The Darkness and The Light

When I was a little girl I remember my mother being very sad. My father was away a lot and she was far from her motherland.

Her first language was French. She was used to heat and sun, to servants taking care of everything, to living a carefree life surrounded by family, the sounds and smells of India where she was born and raised and the Catholic faith that had filled her life with meaning.

And there she was, no family to support her, raising four children mostly on her own, ill prepared for the loneliness and coldness of a Canadian winter and the harshness of the landscape. All she had to cling to was her faith, and in that she felt God had foresaken her to this foreign land so far from home. She was lost.

My mother seldom yelled or screamed. One of her favourite sayings was, “If you can’t say it in a whisper, don’t say it at all.”  She did cry. A lot. Sometimes, when she was really desperate, she’d hold a knife to her breast and threaten to kill herself.

I remember as a five-year-old standing in front of her, confused, terrified, not understanding what was happening. I learned to smile through her pain. To never show I was afraid. To never acknowledge my fear. Somehow, the knife was always put back in the kitchen drawer and life would go on. I still struggle to let go of smiling when I’m in pain.

My mother’s mental health overshadowed all our lives. We became accustomed to her mood swings, her habit of crying while making supper and ironing my father’s shirts, her seemingly irrational fears and her constant caution to ‘be careful’.

As a teen, I began to resent my mother’s tears, her constant sadness, and what I deemed her unending criticism of me and my life. I could never do things right enough for my mother. I was always causing trouble she would tell me before asking, “Why can’t you be like the others?”

My mother’s journey through life has been constantly overshadowed by her mental health. She is 97 now. She finally got help in her 80s. That’s a long time to live in the darkness before finding the peace of heart and mind she’s always sought.

I no longer resent my mother and even though she’d often ask why I hated her so, I never hated her. I just never understood her. And the truth is, I always loved her. She gave me the gift of my life, and many other gifts too.

Because of her mental health, I learned to differentiate between ‘the person’ and the behaviour.  The person is ‘the person’. I can love the person. I do not have to love their behaviour. Behaviour can change. As an adult, I had to change mine so that I could let go of my anger and find peace in my relationship with my mother.

Albeit awkwardly at times and sometimes not soon enough or steadfast enough, my relationship with my mother taught me that I needed to set boundaries. In my 60s now, I still struggle with this one, but I’m getting better.

I learned that seeking help is important. I first started seeing a therapist in my 20s. I had to. I thought I was ‘the crazy one’. I thought my mother’s sadness and tears were all about me. And while I no longer have my therapist on speed dial, I know when the darkness clouds my thoughts, it’s time to call to get some light.

I learned my behaviour, who I am, is all about me. I am the only person I can work on and I am deserving of my loving care and attention.

I learned that I can’t change what is happening in another person’s mind. I didn’t create it. I can’t cure it.

I learned that I’ve got to take care of my mental health first.. I can’t do the work for another, but when my mind is clear, I am not at risk of climbing into the darkness with them and can hold the light steady as they find heir way out of the darkness into life.

And I learned it is not helpful nor healthy to defend against what someone is saying or doing when they are lost in the darkness. Loving them is and I can choose to always keep loving them, though sometimes I must do it from a distance to keep myself safe from the darkness.

All these things I learned from my mother and her journey.

The darkness is real. So is the light. The light is more powerful than darkness because when you stand in the light, you can see where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going.

In the darkness, all you can see is that there is no light.

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According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, today in Canada 10 people will end their lives by suicide; up to 200 others will attempt so.

For each death by suicide, between 7 and 10 survivors are profoundly affected. Today in Canada, suicide will leave up to 100 people in a state of bereavement. Latest research shows there were 3,926 suicides in the year 2016 in this country. In 2015, over 3,396,000 Canadians aged 12 and over had suicidal thoughts.

Tuesday, September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day. Let’s all stand in the light together.

 

The Eagle Soars (Day 22 – 30 Day Art Project) Haiku #6

Day 22 – 30 Day Art Project. Mixed Media on Canvas Paper; 11 x 14″. Haiku #6

“Once there was an eagle who thought he was a chicken. Left at birth in a chicken coop, all he knew was how to peck at the dirt, scrabble for grub and walk around strutting his stuff like he was the best dang chicken in the yard.

And he was, until one day an eagle spied him from on high and wondered, “Why is that eagle acting like a chicken?”

Wanting to find the answer, the eagle swooped down and landed in front of the eagle who thought he was a chicken.

All the chickens in the yard were terrified. They raced to the coop, slammed the door and hid inside.

Not the eagle who thought he was a chicken. He was the best dang chicken in that yard and he could stand up to an eagle. And that’s what he told the eagle.

