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Nicole Arnold's Adventures

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

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Jerusalem. Kensington Market. High Holy Days. Do you feel the connection too?

Kensington Market. Jerusalem. High Holy Days. They all evoke similar feelings in me. Is that the weirdest thing? It actually seemed like the most natural thing as I walked through Kensington last Sunday.

The Sesame Street song, “One of these things just doesn’t belong here” just began playing in my head – reminding me that the High Holy Days are NOT a place – so they don’t belong in a grouping with Jerusalem and Kensington Market. But the thing is that all three are a magnet and a conductor for me. Regardless of their physical (and non-physical) properties.

It’s pretty bold, I know, for someone who hasn’t taken physics since Grade 10 Science (which I don’t remember doing so very well in) to throw around terms like ‘magnet’ and ‘conductor’. I mean that when I walk through Kensington, Jerusalem and the High Holy Days I feel like a magnet for excited feelings of belonging and that they feel so electric that I radiate them out like sparks.

Kensington

When I walk through Kensington I feel a sense of electricity. Not the shocking kind. The kind where I feel particularly alert and awake. I love how everything looks – stores, streets and people. It feels old world and one of the best versions of our current world that I know. I sat at the front of Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin, enjoying very yummy coffee and closed my eyes and imagined (with little effort) what it might have looked like out that window a hundred years ago. I imagined Jews who looked like a picture of that I have of my great grandparents and our cousins that was taken when my great grandmother was pregnant with my grandmother Bernie. My Jewish family was in New Jersey and New York in the 1920s, not in Kensington Market – but in my imagination it all bonds together. As I sat and imagined, I felt the emotions wash over me – I missed my grandmother and wanted to be there with her. I wondered if others feel the same in Kensington. I felt like a citizen of the world and a citizen of time. I felt like a Jew. I felt like I belonged.

Jerusalem is the same for me. When I walked the streets of Jerusalem – old and new – I felt many moments in time converging in one as I looked around and felt a sense of wonder, awe and being grounded – all at the same time. Even as I sit typing this in my living room, I only need to close my eyes to feel the cool Jerusalem stone pressing against my forehead as I leaned into the Wall and felt connected to all the people who were around me and came before me. They felt related to me – in body and also in some other way that I don’t yet have words for. When I walked the streets of Jerusalem, I loved the sound of Hebrew, Arabic, English and languages I didn’t recognize. I felt like a citizen of the world and a citizen of time. I felt like a Jew. I felt like I belonged.

img_0077

When I was growing up, I don’t remember thinking about myself as Jewish every day. But, I do remember thinking about myself as Jewish when the Holidays would arrive each fall. For starters, I needed to be Jewish to miss school. Then, there was the shared Jewish experience that my few Jewish friends and I would compare notes on when we returned to school. Mostly about fasting. (Sorry to my rabbi friends – we weren’t talking about the sermons.) That was the beginning of linking feeling Jewish to this time of year.

Rosh Hashanah

In August, when I heard the words and melody of Achat Shaalti (Psalm 27:4), I felt something stir inside of me. Like my sensations in Kensington and Jerusalem, it is a feeling of standing in time and having a torrent of what has come before and what lies in front of me awaken within me. It is a feeling that I also associate with Avinu Malkeinu and many moments of standing together through the Holidays. I think about my family who have come before me and said the same words. I think about the people all over the world swaying in unison. I feel like a citizen of the world and a citizen of the world. I feel like a Jew. I feel like I belong.

Magnets. Conductors. Sparks. I know it couldn’t be ‘punnier’, but these words all send feelings of electricity up and down my body. I think that’s what belonging does. Makes me feel awake and excited. The more I seek and become aware of feeling like this, the more I want it. It’s returning and looking forward at the same time.  Mental and physical pilgrimages.

I look forward to seeing you all: in Kensington. In Jerusalem. At Kol Ami for High Holy Days – or wherever we meet next on our pilgrimages : )

 

 

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Returning to the Places That Feel Good (This is not a Sex Guide)

I understand that the title implies a sexual satisfaction guide (or maybe that I think it does says more about me…).  Whatever the case – if that’s what you’re looking for, I highly recommend Come as You Are or approaching someone who regularly glows and looks pretty satisfied and ask them their secret.

This is not a sex guide. It’s a High Holy Day activity guide.

