Vacation highlights, upcoming retreat, and some thoughts on balance

out of balance

 

I am home, once again. The last time I wrote, I was just back from a week of writing at a cottage by the lake, and now I’m just back from a week and a half vacation with my daughters. How very lucky I have been this summer to find the time and space for writing, relaxing, and traveling with my girls!

Having been raised going to the
Winnipeg Folk Festival every year, my daughters have developed a passion for indie music festivals. It’s a passion I like to indulge, so last year we drove with them to Montreal for Osheaga and this year I drove with them to Chicago for Lollapalooza. They’re talking about either Outsidelands or Squamish next year, and I’d be happy to go to either place. Though I find the size of the crowds at the festivals a little overwhelming and usually only go for one day, I so greatly treasure these days on the road with my daughters, and know that this time in their lives is fleeting (the oldest two have already graduated from high school), so I pack my bags and I go.

On the way home, after a discussion about next year’s adventure, one of my girls said “Mom, you’d be game for almost anything, wouldn’t you?” And I said “Yes, I would. Give me an interesting place to go to and some quality time with my daughters, and I’m there.” (If anyone has recommendations for great music festivals in your parts of the world, I’d be happy to hear them!)

When we travel, we do our best to seek some balance for all involved, so after a full week of music festivals, shopping, an architecture boat tour, a crime tour, the Art Institute, and other touristy things in Chicago, we headed to a campsite at McCarthy Beach State Park in Minnesota. In the past, there’d be some mild protest on their part, when I’d insist on camping for a few of the nights on our trips, but they’ve become accustomed to the fact that a vacation doesn’t feel complete to me without some time away from cities and electronic devices, and they appreciate my willingness to indulge them in their interests, so they comply willingly now. Despite the rain (and the fact that I still have a wet tent in my garage that needs to be aired out), we had a lovely time reading, wandering, sitting around the campfire, eating s’mores, and watching the sunset on the beach.

There’s a great life lesson there that I want to keep unpacking (and may write more about some day). Seek balance between the fast-paced days and the slow-paced ones. Seek balance between what you want and what you are willing to give others. Seek balance in your connection with others and your connection with yourself. Seek balance in your plugged-in days and your unplugged ones.

When your life begins to feel out of balance, it may be a good time to head to the woods.

This morning, though it was a little hard to convince my body to get out of bed to return to work (and nearly everything on my computer seems to be protesting similarly), I woke up grateful that I have work that I love and that I no longer have to face that feeling of dread when vacation is over and I have to drag myself back to work that drains me. I have worked hard to find this balance in my life, just as I have found it in my vacations. Yes, there is work to do, but much of it feels so much like play that I rarely feel out of balance. (If you’re not there, take heart. I spent many years yearning for this lifestyle before it finally happened for me.)

During the remainder of the month of August and into September, I will be working on polishing up the newest version of my memoir (with the hopes of seeking a publisher in the Fall), and then I’ll be working on a couple of new things (a facilitator’s kit for Mandala Discovery, and some kind of course or retreat around the theme of Holding Space).

There are a few things you might be interested in for the Fall:

1. I’m really excited to announce that I will be hosting a retreat in Asheville, NC, October 8-11, with my dear friend Desiree Adaway. This is no ordinary retreat. It’s called Engage, and it’s for all (women and men) who consider themselves change-makers, edge-walkers, dream-weavers, or social justice activists. It’s a place for soulful conversations, broken hearts, hopeful dreams, and imaginative action. Desiree and I are both passionate about supporting people in social justice work, and lately we’ve both had a growing sense of despair about some of the injustice in both of our countries. In the U.S., young black men are dying at the hands of the police, and in Canada, there’s a growing number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. We feel called to support anyone working on these or other important social justice causes, and so we’ve created a place for people to gather and be inspired. Will you join us?

2. There is still space for a few people in my online Openhearted Writing Circle on September 18th. If you want to write from a deeper place (whether for your own personal growth or to share with an audience), this is the place to gather with others like you and be inspired. All you need to participate is a Skype account and an open heart.

3. Registration is open for October’s offering of The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to HerselfFor 21 days, you’ll receive lessons based on the stages of a labyrinth walk.