“You don’t scare me. I’m the best dang chicken around. You don’t belong here.”

The eagle was surprised. “You don’t belong here either,” he said. “You’re an eagle. Your wings are designed to soar high.”

The eagle who thought he was a chicken stuttered and spewed. “I am not an eagle. I am a chicken!”  He stomped his great eagle talons in the dirt and threw back his head to show off his mighty eagle beak.

“Ummm…. I don’t think so,” replied the eagle who knew what he was talking about. “Let me prove to you that you’re an eagle. Come, take one flight with me and you’ll know the truth.”

The eagle who thought he was a chicken thought a moment before answering.

“Ok,” he said. “I’ll fly with you but first, you have to let me go to the coop and say good-bye to my family. They will be worried about me if I’m gone too long.”

The other eagle was standing between him and the chicken coop and that’s where safety lay. In the coop.

“Sure thing,” said the eagle who knew what he was talking about as he stepped aside to let the eagle who thought he was a chicken pass. “I’ll wait right here.”

And with that, the eagle who thought he was a chicken raced to the chicken coop. Flung the door open, entered its dark confines, slammed the door shut and exhaled a sigh of relief.

“See!” he said to the wide eyes chickens he called his family. “I am not only the best dang chicken in this coop… I’m the smartest. I just outsmarted that eagle!”

And all the chickens praised him for being such a smart chicken because through their chicken eyes, they truly could not see he was an eagle born to soar on high.

Every heart needs a home, and every person needs to have a place to belong.

Sometimes, we mistake where we’re at as that place. Sometimes, we confuse our titles, our degrees and accomplishments, our belongings, talents and accolades and our origin story, as our place of belonging.

Belonging comes from within. It is the knowing that, as Maya Angelou described it:

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.”

It is the dichotomy of belonging. We yearn to be or do or have something that will quell the fear within that we don’t fit in anywhere. Propelled by our fear, we adapt ourselves to suit the world around us to fit in somewhere. And in our adaptations, we lose the one place we truly belong, within our hearts, true to our own self — which leaves us nowhere out there to belong, other than everywhere, or as Brene Brown writes in Braving the Wilderness:

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

You can clip an eagle’s wings so it cannot soar.

You can dim your own light so you will not shine.

Whether you hide out in the chicken coop of your thinking you don’t fit in or fit in where you don’t belong, or strut your stuff believing you’re a rock star because nobody can see how scared you are of shining your light, you cannot belong anywhere without first belonging to yourself.

Your answer does not come from ‘out there’. It comes from and lives always within the sanctuary of your being at home with being true to your beautiful, magnificent, brilliant self, fearlessly breathing life into the sacredness of being who you are, always.

Namaste

________________________________

A note on the eagle story — I heard this story years ago in a video of Eldon Taylor. It’s one of my favourites.

Bruised Red Autumn Sky (Day 21 – 30 Day Art Project) Haiku #5

Bruised Red Autumn Sky
Day 21 – 30 Day Art Project
Mixed media on canvas paper
11 x 14″

Adults are Messy

Art Journal – mixed media on watercolour paper
7 x 12

I know. I know. It’s not the adults. It’s life.

Yeah. Well… while that may be true — that life is messy — so are we, the adults living it.

Think about it.

We come into this world, these perfect beings of love. Vulnerable. Naked. Divinely beautiful. Defenseless.

We carry with us only two things, a fear of falling (removal of support) and a fear of loud noises.

The rest… well, those hopes and dreams, yearnings and possibilities, concepts of who we are — limiting beliefs and full potentials… those are all constructed by the adults in our life. We don’t carry them with us when we come into this world. We pick them up on our journey.

Which means, we’re often picking up other people’s expectations of us.

And then, we forget to let them go (or don’t know how) and end up living our lives as if what other people think of us, or expect of us, is most important.

See. Adults are the messy ones.

The question is… What are we willing to do about it?

Getting over our messy is messy business.

It takes a whole lot of patience, compassion, self-care and… the thing most of us struggle with, self-love.

It’s to be expected we struggle with it. We’ve spent so much time picking up the pieces we think other people want us to carry or think will make them happy if we carry them, we don’t really know who we are.

Note the lack of ‘forgotten who we are’ in that statement? Yup. It’s not there. That’s because to forget something we have to have had it in the first place.

And yup. That sentence includes a past perfect – past participle of the verb (I think). See, my remembrance of those English classes where I learned all about present and past perfect and participles and tenses was a long time ago. Using them correctly today is sometimes challenging.

