It’s my birthday month. I’m turning fifty in just a few weeks. A half century! I’m having some trouble wrapping my brain around that.
I had big hopes of doing something epic for my fiftieth birthday. Almost all year, I’ve been trying to come up with just the right epic adventure to mark 50 years. Should I return to Africa and maybe visit the school I’ve been supporting? Or should I go on a solo backpacking trek? Or maybe a vision quest? Or maybe I should book a retreat centre and invite all of my friends to a big art-making sleepover?
For a variety of reasons, I decided that it was best to let go of the epic adventure. Not this year. Maybe it will unfold another time.
Putting epic aside, I still want to mark what feels like a major transition at the end of what’s been a year of major change for me, so I’m doing smaller things closer to home.
I’ve been painting my home, creating fresh space for my daughters and me. And I’m getting ready to publish my book. Those are the big projects that are keeping me busy during this birthday month.
I want to bring you into the celebration. With this big birthday coming up, I’ve been taking stock, looking back over my body of work. It makes me happy to see what has been emerging out of me.
I may not have epic, and I may not have reached some of my big dreams (yet – I’ve still got time!), but I have lived a really great life and have created a lot that I am proud of. So I’m sharing some of that with you this month. Some will be stuff I’ve already created at discounted rates, some will be a re-imagining of what’s there, and at least one thing will be brand new. Almost everything will have the theme of “fifty”.
I’m offering Mandala Discovery at 50% off!
That means that, for less than a dollar a lesson, you can get some of my best work sent to you each day for thirty days. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it!
Here’s what you need to do to collect the discount… go to the sales page, and in the coupon field on the registration form, enter the following code: birthday. And then hit “apply” and it should show the reduced rate.
Stay tuned for more offerings this month. ALSO… there will be a chance for you to contribute to a collaborative art piece that will hang on my newly painted walls! (Details to come.)
Now, I’m off to teach The Circle Way with my friend and colleague, Amanda Fenton. This really is a dream come true and it feels perfect that my inaugural public teaching of The Circle Way in my home city is the same month as my fiftieth birthday. (We still have spots available, if you can make it to Winnipeg by Tuesday evening!)
Here’s hoping that, even without the epic adventure, May will be a fantastic month.
Growing up in a Mennonite home, where self-sacrifice was one of the highest goods, I was convinced that self-centredness was one of the seven deadly sins.
But as I near my fiftieth year on the planet, I’m learning to be Self-centred, and I’m no longer convinced that’s wrong.
This afternoon, after spending many hours gathering all of the tidbits of my business finances together to bring to the accountant for tax preparation (I’m a disorganized business person), I decided to take advantage of the beautiful Spring weather and go to the park. King’s Park, which houses the labyrinth I love, is one of my favourite places to welcome Spring because the two harbingers of Spring on the prairies – crocuses and frogs – can be found there.
Not surprisingly, the old stories came up on the way there. “Your tax bill is going to be high this year – you should be working so you can afford to pay it.” “If you’re not working at your business, you should at least be cleaning the house. Have you looked at the kitchen floor lately? Disgusting.” “If you’re not cleaning or working on your business, shouldn’t you be giving up your free time for a friend who needs you?”
And then the biggie…
“You are being self-centred.”
I smiled at the voices and let them play through their stories in my head, and then I went to the park anyway. I know they mean me no harm – they are there to protect me – and I also know that giving them the upper hand will keep my life small and unhappy. Time in the sunshine is not something I feel guilty about, especially when the taxes are done.
I walked the labyrinth, not in a slow and meditative way, but in a curious and attentive way, watching for the fuzzy heads of crocuses popping up between the paths. The crocuses weren’t quite ready to bloom, but I was rewarded for my attentiveness with a frog who let me get close enough to take a picture.
As I neared the centre of the labyrinth, a new thought popped into my head…
Perhaps it’s a good thing to be Self-centred.
What if, instead of interpreting self-centred as selfish, we interpret it as “keeping your Self at the centre”?
I capitalize Self here, because I’m referring to the spiritual Self, the higher Self, the one that seeks wholeness within a deep relationship with God/dess.
When we walk the labyrinth, we pause at the centre, because that is where we are most in touch with our Self. That is where we rest in openness, ready to receive Spirit. That is where we are most emptied of ego and fear and the false stories that keep us small.
The labyrinth teaches us to be Self-centred.
Paradoxically, a Self-centred life is actually less selfish than an other-centred life, because we don’t rely on others to fulfill us or make us happy. We don’t place unrealistic expectations on others to define us or behave a certain way. We allow others their own happiness without placing obligations on them to make us happy. We give out of our fullness rather than out of our neediness. We are at peace and therefore we create an environment where others can be at peace too.