4. In late October, I’ll be participating in the annual gathering of Gather the Women, in Parrish, Florida. If you’d like to experience the power of a women’s circle, I’d highly encourage you to consider this gathering. I deeply believe in the work of this organization and in the importance of spending time in circle with other women.

5. For those in Canada, there is also a Gather the Women gathering happening in Ontario, September 11-13. They don’t have a website, but at this link, you’ll find a poster. If that doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll send you the email address of the contact person. (I won’t be attending this gathering, but the organizers are all dear friends of mine and I know that it will be good.)

I hope that, in whatever way works for you, you are finding some balance in your life this summer. Thank you for being part of my circle!

What I did on my summer vacation (and how you can get the most out of yours)

vacation 5My family and I have just returned from what was probably the best family vacation we’ve ever taken. We spent two weeks on a road trip, driving from our home in Winnipeg first to Lake Superior Provincial Park, then to Ottawa and Gatineau Park, then to Montreal and Quebec City, and finally to Toronto.

In total, we put on more than 6500 kilometres, driving halfway across this big beautiful country of ours. That’s a lot of time to spend inside a vehicle full of five people and all of our luggage and camping supplies! Luckily, we like each other and our kids are old enough to manage their own boredom.

vacation 2We packed a lot into this vacation. We spent four days camping far from city lights (where raccoons tried to steal the food from our picnic table), a week in a lovely home in a great neighbourhood in Montreal (rented through airbnb), a few days in a hotel in Toronto, and finally a night in a cheap motel (that hasn’t been renovated since the seventies) in rural Ontario on the way home. We went hiking, played on the shore of Lake Superior, toured Canada’s parliament building, visited a couple of museums, wandered around Old Montreal and Old Quebec, attended Osheaga (a huge music festival on an island in Montreal), watched a synchronized swimming world championship, went to a major league baseball game, went shopping, ate in some delightful cafes, and did lots of family bonding over shared jokes and cheap meals.

Here’s a video compilation of our travel photos.

In case you’re planning a family vacation in the near future, here are a few things that helped make this a great one for us.

