And then I learned some very important lessons: 2015

For the last few years I have endeavoured to write posts about things that I learned in the previous year at this time of year. So, what to write?

This year has been a lot of learning. I quit my first job this year which was an event that was built up with a lot of hype and a lot of hope.

I have always been a person who approached things with what is probably too much thought and attention, fixated on all the good bits and even more fixated on the bad bits. The bad bits have had the ability to effectively control my mind, spinning me into deep, dark places where I didn’t know how to emerge again or how to fix things…until a seemingly miraculous reawakening happens from which I return to my “normal self” where I am the cheerful, chatty girl.

This year I took notice of that. This year, the big question I consistently asked myself was about other people. In particular, I asked myself how people remain, seemingly, hopeful and happy despite the absolute, utter bullshit happening around them?

I read a book about the Dalai Lama earlier this year. It was chosen because the Dalai Lama’s story reads like hocus pocus and believe me when I say I die for a bit of magical story telling. So, I chose to read this book about the Dalai Lama when I wanted to read a book about meditation and its roots.

Maybe that’s when the question first actually struck me, because how in the hell does the Dalai Lama hold himself out as a “professional laugher” while the country with which he has been tasked with protecting has been in a state of conflict so severe that he has been living in exile since 1959? He has said

I have been confronted with difficult circumstances throughout the course of my life, and my country is going through a critical period. But I laugh often, and my laughter is contagious.

The utter honestly and simplicity of that statement was enough to stop me. Whether you are able to believe in reincarnation and the divinity of the Dalai Lama or not, he ultimately is simply a human, with human feelings and a human disposition. With my human feelings and human disposition, I have been capable of near paralysis when I wondered whether or not my sister’s boyfriend truly liked me or whether the people at my former job would hate me or talk smack about me over board room drinks. And so, I set out to learn how, in all of my innate cheerfulness, I can be so devastated by the simplest and most unimportant notions, while there are humans on the Earth who coin themselves “professional laughers” amid violent, suppressive, anti-religion oppression. In the first 20 years of the conflict, 1.2 million Tibetans died. The Dalai Lama was 24 years old at the time of his exile. He is now 80 years old, and he remains in exile. And yet, he is a professional laugher.

So, how then, am I so capable of sadness? This was the question I tried to learn the answer to in 2015.

I practiced yoga: poses and meditation. In the poses, I was often distracted. In meditation, I was full-on hateful, comparing my inability to clear my mind of all but the present in-breath and out-breath to my inability in all other areas of my life. I relived breakups, educational failures, lost friendships, family members with whom I was no longer close, and my assumed failings as a professional. I would leave meditation feeling so angry and small that I eventually stopped going.

A teacher later recommended I try out a few different books on meditation. I did. I tried them. And I went back to meditation to actively practice what I read. And today, I am a work in progress.

I have learned that as this girl, this human that I am, I will inevitably have the luxury of feeling. And I can either dwell in my feelings, or I can experience them for all that they are – in their bright, acceptable brilliance, or in their negative, hopeless sadness. When I dwell in either, I don’t actually get to experience the beauty of right now. And there is lot there – in right now – which is worth experiencing.

I have learned that nothing is stable, but rather that inherent in life is an instability that is part of life, and if I lean in to all of that instability without requiring happiness or joy or any particular emotion, I will experience the moments, those infuriating or maybe really beautiful moments, of instability, and then I will be living, awakening to right now.

I have learned that in all of life’s instability, if we place too much expectation in how much better things could be, we will get clouded and be unable to see that right where we are is the perfect moment. It’s life and it’s simple. It might be funny or painful. But whatever it is, it won’t last forever. And so, I have learned that a lack of expectation, that a hopelessness is grounding, because it is right here that is perfect. It is the perfect moment right here.

I have learned that all of my thoughts are just thoughts – the good and the bad, the joyful and the depressing. They are all equal, part of my humanness and part of what makes this moment the moment, the perfect moment. So, when I try to fall asleep at night, or try to meditate when I’m unfocussed, as my thoughts arise I notice them all equally – because they are all equal, none bad, none particularly good, all just a part of my human experience.