When we are Self-centred, we do our own work and don’t expect others to fix us.
When we are Self-centred, we detach ourselves from other people’s behaviour and give them the freedom to find their own paths to their own Selves.
When we are Self-centred we find out who we truly are and we no longer rely on other people’s definition of us.
When we are Self-centred, we serve other people out of our delight in them and not out of obligation or need.
When we are Self-centred, we can offer and receive unconditional love.
When we are Self-centred, we can live in community and not expect that community to give us everything we need.
When we are Self-centred, we hold space for our Selves and that allows us to hold space for others without losing ourselves in them.
One month from tomorrow, I’ll turn 50. As I near that milestone, I’m making it my goal to become more Self-centred.
If you want to be more Self-centred, a journey through The Spiral Path or Mandala Discovery might help.
Interested in more articles like this? Add your name to my email list and you’ll receive a free ebook, A Path to Connection and my weekly reflections.
This week, school is back in session. One of my daughters started today and the other two start tomorrow. Two are now in university and one is in grade 8, her last year before high school.
I can say all of the clichéd things, and mean them… My how time flies! Wasn’t it just yesterday I was changing their diapers? How did it all rush past in the blink of an eye?
The return to school always reminds me of the relentless and dependable forward motion of time. Tick, tick, tick goes the clock. Flip, flip, flip go the pages of the calendar.
Today I was rushing out for last minute school supplies, haircut appointments, musical instrument rental, etc., and in the middle of it all, I wanted to hit the pause button. I wanted to slow down the pace of time, enjoy a few more summer days, and cling to my daughters’ fleeting childhood before it all disappears.
From my daughters’ perspective, still in their formative years, this is the way life is supposed to be lived – growing each year, advancing one grade after the other, stepping always forward on the straight line of time guided by the clock and the calendar. It’s the way we’re all raised – to believe that there is always meant to be forward movement. That’s not a bad thing – we want growth to happen.
But that’s only part of the truth and there’s something else I really want my daughters to learn that they probably won’t be taught in school.
Life is to be lived along the spiral and not simply the straight line.
When I was at the beach this summer, working on my book, I spent a lot of time watching pelicans. One of the things I love about pelicans is that, often, they fly across the sky in giant spirals, round and round, adjusting the arc of the spiral just enough each time so that they end at the far side of the sky from where they started.
They do this to conserve energy, riding thermals (updrafts of warm air that rise from the ground into the air), so they don’t have to flap their wings as often. They look so content and relaxed up there, circling round and round with very little effort on their part. High in the sky, they look like mythical creatures, as if they’d climbed out of ancient legends of magicians and shamans. Their shape and the way they move holds both mystery and myth.
That’s the path that I have come to believe is the most true way of seeing our lives. We go round and round, coming back each time to nearly the same place we’ve been, but always with enough of a difference to help us progress forward over time.
How many times have you been in this place you’re at right now? Like the seasons, our lives come back again and again to the harvest of Fall, the dormancy of Winter, the rebirth of Spring, and the growth of Summer. And, like the seasons, we live through the long dark spells, the slow sunny days, the rain, the wind, and the snow. We cycle through grief, through growth, through joy, through surrender, and through ease.
None of the seasons lasts forever. All of them change us a little before we begin the spiral again.
If you are in a place you feel like you’ve been before – whether it’s another cycle through grief, restlessness, waiting, or fear – don’t despair. You’re simply spiralling through the sky, learning what you need to from this trip around the circle, and moving a little further each time.
If you were traveling up a mountain, you’d be best to take the spiralling path, adjusting to the altitude, not tiring yourself out too quickly. Like the pelicans floating on the thermal air, you conserve your energy by not rushing straight ahead. You also learn more and see more that way. This is the way life is meant to be lived.
Don’t rush through, even though the path might seem hard right now. Take what you need from this time, and let it unfold in the fullness of time.
If you want to take a closer look at your own spiral path, I invite you to join us for the October offering of The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.
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“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” ~Maya Angelou
Last night I went for a walk in my favourite neighbourhood park, Henteleff Park, a long narrow strip of native grasslands and forest along the Red River. Just after entering the park, a movement at the edge of the woods caught my attention. I glanced over to see a dark animal, and because I could only see the top of its back and because I am mostly accustomed to seeing deer in that park, I thought it was an unusually dark deer.
I stepped off the path I was on and ducked through the trees to get a closer look and it was only then that I discovered that it was a bear. A BEAR! Within city limits! Just 5 minutes from my home! Just 20 feet from where I was walking!
