel like exhaustion exactly (although it might have been). What it felt like was resistance to doing anything that felt like a commitment. If I expected it of myself or anyone else was expecting it of me, it felt like a burden. I wanted to be free and I wanted to rest. At the same time, I fought rest. First of all, I hadn’t completed everything on my list for the day. Secondly, I feared the slippery slope – if I don’t meet my commitments today, then I will be out of practice and then start slacking regularly.  Before I know it, I’ll be reading books in bed all day, every day.  That’s the fear. Who am I kidding? It’s also the dream – there are so many books I want to read.

I know that fear only motivates me in short spurts. If I want motivation the balance of the time, I need positive emotions.  Lots of them. Barbara Fredrickson, a leading emotions researcher at UNC, Chapel Hill has identified the ideal ratio as 3:1 positive to negative emotional experiences each day. While I’m not measuring that precisely, I do know that if I’m hitting a wall, that in order to get past it, I need to be constructing more positive emotion experiences in my daily life.

I’m not going to add this to my Streaks app.

What I am going to do today is think about the positive emotions that light me up and practice them. I’m going to bring humour into my writing and kindness into my interactions. I’m going to bring curiosity into as many situations as I can today and every time I feel commitment resistance, I’m going to be gentle with myself.

Positive emotions are such a powerful antidote to fear. I can feel their super powers stirring as I write.

Wishing everyone a great day full of curiosity and kindness!

 

 

Are we Destined to Become Our Parents?

Are we destined to become our parents?

I contemplated this question last night as I sat in bed beside my youngest daughter, happily reading Charlotte’s Web with her. The word happily doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to reading Charlotte’s Web. I love it so much. E.B. White’s description of farm life and the pure love between Charlotte and Wilbur inspire me to want to jump through the page and spend an afternoon on Fern’s stool, watching the social scene at the barn or just once to be on Zuckerman’s amazing swing and fly through the doorway of the barn.

The other reason that I love Charlotte’s Web is because it takes me back to time as a child with my mom. The unedited truth is not only did my mom read Charlotte’s Web as a child to me, but when I lived with my parents for a few months a year or so after I graduated university, I would climb into their bed each night and we read Charlotte’s Web all over again. If that is my future with my youngest daughter in 10 years, I welcome it.

(If you’re reading through this post and you have Darth Vader’s voice in your head saying, “It’s your destiny”, you’re not alone. If you didn’t and now you do – you’re welcome.”)

There are definitely parts about becoming my parents that I welcome and even encourage. There are major parts that I can’t deny, even if I wanted to. It is pretty clear that I haven’t deviated so far from their path: I am a child of parents from two different religions who raised a house full of children and animals with values of family, independence, love of reading and doing work that you love sitting front and centre.

I am a Toronto Jew married to a Catholic raised French Canadian, raising my children as Jews (as my parents did) with a dog, two guinea pigs, a house full of books, noise, more opinions than people and an understanding that doing what you love is the Holy Grail.

Is it my destiny?

There’s no denying that environment is powerful. We learn so much growing up in our parents’ house – for better and for worse – about how people talk to each other, about what gets rewarded and what gets punished; what leads to people’s happiness and what leads to people’s misery.

We also learn what gets our parents’ approval. I think we all learn at an early age that if we mimic our parents’ values: “I would LOVE to share that cookie” that it’s a fast route to our parents’ approval. Which feels an awful lot like love. Thus, becoming our parents isn’t just our nature and nurture destiny, it’s also our route to gaining the security to our parents’ love or at least feeling like we have.

This whole notion was ripped wide open for me a few years ago when I read, “The Middle Passage” by James Hollis, a Jungian psychoanalyst. At the beginning of the book, Hollis asks the question, “Who are we outside of our history and the roles we play?”. Who am I, outside of being my parents’ daughter? It’s not an easy question.  There is SO much of me that’s my parents’ daughter. I continue to weigh this question in my head as I grow as a parent. In a quest to enter what Hollis refers to as Second Adulthood – when we live by our internally driven values rather than the values that are held by our parents, partners, employers and other providers of security – I have spent some time examining which of my values are actually my parents’ values and then contemplating what I want to hold on to and which ones don’t align with who and what I am.

I devoted many, many journal pages to listing out my values and brainstorming about how much of what I do is an extension of my parents’ beliefs and values. It turns out there’s a lot:  from talking to my husband several times over the course of a work day to having a pile of books on my nightstand. The route to second adulthood involves holding each value to the light and determining whether I continue to act according to these values because I’m seeking my parents’ approval and love or whether I value these actions independently.  This is a process rich with positive results.

The two greatest results have been my enriched relationship with my parents and my liberated relationship with my children. When I became conscious that I was determining my lovableness with my parents by whether I reflected their values I started making different choices. As challenging as this was (mostly for me, not so much for my parents), I was able to see more frequently how much their love extends beyond me being a mirror reflection of them. I saw this most when I would make choices that were different than their choices and still feel the warmth and strength of their love.

This is when I realized that my children aren’t receptacles of MY values. That was surprising and liberating. I don’t want to teach my children (implicitly or explicitly) that they earn my love and approval my echoing my values. I know there is a natural inclination to get excited when there is something that we share or when they embrace something that I love. Like adoring Charlotte’s Web. At the same time, I want to be aware of the messages I’m sending when their values are different than mine. I want their security to come from evaluating the goodness of their values based on how it feels to act according to them – not based on how much approval I provide them. The more I do this, the happier we all are living together and the more I am able to see how this is giving them space to freely and securely develop their own values.

Are we destined to become our parents?

I think we are in all sorts of ways. The more interesting question to me right now is: once we realize all the ways that we are like our parents, what comes next?

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