  1. Let every member of the family plan at least one part of the vacation. We always let each member of the family pick at least one restaurant, one family activity, and/or one place they want to stay. When they know they’re getting their way on at least one thing, they’re more willing to take part in other things. The impetus for this vacation was our oldest two daughters’ dream of going to Osheaga. They had no idea when they started talking about it that we might be willing to drive half way across the country for it, but it fit in well with a long-held dream of seeing more of the eastern part of the country.
  2. vacation 6Consider options other than hotels for your accommodations. One of the highlights of our vacation was the house we rented through airbnb in Montreal. It was really lovely to have a place where each of the girls had their own bedroom, we had a full kitchen where we could prepare some of our meals, and we had free parking, laundry facilities, etc. It was also in a much more interesting neighbourhood than most hotels are.
  3. Include everyone in the vacation budget considerations. We budgeted a daily average that needed to cover food, entertainment, subway fares, etc. I used an app on my phone to keep track of all expenses. The girls were told ahead of time that if we could keep expenses down on some days, we’d be able to splurge on other days, so they were quite cooperative in eating cheaply as often as possible so we could afford a few nicer restaurant meals and entertainment. Our oldest two daughters will soon be taking vacations on their own, so it was a great experience for them to learn about the decisions that go into staying on budget and still having a great time.
  4. Check your passports far in advance. The one mistake we made on this vacation was to assume our passports were all up-to-date. We had planned to drive through the U.S. (which is shorter and allows for a little more variety), but discovered just before we left that some passports had expired. Luckily, we didn’t have to change many plans since most of our time was going to be spent in Canada anyway.
  5. Adapt to what shows up. This piece of advice flows out of the last one. We had to change our route, but in the end we didn’t mind because it allowed us to show our kids more of the beauty of our own country, and we spent a beautiful couple of days in Lake Superior Provincial Park, which we hadn’t planned on originally.
  6. Don’t over-fill your agenda and be open to surprises. We had a few things planned in advance (ie. Osheaga and the Blue Jays baseball game), but otherwise, we made decisions as we went along. One of our favourite surprises was Mosaika, an amazing light show that’s projected on the front of the parliament building in Ottawa. Another favourite surprise for Maddy was the opportunity to watch a synchronized swimming world championship competition in Montreal.
  7. vacation 3Find a comfortable balance between activity and rest. There was a lot we wanted to see on this trip, so we filled many of our days with activity, but in between we spent long leisurely hours relaxing in our lovely home-away-from-home. On our last full day in Montreal, we intentionally put nothing on the agenda, and each member of the family was able to find the kind of quiet time they needed – one wandered, one read, one watched movies, one went running, two went for a drive up Mont Royal, and three walked to the grocery store and baked cookies.
  8. Carefully guard time for yourself. As every parent knows, vacations can be exhausting when you’re constantly having to make sure your kids are fed and entertained, make decisions about what to do every day, and often cope with anxiety and grumpiness over new places, new faces, tiredness, and unexpected challenges. Before you leave on vacation, make a pact with your partner that you will each get at least a portion of a day all to yourself to do with what you please. Marcel spent an afternoon at a major league soccer game, and I spent mine in a coffee shop and on the streets with my camera. I also found some times in between for some solo wandering, which my family is quite accustomed to me doing.
  9. Find ways to blend in with the locals. Travel, for me, has never been just about site-seeing and tourist attractions. I love to learn more about the local way of life and practice seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, and so we learned to take the metro (subway), we ate at places in our neighbourhood whose target audience was local patrons rather than tourists, and shopped at the local grocery stores. Staying at an airbnb house helped in that regard, since we were surrounded by people living ordinary, day-to-day lives rather than tourists in a hotel.
  10. vacation 4Encourage everyone to express their needs. Good communication is especially important when you’re spending more hours together than normal doing things that are outside of the routine. You need to practice being clear with each other. The day after spending a day with our youngest daughter at Osheaga, where about 40,000 people crowded every space, I found myself desperately in need of quiet, open space, where I could indulge the introverted side of me. I had to be clear with my family that I needed personal space and quiet time and that when I seemed to be pushing them away, it was not about them but rather about me and my needs. Others in the family were also encouraged to be honest about their needs, and so there were times when one of us stayed behind, went for a solitary walk, or looked to others for support when we were feeling a little nervous.
  11. Be gentle and intentional when it comes time for re-entry. We all know about the crash that can come after a good vacation, when you have to return to work and routine and bills to pay and broken relationships to deal with and school to prepare for and… and… Be kind to yourself when you’re coming back home and be intentional about making this time as positive as possible. We built in a day of downtime (when we had very few expectations of each other) between arriving at home and having to be back at work. One of the other things I did this time around that helped make re-entry more gentle was a thorough housecleaning before we left. It was nice to return to a newly steam-cleaned carpet, some new-to-us furniture, and clutter-free space. For more on re-entry, read this helpful blog post from Jen Louden.

Anything to add? Feel free to give your vacation tips in the comments.

p.s. Now that I’m back from vacation, I’ve got lots on the go. I’m working on a new e-book on making deeper connections, I’m preparing for the September offering of Mandala Discovery, I’m opening some spots for new coaching clients, and I’m preparing to host another Pathfinder Circle for people who want group coaching. I’m also hoping to launch a follow-up to Summer Lovin’ for the Fall.

Resilience: A love story

I am carrying a huge basket of stories that I gathered on my trip. Each day I added new stories emerging from the deep conversations I had with people in my travels through Reno, Lake Tahoe, Oakland, San Francisco, Atlanta, Asheville, and finally Lake Lanier. I want to share all of those stories with you, but some of them need to ripen in the basket a little longer before they’ll be ready to be harvested.

First of all, let me tell you that this trip was all about love. Here’s what I posted on Facebook when I first got home…

After all of my travels in five states, after all of the deep and soulful conversations, after the early morning sunrises over the lake, after the sharing circles, after the ziplining, after the skinny-dipping, after the wandering in the woods, after the cracking open of many hearts, after my talk about the courage to lead differently, after bountiful feasts from the hands of many farmers, after the laughter, after the tears, after the deep body hugs and the tenderhearted kisses… after it all fades into memory, my learning can be boiled down to the words on the mug I brought home… Love more. Love fiercely and deeply. Love courageously. Love ridiculously. Love the sky and the earth and the dogs and the caterpillars. Love the wine and the music. Love the brave hearts and the fearful hearts. Love the ones that are easy to love and those who are more difficult. Love with wild abandon. Love until your heart cracks wide open and we all see the fleshy softness inside. Love more and let yourself be loved. Don’t be afraid of love.