Now, for many people, that would have been a rather terrifying discovery that would have sent them quickly back home. For me, though, it was quite exciting. I wanted more! Though I stepped back onto the path and didn’t go directly into the woods were I saw it disappear, I wandered the park for another half hour, hoping I might spot it again. I never did.
What occurred to me after wandering through the woods by myself (there are rarely other people in that park), slightly nervous but not overly concerned for my safety, is this…
Courage looks different for each of us.
After reading my story of bear-seeking, your thought might be “Wow! She is really courageous!” But the truth is, it didn’t take a lot of courage for me to keep walking in the park. I grew up wandering in the woods by myself, and I have always been a camper and hiker, so it didn’t feel like foreign territory for me. It felt familiar, with just a touch of adrenaline. Black bears are not particularly dangerous unless you provoke them.
You may never wander in the woods where you suspect a bear might be found, but there are probably things that you do quite naturally that would seem extremely courageous to me. Maybe you’ve grown up in a place where there are rattle snakes or tarantulas and they hardly phase you but would terrify me. Or maybe you’re way more comfortable wading into situations where there is conflict than I am. (I am admittedly rather conflict-averse.) Or maybe you’d go spelunking in a dark cave where I wouldn’t be caught dead. (Dark claustrophobic spaces are my version of hell.)
There are no universal yardsticks for courage.
There has been much hubbub lately about Caitlyn Jenner being awarded ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award after making her first public appearance as a woman. There is at least one meme floating around social media where her Vanity Fair cover photo is seen alongside a photo of soldiers in battle, suggesting that REAL courage can be found on the battlefield, not on the pages of a fashion magazine. Now, I’m not interested in arguing whether or not she was the right choice for the award, but I do want to say that it is a false construct to try to compare one version of courage with another.
What looks like courage for one person may not be courage for another person.
Sometimes, in fact, what we interpret as courage may in fact be the lesser of two evils for a person. A soldier, for example, may be on the battlefield because he is running away from something that really scares him at home. Gunfire may feel less risky than shame, rejection, or family conflict.
For some, it may take more courage to come out as transgendered or gay than it takes to join the army.
For others, the most courageous act might be to take a leap of faith and leave a job in a toxic workplace.
For still others, it might take years to work up the courage to speak their truth in front of people who disagree with them.
Courage is a very individual thing and nobody can define it in your life except you.
If you try to measure your courage on someone else’s yardstick, you will never learn to be true to your own life.
Only you can decide what courageous step you need to take in order to be true to yourself.
Don’t try to take someone else’s step – take your own.
And don’t sell yourself short when you take that courageous step. Celebrate it!
“The moment we commit ourselves to going on this journey, we start to encounter our three principal enemies: the voice of doubt and judgment (shutting down the open mind), the voice of cynicism (shutting down the open heart), and the voice of fear (shutting down the open will).” – Otto Sharmer
Lessons in colonialism and cultural relations
Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate a retreat for the staff and board members of a local non-profit. At the retreat, we played a game called Barnga, an inter-cultural learning game that gives people the opportunity to experience a little of what it feels like to be a “stranger in a strange land”.
To play Barnga, people sit at tables of four. Each table is given a simple set of rules and a deck of cards. After reading the rules, they begin to play a couple of practice rounds. Once they’re comfortable with the rules of play, they are instructed to play the rest of the game in silence.
After 15 or 20 minutes of playing in silence, the person who won the most tricks at each table is invited to move to another table. The person who won the least tricks moves to the table in the opposite direction. All of the rules sheets are removed from the tables.
The game begins once again, but what people don’t realize until they’ve played a round or two is that the rules are different at each able. At some tables, ace is high and at other tables it’s low. At one table, diamonds are trump, at another clubs are trump, and so on.
Newcomers (ie. immigrants) have now arrived in a place where they expect the rules to be the same, find out after making a few mistakes that they are in fact different, and have no shared language to figure out what they’re doing wrong. Around the room you can see the confusion and frustration begin to grow as people try to adapt to the new rules, and those at the table try to use hand gestures and other creative means to let them know what they’re doing wrong.
After another 15 or 20 minutes, the winners and losers move to new tables and the game begins again. This time, people are less surprised to find out there are different rules and more prepared to adapt and/or help newcomers adapt.
After playing for about 45 minutes, we gathered in a sharing circle to debrief about how the experience had been for people. Some shared how, even though they stayed at the table where the rules hadn’t changed, they began to doubt themselves when others insisted on playing with different rules. Some even chose to give up their own rules entirely, even though they hadn’t moved.
In the group of 20 people, there was one white male and 19 women of mixed races. What was revealing for all of us was what that male was brave enough to admit.