But here’s the thing. I don’t remember ever being taught about self-love. Which means, it was never high on my list of lifeskills in my early adulting days. Which is another way of saying, I wasn’t carrying it from my teen years when I stepped across the threshold into adulting.

And that’s where adults come from. Teenagers.

Yup. Those angst-ridden, surly, defiant, ego-centric, life-defying, boundary testing teens were us before we became ‘adult’.

So then we ‘grew up’, and granted we got smarter about a lot of things we studied so that we could have jobs and build careers and maybe even change the world. The thing we didn’t necessarily get smarter about? You guessed it —  this thing called being ourselves without the mess we’ve carried with us.

And that my friends leads to the statement… adults are messy.

Here’s the thing though. We don’t have to stay messy.

It takes… (go back up ten paragraphs)… patience, compassion, self-care and… self-Love.

We gotta love ourselves through the messy to get to the juicy.

To love ourselves through the messy, we have to be willing to stand in it without employing the arsenal of tactics we’ve developed to avoid getting all messed up by our messy. You know. The running away, hiding out or simply ducking every rough spot we come upon with things like anger, self-deprecation, tears, avoidance, fake smiling, appeasment, building walls, and the list goes on.

Tomorrow afternoon, a group of people will walk into a room designed to support them through the gateway into living their lives free of ‘the messy’.

Choices Seminars begins tomorrow and for those walking into that room, either as coaches or as trainees, the gifts are immeasurable. The value infinite.

And believe me, the work is not easy but stepping into living life on your terms with joy, love, compassion and grace as your constant companions (even when you mess up) is worth giving up a lifetime of making messes because you’re living your life by other people’s expectations.

‘Cause let’s face it. It’s a whole lot easier to clean up your mess when your foundation is built on Love.

I won’t be in the room coaching this month as I am taking care of me. I deserve to live a juicy life which means, when I bump into a messy place within, it deserves my full loving attention. I’m worth it.

For those in the room, there’s one thing I know for sure they’re going to find and that’s the thing the world (and each of us) needs more of… Love.

Check it out! You deserve it!

And, in case you’ve forgotten, you’re worth Loving with all your heart and soul.

The River Flows Free (A Haiku – Day 20: 30 Day Art Project)

Day 20 — 30 Day Art Project — Mixed Media on Canvas Paper – 11 x 14

I’m not sure which is more fun — consecutive days of art-making or several days in a row of writing Haiku.

I found myself writing a Haiku in my sleep, waking up with the words in my head, jotting them down in the night.

I love the simple nature of them. It is a wonderfully exciting creative challenge to create deeper meaning through the words, while staying true to the 5-7-5 structure of Haiku.

This is the same tree that was in the painting for Day 19 — except this time, instead of mono-printing the stencil I’d created onto the canvas, I collaged it into the painting.

And then… I kept diving into the piece, adding colour and design elements until I had to give myself permission to stop. It was midnight. It was time to go to bed.

That’s the thing about art-making. It is a constant lesson in letting go — of my desire to make meaning. Art. Something happen.

It reminds me to breathe deeply in the beauty of now. To be still in the wonder of this moment.

It teaches me to simply be in the moment. To be present to what is appearing on the canvas and to not ‘try’ to make it into something, but rather, to simply let it be as it becomes what it is calling to be.

When I started working on this piece yesterday (and yes, I am not abiding to the 30 minute timeframe and am simply going with the flow) I was actually working to a Haiku that had appeared in my mind about the sun.

That one will have to wait for another day — see, constant lessons in letting go appear as I dive into the art of being present and expressing my creative essence.

And at a deeper level, I am grateful for how this mini series of tree paintings is reminding me of the power of ‘surrender’.

Life is filled with opportunities to learn and grow.

Growth is sometimes painful.

Faced with its challenges and sometimes painful reminders of my own human frailties, surrender is all I can do. Again and again.

Without surrender, my mind will construct stories where I am the victim and the perpetrator. The oppressor and the oppressed.

Without surrender, I forget where I belong and give up my right to celebrate my own worth.

Without surrender, I fear falling and flying free.

Surrendering, I let go of my fear of falling and give into the power of Love to hold me and those I Love in its grace so that the past is simply the path that brought us here to this moment where we can grow deeper in Love.

Namaste

 

Love Never Gives Up (A Haiku — Day 18: 30 Day Art Project)

 

Hearts break without sound
Tears falling blinded by snow.
Seeds yearn for spring’s warmth.

Love never gives up.

Sometimes, we give up on love or believe it isn’t present, or that it doesn’t care to be with us.

Love is always present. Love is always caring for and with us.

We need to care for ourselves to know its power, to experience its majesty, to be free to Love.

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