It might sound rather pie-in-the-sky, but it’s the ground on which I stand. Love is what let me go on this journey when so many of you supported this dream. Love is what let me connect with beautiful people all along the way. Love is what inspired me to share from my heart on stage. Love is what gave me the courage to believe I had something to share. It’s all about love.

Almost as soon as I got home from my journey, reality smacked me across the face. There’s a huge crack in our basement wall that will probably cost us thousands to fix, my aunt died of brain cancer while I was away and her funeral was yesterday, I’m dealing with a nasty bug bite that I got in Atlanta that seems to be infected and I spent yesterday evening in urgent care, and there’s a little heartbreak in my relationship with one of my daughters. Any of those things individually could have sent me into a tailspin of despair, but they didn’t. I’m okay. I’m more than okay. I am feeling strong and courageous, and – more than anything – loved.

LOVE has made me resilient. LOVE has given me courage. LOVE has given me hope.

At Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp at Lake Lanier last week, Maya Stein and Amy Tingle did something so breathtakingly beautiful and full of love, I found my heart breaking wide open. First of all, they’d brought their vintage trailer MAUDE (Mobile Art Unit Designed for Everyone) along to camp and they were inviting everyone to visit to make art tags to hang in a tree. Secondly, they each had vintage typewriters, and if you offered them a single word, they would each write a spontaneous poem on an index card made especially for you. They did both of these things with beauty, grace and generosity, not asking to be paid or flaunting their brand in anyone’s face – simply offering this gift to anyone who would receive it.

The first time I saw them with their typewriters, I felt a little overwhelmed – not sure I could step forward and feel worthy enough of the gift. I was intrigued, but it felt somehow vulnerable and tender to give them a word and then simply receive. I had already received so much on this journey (and even before the journey in order to make it possible) that the gremlins were saying “You’ve received enough. You had the AUDACITY to ask people to help pay for this trip. How DARE you think that you are worthy of another gift?”typing

When I came out of the session the next evening, though, and saw them with their typewriters again, I knew I just had to do it. I knew I was worthy. I knew, deep down in my bones, that I wanted this gift and was ready to receive it.

I stood in line and waited… and agonized over what word was the right one. I wrote one word down, but then it didn’t feel right, so I scratched it out. Just before I got to the front of the line, I knew what my word was. Resilient.

Resilient is how I feel these past couple of months as I emerge into my work in a bigger way after the hard, hard year of losing Mom, watching my husband have a heart attack, breaking my foot, and then finding out my brother has stage 4 cancer. Resilient is what I’ve been in the past, after losing dad very suddenly, having a stillborn son, and watching the man I love wrestle with depression so powerful he attempted suicide twice. Resilience is one of my strengths and it’s one of the gifts I give to my clients in this work of being real and courageous and hopeful in this broken world.

And so I stood there, tenderly and anxiously, waiting to see what they’d do with the word resilient.

What emerged floored me and broke me open.

Here’s what Amy wrote:

resilient poem - AmyThe Amy she mentioned is Amy Dier, who had just shared a very personal story from the stage about learning to love and trust herself and allow herself to be seen. She was a former police officer who’d gone into law enforcement partly because she’d been raped when she was a teenager. She said she’d only shared the story of her rape with 8 people before saying it aloud in this room full of 150 people. After sharing the story, she invited us all to stand in a circle and she walked around the circle, looking into our eyes, and saying to each of us one at a time “I see you.”

What Amy the poet had no way of knowing was that Amy Dier and I do indeed share a story or two – the story of surviving rape, as well as the story of learning to believe we are worthy of being seen.

The second poem, from Maya, was the perfect addition, in a way that neither poet could possibly have known.resilient poem - MayaThe day after I was raped by a man who climbed through my bedroom window, I was supposed to take part in a triathlon relay race. I was going to ride 40 kilometres on my bicycle, while others did the running and swimming legs. This felt like a courageous and fierce act for me at the time, given the fact that I’d never believed I was athletic enough to be in any competition of that sort.