Different, right?

It’s a little early for this post.  Shabbat Shuvah – the Shabbat for return, is the Shabbat that falls in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the truth is that I have come to think of the entire high holy day time of a time of return, beginning with Selichot – which begins this coming Saturday. (I would be a poor member of Kol Ami, if I didn’t take this moment to promote our Selichot program next Saturday: we will have a discussion with Dr. Les Greenberg and Rabbi Streiffer about the Psychology of Forgiveness – everyone and anyone is welcome).

The idea (that I have taken) is that this is a time of year when I think about ‘returning’ to my best self. The self that shines when I shed fear and guilt and uncover the part of me that I want to bring to the people around me and the world at large. The mental work that I have embraced in previous years at this time is to begin reflecting on my actions, aspirations and what might be getting in the way for me of forgiveness (for myself and others). I’ll do this work again this year. It’s like Fall cleaning for the mind and soul – and who am I kidding – also my body, since I feel ALL of these things in my stomach and head.

This year, I’m also going to take on a new practice.  I’m going to think about the places where I feel good.  Not just good, actually – REALLY good.  These are places where I feel engaged and loved. These are places when time passes quickly and deliciously. Places where my heart sings or my mind quickens. These are places where I feel warm and alive from my head to toe. These are the places I want to keep returning to, every day, when possible. Thus, I’m going to start making sure that I do.

Can you imagine what the world could be like this year if we all, deliberately and regularly returned to these places? I can, and it’s the world I want to help build and live in.

Here’s my list:

Writing – any time, any place

Talking to my kids about what they’re learning and/or what they’re thinking about

Walking my dog Lily in Pomona Mills

Hot Yoga classes at Thornhill Moksha

Yin classes at Thornhill Moksha

Torah Study at Kol Ami

Shabbat and Holiday services at Kol Ami

Reading books that make me sigh with delight and awe

Looking at the sky and imagining what shapes the clouds are making (preferably with my youngest daughter)

Reading psychology research literature (that’s right, I’m pretty weird)

Walking through the old cemetery near my house

Walking downtown

Making amazing food

Eating amazing food

Wishing strangers Shabbat Shalom when we pass on the street or meet at stores on Friday afternoon (this always makes me cry. Always)

Asking, “How can I help?”

This is my ‘return destination’ list. I’m going to deliberately and regularly put these activities into my days each week. I want to keep returning to the places I feel good – for me and for you.

If you’re inspired, please share your list below. This time of year is a reminder that we’re more likely to do what we need for ourselves and others if we do them together.

Looking forward to returning to these places with all of you xoxo

Writing through my Tears

It is no secret (even to many strangers) that I cry easily and often. I cry on subways and buses – sometimes in reaction to what I’m reading, other times because someone does something nice or I do something nice, sometimes I’m simply thinking crying kinda thoughts.  That’s why the following exchange will be no surprise to anyone.

Last week, I was telling my yoga instructor about my upcoming (and now past) writer’s retreat and she asked, “Are you a writer?”.  I responded haltingly, “Well, I write…” and then with strength, “I AM a writer.” The last words came out with a sob and a bunch of tears.

I am frequently a teary writer, that’s for sure. Which, makes sense, since I am frequently a teary person.

The Firefly writing retreat I attended this past weekend, was no exception. I wrote a ton. I cried a ton.  Frequently at the same time. I did some of the most satisfying writing of my life, including giving birth to a story about biblical Miriam. I wrote poetry. I journaled A LOT. In between, I ate really yummy food and had warm and fascinating conversations with the other retreat attendees.

Firefly Retreat

I feel full of thoughts and emotions from the experience – almost like a closet packed with so many items that if you pry one piece loose, the whole thing is likely to come tumbling down. I’m not sure what to pry loose first, I just knew that I felt compelled to post a little bit about the experience.

For anyone who read my post after the last retreat, you might be interested to know that I returned to the labyrinth that had been so fruitful for my thoughts and self during the retreat in May. It felt like an old, sweet friend. I knew it in a way I hadn’t before.

Labyrinth2

The turns were familiar. I had a clearer sense of where I was going and where I had been. Once again, it yielded nourishing, life changing thinking.