So, when I sit at my desk at the office, frustrated (as people become while sitting at their desks at the office), I try and pull of all of this in, because it is not just that I have learned a few techniques for meditation. Rather, I have learned about life – through a certain lens.

When I read the news over morning coffee and eggs, and I come across a devastating story about a Canadian pastor who has been sentenced to life with hard labour in North Korea, or scroll Facebook to see the heartbreaking status updates about intolerance of refugees, I try to recall that in our humanness, we will all make mistakes. Then, I try to recall that the grief and sadness caused by those mistakes is not outweighed by the amazing story of human capacity and ability in the 26-year old man who lived for six months alone on a remote lake in the North West Territories or the story about a couple who gave up their dream wedding to pay for a Syrian refugee family to resettle in Canada.

You see, what I learned this year was that in our humanness we will all do bad or good, and we will all feel amazing or like bottom feeders, but that through those things there is an ability to remain on this middle, balancing point where we accept the inherent instability of life, of the other people around us, and of our ever-changing human emotions and, just the same, we can recognize that the same is true for all of those people who are around us.

If someone who has had to bury the very people he was tasked with protecting can be a professional laugher, maybe so can I. The beauty is in the breakdown, or when things fall apart, or in the very destruction and recapitulation of yourself. That’s what I learned this year.


Of little girls and hurt fingers and rising again.

I grew up on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada.  As is common along the eastern seaboard in this part of world, during the falls of my childhood we would get hurricane related weather, be it hurricanes or tropical storms.  One fall day as a young girl, there was a late hurricane.  During lunch hour I went with my father, my elementary school gym teacher, to the post office before the afternoon session started again.  I hopped out of the car – eager as an eight year-old to be the one to unlock our post office box – and the hurricane-power winds took the car door out of my hand and slammed my eight year-old finger in the door.

That hurt.  I could be mistaken, but I believe we did not bother to get the mail the day.  My dad, my hero, hockey coach, all around favourite guy, took me up to my small town’s hospital.  I don’t remember there being an “ER”, as such, in the Twillngate hospital, though I’m sure there was.  He took me up there and we went to see the doctor who put a little needle into my fingernail and all the blood came pouring out.

I don’t remember if we were late for school.  I know we went back there: me, the little grade two or three, and my dad, the gym teacher, and we both went about our days.

That evening, I went to hockey.  At the time, I was the only little girl who played hockey in the area, thanks to my progressive mom and dad who, when I said my feet were cold during figure skating, put me in hockey to see if that ice sport would be any better for their winter baby who loved to be on ice.

Here I am, age 7, with Leafs star Gary Roberts.

Here I am, age 7, with Leafs star Gary Roberts.

I went to hockey that evening and most of the practice was a scrimmage.  To this day, my dad talks about how I went to hockey that night and I scored two goals.  I was the only girl, and I scored two goals.

As a little person, you don’t think about being a boy or a girl.  As a little person, that night, I didn’t think about how my finger had gotten slammed in hurricane-force winds.  I have no idea what I thought about.

I might have been thinking about the Lime Crush I knew I was going to get after hockey, because every night after hockey practice my dad used to take me to Champion Charlies and he would get me a soda pop.  In my house, we didn’t get pop very often, but I always got one after hockey that I would drink in my basement while my dad helped take my hockey gear off.

I might have been thinking about my friend, Nick Styles.  Now that I’m 28, I can tell you that Nick just loved life.  When I was eight, all I could have told you was that Nick was hyper.  He used to score goals on the wrong team.  During scrimmage, he would score goals on his own goalie.  But he was my friend, and my dad, who was my coach, usually put Nick on my team.  So maybe I was thinking about Nick and how I really needed to score some goals.

Maybe I was thinking about the boys on my team who were in my class, and how I wanted them to think I was cool or a good hockey player.  Maybe I was thinking how I didn’t want them to tease me, the only girl on the team, who had to dress in a different room, and who wore glasses and had a mushroom cut.  Maybe I wanted Nathan, and Jason, and my cousin Kirk to think I was actually cool.

Like I said, I have no idea what I thought about.