“I just realized what I’ve done,” he said. “I was so confident that I knew the rules of the game and that others didn’t that I took my own rules with me wherever I went and I enforced them regardless of how other people were playing.”
It should be stated that this man is a stay-at-home dad who volunteers his time on the board of a family resource centre. He is by no means the stereotypical, aggressive white male you might assume him to be. He is gracious and kind-hearted, and I applaud him for recognizing what he’d done.
What is equally interesting is that all of the women at the tables he moved to allowed him to enforce his set of rules. Whether they doubted themselves enough to not trust their own memory of the rules, or were peacekeepers who decided it was easier to adapt to someone else who felt stronger about the “right” way to do things, each of them acquiesced.
Without any ill intent on his part, this man inadvertently became the colonizer at each table he moved to. And without recognizing they were doing so, the women at those tables inadvertently allowed themselves to be colonized.
If we had played the game much longer, there may have been a growing realization among the women what was happening, and there might have even been a revolt. On the other hand, he might have simply been allowed to maintain his privilege and move around the room without being challenged.
Making the learning personal
Since that game at last week’s retreat, the universe has found multiple opportunities to reinforce this learning for me. I have been reminded more than once that, despite my best efforts not to do so, I, too, sometimes carry my rules with me and expect others to adapt.
Yesterday, these lessons came from multiple directions. In one case, I was challenged to consider the language I used in the blog post I shared yesterday. In writing about the race relations conversation I helped Rosanna Deerchild to host on Monday night, I mentioned that “we all felt like we’d been punched in the gut” when our city was labeled the “most racist in Canada”. Several people pointed out (and not all kindly) that I was making an assumption that my response to the article was an accurate depiction of how everyone felt. By doing so, I was carrying my rules with me and overlooking the feelings of the very people the article was about.
Not everyone felt like they’d been punched in the gut. Instead, many felt a sense of relief that these stories were finally coming out.
In the critique of my blog post, one person said that my comment about feeling punched in the gut made her feel punched in the gut. Another reflected that mine was a “settler’s narrative”. A third said that I was using “the same sensationalist BS as the Macleans article”.
I was mortified. In my best efforts to enter this conversation with humility and grace, I had inadvertently done the opposite of what I’d intended. Like the man in the Barnga game, I assumed that everyone was playing by the same set of rules.
I quickly edited my blog post to reflect the challenges I’d received, but the problem intensified when I realized that the Macleans journalist who wrote the original article (and who’d flown in for Monday’s gathering) was going to use that exact quote in a follow-up piece in this week’s magazine. Now not only was I opening myself to scrutiny on my blog, I could expect even harsher critique on a national scope.
I quickly sent her a note asking that she adjust the quote. She was on a flight home and by the time she landed, the article was on its way to print. I felt suddenly panicky and deeply ashamed. Fortunately, she was gracious enough to jump into action and she managed to get her editor to adjust the copy before it went to print.
Surviving a shame shitstorm
Last night, I went to bed feeling discouraged and defeated. On top of this challenge, I’d also received another fairly lengthy email about how I’ve let some people down in an entirely different circle, and I was feeling like all of my efforts were resulting in failure.
At 2 a.m., I woke in the middle of what Brene Brown calls a “shame shitstorm”. My mind was reeling with all of my failures. Despite my best efforts to create spaces for safe and authentic conversation, I was inadvertently stepping on toes and enforcing my own rules of engagement.
As one does in the middle of the night, I started second-guessing everything, especially what I’d done at the gathering on Monday night. Was I too bossy when I hosted the gathering? Did I claim space that wasn’t mine to claim? Were my efforts to help really micro-aggressions toward the very people I was trying to build bridges with? Should I just shut up and step out of the conversation?
By 3 a.m., I was ready to yank my blog post off the internet, step away into the shadows, and never again enter into these difficult conversations.
By 4 a.m., I’d managed to talk myself down off the ledge, opened myself to what I needed to learn from these challenges, and was ready to “step back into the arena”.
Some time after 4, I managed to fall back to sleep.
Moving on from here
This morning, in the light of a new day, I recognize this for what it is – an invitation for me to address my own shadow and deepen my own learning of how I carry my own rules with me.
If I am not willing to address the colonizer in me, how can I expect to host spaces where I invite others to do so?
Nobody said this would be easy. There will be more sleepless nights, more shame shitstorms, and more days when my best efforts are met with critique and even anger.
But, as I said in the closing circle on Monday night, I’m going to continue to live with an open heart, even when I don’t know the next right thing to do, and even when I’m criticized for my best efforts.
Because if I’m not willing to change, I have no right to expect others to do so.