Here is the poem that it inspired:

The Labyrinth is Wholeness

I stand at the entrance

Tall

Ready to move, advance

Compelled to pause

And search

For the sacred

In my body

In the trees

In the centre of the labyrinth

 

The centre beckons to me

Its small pile of stones

Including my own.

The promise of feeling intensely

 

Before I slip forward

The words of the Sh’ma enter my mind

My psyche

The melody and the ancient words

Emerge unbidden

But not unwelcome

 

The labyrinth is wholeness

It is beginning, centre and end.

It is the metaphor for all experiences

And thoughts.

 

I feel my wholeness waiting for me

As I stand poised
Ready to enter

Ready.

Thanks for reading!  I love that people read my blog.

How Brene Brown Fuels my Shabbat Observance

Brene Brown and Shabbat are not an obvious pairing at first glance. She’s not Jewish and while I have gleaned from her writing that she is part of a church community, I have not read much religious content in her writing.  For those who aren’t familiar: a lot of Brene Brown’s writing and research focuses on shame, vulnerability and courage.  What on earth does that have to do with observing Shabbat?  A reasonable question.

The answer is everything.  At least for me.

I’ll explain, but first we’re going to time travel briefly.  We’re going back four years.  Almost exactly, four years this week as it turns out. This is a complete coincidence, but I love it all the same. Four years ago, I was taking the Coach the Coach course with Kim Ades at Frame of Mind Coaching.  Part of the structure of the course was that the participants alternated coaching each other. It was my good fortune to be coached by Amy Scupham, who said two of the most important things in my life to me. She observed that I am hard on myself (who knew? I thought I was being constructively critical) and she asked me if I knew Brene Brown. I didn’t. Amy referred me to Brene Brown’s Power of Vulnerability audio series. And forever changed me.

Here is the most important message that Brene Brown sent me:

“You are enough”

I still cry when I write it.  I cry half the time when I even think it.  Saying it aloud is likely to come with a little bit of a sob. Turns out this is core stuff.  Who knew? Not me.

But, it makes sense. Thinking “I am enough” is counter to many, many other thoughts. I am often thinking that I need to work harder, try harder, be more present for my kids, go out for more runs, go to more yoga classes, meditate more, write more, earn more money, volunteer more, give more money, be a better friend, a more caring daughter, sister…I could go on, but you get the idea.

“You are enough” gets at all these thoughts.  It doesn’t dissolve them or even counter them. It provides an alternative.

I am enough.

The more I say it and write it, the more likely I am to think it when those other shame inducing, anxiety provoking thoughts arise. It beckons me to an alternative thinking path. This path is one where I contemplate what I bring to the world. I contemplate my flaws and see them as ways to connect me to other people. I feel gentler, kinder and actually, much more motivated towards action than I feel when I’m hammering myself for not being more.

So, what does this have to do with Shabbat?

Everything.

When I light the candles on Friday night, I acknowledge that the week is done. I begin a period of time when I am committed to ceasing work. For me this means choosing solely to do what I want to do versus what I ‘should’ do. I don’t build my business. I don’t run errands. I don’t look at the time very much. I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. I often have a beautiful dinner with my family. I often go to services and spend time with my Kol Ami community. I regularly attend Torah study on Saturday morning followed by services. I write. I walk the dog. I spend time with family and friends. I explore. It is nourishing, sweet time.

It is predicated on the notion that I am enough.

Because I am enough, I can think about what I want to do. I can add rather than feel like I am behind and can’t spare the time.

Because I am enough, I can cease all building and bolstering activities for a day and practice simply enjoying and appreciating.

I love it. It feels amazing and gets richer all the time. I turn off my phone. I walk even more than I do the rest of the week. I slow my pace and focus on the world around me. Fueled all the time by the thought that, “I am enough”.

I’m not sure if people who were observing Shabbat thousands of years ago were driven by similar thoughts – but they might have been. Giving ourselves rest is grounded in the belief that we can ‘afford’ the rest. That we have done enough work for the week.  It’s not grounded in the belief that all the work is done for all time and that all the goals have been met. It is the idea that whatever was done, that it was enough for this week. It’s enough.

If you haven’t already, check out the Power of Vulnerability. I challenge you not to cry. Don’t worry – it’s human. That’s one of the things that I have learned from Brene Brown AND from my Shabbat observance. These are human things that I’m feeling: vulnerability, a sense of inadequacy, the fear of not accomplishing all that I ‘should’ have. At the same time, it seems to be human to benefit so hugely from resting. It seems human to benefit from practicing thinking that I am enough.  I’m pretty sure that Jews have understood that for thousands of years. I’m so grateful that Brene Brown understood it in my lifetime and combined courage and curiosity to deliver the message to me so ably.