However, now that I’m 28, I know what I didn’t think about.  I did not think I am too hurt to do it.  I didn’t think that I was a girl, and less good in any event.  I didn’t think I was broken now and that I had never been quite good enough, and now I was just extra not good enough.

I didn’t tell my dad, No, I’m actually not able to go tonight. I didn’t tell the rest of my team – the boys – that I wouldn’t be any good tonight.  I just went.  I did the job that I had to do.  And I survived it.  Go figure.

Tonight, I slammed my finger in the door of a room in my home.  It really, really hurt.  It didn’t fill with blood that needed to be drained, but it did hurt. When it wouldn’t stop hurting, I decided I would watch Netflix and I would ice my finger and I would drink a beer – as if the alcohol would go straight to my digit and cure the stupid pain that was resonating in my fingernail.  I proceeded to tell my boyfriend, my sister, and my friend Melissa.  I committed to a night of catching up on television.

Then on Facebook I saw a post about a  friend’s child who has diabetes.  Tomorrow, the child will be getting an insulin pump.  The parents have a Belle doll ready who also has an insulin pump to help the daughter through it.  To help her think, this is ok and normal and fine even if it’s painful.

And then there’s me, watching Netflix on the couch because I hurt my finger.  When I did the same 20 years ago, I scored two girls during a game of scrimmage when I was the only girl on the ice.

It’s funny.  When we’re children, it’s not even that we’re resilient.  I think what it is is that we keep seeing all the things that we want to do.  In my case, I wanted to play hockey, I wanted the boys to know I was just as good even though I had to change in a different change room (and this, even though, at the time, little girls and little boys don’t even know why they were changing separate and apart from one another).  When it came to be being a little girl in minor hockey, I only knew I was different because I was told I was, and I didn’t want it to matter.  I didn’t care that I had a hurting finger, even though you hold your hockey stick with your fingers – be they hurting or not!  I just wanted to go and live my life, unimpaired by this stupid thing that had happened, this stupid hurricane that had blown the car door on my finger.

How different.  How different from when we are grown and we become willing to be hurt.  Hurt by bad grades, by bullies, by broken hurts.  We tell ourselves we are, in fact, less beautiful, less likeable, less intelligent, less able than someone else.  We let metaphorical fingers get slammed by metaphorical door – the bad grade on an exam, the broken heart by someone we love.  And, instead of rising – instead of finding love for the person that teaches us a lesson of survival, of not winning every time, or of being free to realize what you can be and who you might love – we curl up on the couch, and we watch Netflix, and wait until tomorrow and we think: maybe tomorrow the pain in my finger will be all gone and we can start again.

But there is no “starting again”.  And that pain is permanent – but it is the fertilizer of our becoming.  That scar is the proof of being able to get up.  The memory of the ER is the evidence of you rising and later knowing how to rise again.  The bandage on your broken heart is the story of a heart that knows how to beat, and that doesn’t simply sit in your chest dormant, hoping for a prince or princess to come through, innocent yet deep, young yet wise, and overall non-existent.  That permanent pain is muscles forming muscle memory of how to climb a mountain or maintain a forearm stand.  The callous on your fingertip is how to play the violin or a guitar or sing with a beautiful, colourful, ringing tone through whole forests.

That little girl in me who got her finger slammed in the car door in hurricane-force winds, who went to the doctor and had the fingernail drained of blood, and who scored two goals during an otherwise boys-only scrimmage, is me.  She’s a cool kid, she’s a fighter.  That cool fighter didn’t know there was a difference between her and little boys.  She knew that at the end of hockey practice – goals or no goals – there would be Lime Crush, so hurt finger be damned! Simply put, with her unassuming strength as a little kid, she just decided to get up.

So today, I decided to do some blogging, with the third finger on my right hand throbbing.  If a little girl can get up again, so can I, reminded of how strongly we are intuitively formed when we enter into this world. Despite the heartbreaks, the bullying, the bad grades, we’re still alive here after all.  There will be more fingers slammed in doors yet.  Take this as a reminder that you can still score goals even when that happens.

I hate to brag, but what a strong chick former-me was.