I am enough.

 

When Life Feels Like A Game of Snakes & Ladders

I love board games. I loved them as a kid and still love them as an adult. It’s funny how even as I am days away from turning 45, I still want to put adult in quotations – but that’s for another blog. Maybe it’s not for another blog, because turning 45 is at the heart of this post, since there are definitely places I had expected to reach at 45.  I can’t say exactly when these expectations were formed and what contributed to them, but I’m pretty sure that if you quizzed me in my youth (yes, I have accepted that mid-forties is NOT youth – not least because my kids keep reminding me) I would have said that by the time I was 45 I expected to be married, have children, have an established career, have a house and be saving for retirement.

Back to the board games. Remember Snakes and Ladders? Some might also know this as Chutes and Ladders – but I didn’t discover that name until one of my children received it as a present. In my day, the game consisted of tall ladders and slithery looking snakes. You rolled the dice and made your way up the board until that fateful moment when you landed on a snake and slid back down – sometimes just a row, but sometimes right back to the beginning.  That long snake that took you back to the very beginning was the WORST, because you would only encounter it when winning was in sight. As I write this, it occurs to me that Candy Land was the same concept and probably countless other games. So, maybe we’re supposed to learn this lesson right from the beginning.

What lesson am I referring to?

Well, the lesson that sometimes you go from thinking that you’ve almost won to needing to start back at the beginning.

My husband and I are separating after almost 19 years of marriage and over 23 years of being together.  It feels quite a bit like snakes and ladders.  We’ll need to start fresh with finding a home and making it ours (separately). We’ll need to restart our savings. We’ll need to start at the beginning of a relationship.  Including ours.  In fact, one of the restarts is ceasing to refer to “we” and becoming “I” in a new or renewed way.

It’s hard to avoid feeling like I’ve slid down the snake to find myself back at the beginning.

It’s in my favour that I’ve had a fair amount of practice at this. In addition to the many games of Snakes and Ladders that I’ve played.

TOTAL ASIDE: Do you believe that if you encounter a PART of a ladder or a PART of a snake when moving through the board that you either climb up or slide down? It has no relevance to this blog – but feel free to weigh in below. This was always a point of contention playing when I was growing up.

Ah, growing up. That might be some of the problem:  this notion of growing ‘up’. How can I be growing up, when I also feel like I’m sliding down? Happily, I have some practice at wrestling with these ideas. Seven years ago, I hit the reset the button, leaving my career as a professional fundraiser to go back to school and study psychology. In some ways, I was starting at the beginning. There was a ton to learn – about myself, the psychology world and many other things – that I did not know before.  I started over in many ways. At the same time, I didn’t.

I brought myself into everything I did. How could I not? I looked at everything I encountered through the lens of my experience and continue to have the understanding that I am adding pieces to the puzzle to gain a fuller picture.

So, we never really go back to the beginning (except in board games).

Marriage. Homes. Families. Lives built together. These are tremendously large and complicated to take apart and rebuild.  The sensation of sliding down and beginning again can add challenge to what already feels Herculean. The sense that we are often rolling the dice in one way or another doesn’t always add a sense of agency and purpose to the whole enterprise.

Yet.

Even though I do believe in some sense I am regularly rolling the dice and moving up ladders and also sliding down, I realize that moving (falling?) down feels less like a snake and more like a slide. I loved going down slides as a kid.  And as an adult – except as a pregnant adult, when I would sometimes get stuck. The excitement of sliding down grew based on the height of the slide and sometimes the absence of light in the tunnel. I would emerge at the end, my feet a little unsure as I touched the ground and my hair in a static infused halo around me. After an unsteady moment getting back on my feet, I would orient myself toward the stairs and head toward the top of the slide again.

slide

I feel that now. A little unsteady and a little less excited about making my way to the top of the slide than I have been at other times. At the same time, I understand that many people have slid down and climbed back up before me. And that I have always appreciated the board games, the puzzles and the journey. So, I’m going to point myself toward the stairs and head to the top of the slide again.

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.

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

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