I never completed that bicycle ride. My body was too sore after the abuse it took at the hands of the rapist. Plus I felt a strong urge to drive home to the farm to be with my Mom and Dad.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get back on the bicycle, again and again and again. My whole life has been an act of getting back on that bicycle, each time I fall down. Through all of the deaths, disappointment, and tragedy in my life, I keep getting back on my bicycle – both literally and figuratively. (Ironically, I was actually on my way into the garage to go for a bike ride with my daughter when I broke my foot in Spring. Another metaphor, perhaps?)

And that brings me back to love. I get back on my bicycle because of love. I stay in a marriage that has been challenging because of love. I keep showing up for funerals because of love. I drive across the country to be with my brother after cancer surgery because of love. I sit beside my mother and watch her die because of love. I show up for my teenagers even when they’re snarly because of love. I travel across the country and sit in circle with myriads of beautiful people because of love. I coach my clients and host retreats because of love.

I do what I do because I have been given a lot of love and because I have a lot of love to give.

I pour love into everything I do. And love is what sustains me and gives me courage for this work. Because love is worth it. Love has made me who I am, and that is a beautiful thing.

The next time you need courage or resilience, remember that it starts with love. Give love and receive it and you will be able to get back on that bicycle, no matter how many times you fall.

Go ahead, love more.love more

 

How to be a Soulful Traveler: Ten tips for making your next trip a wholehearted experience

traveler

Tomorrow begins my epic journey to Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Asheville, and Atlanta. During that time I’ll be participating in 2 incredible gatherings with beautiful people with beautiful dreams for the world, I’ll be sharing some of my own beautiful dreams for the world, and I’ll be having meals, chai dates, and sleepovers with some of the most big-hearted people I know. I am a lucky, lucky girl.

There was a time when my suitcase was much more well-used than it has been in the last couple of years. When I was in management in government and non-profit, I usually traveled at least six times a year, mostly in North America but sometimes to far away places like Africa or Southeast Asia. When I first started to travel for business, I traveled like almost every business traveler, but then I realized that that kind of travel was rather soul-sucking. So I adjusted and learned to be a more soulful traveler.

Here are some of the things I learned about being more soulful in my traveling:

  1. Choose your accommodation wisely. Trust your heart on this one. Big-box hotels on airport strips where there are no green spaces to wander in are soul-destroying places that make you feel more like a commodity than a human being. Find a Bed and Breakfast or classic Inn in a quaint neighbourhood, and you’ll feel more alive, healthy, and happy. The bonuses are that you meet the most interesting people over breakfast, you’ll have places to wander in the evenings, and you’ll be supporting local business. Plus B&B owners are usually passionate about their neighbourhoods and can recommend the best restaurants and shops.
  2. Learn to use public transit. When I worked for government, I took the taxi all of the time, because I was entitled to it and it seemed easier. When I worked in non-profit, I was more intentional about saving money for my employer, so I started taking public transit when I could. I soon discovered that it’s much easier to get to know the soul of a place when you are among the people on a city bus, subway or train. It’s a great place to people-watch, and you can strike up the most interesting conversations with local people. When I was in Dallas, I found out there was a vintage trolley car that would take me to the conference centre every day for free (or for a small donation). It was a great deal more fun than the big ugly bus the conference attenders were taking from the big-box hotel, and I met the most fascinating trolley car enthusiasts who were volunteer drivers and conductors.
  3. Bring a little comfort with you. I always travel with a portable candle (in a tin cup with a lid) in my toiletries bag. Sometimes it’s the best way to relax in the evening after a harried trip. Plus I usually travel with a light-weight silk shawl that’s wonderful to wrap around my shoulders when I get a little cool and/or sleepy on the plane. And when you’re dealing with jet lag, one of your best friends may be your music player – at least if you’re lying in a bed in Bangladesh in the middle of the night trying to sleep while geckos are having a conversation on your wall.
  4. Talk to strangers. When public transportation isn’t a very good option and I have to take a taxi, I usually end up having a great conversation with a taxi driver. Many of them are over-qualified immigrants with fascinating stories of their countries of origin and of the many people who’ve sat in the taxicab. Some of the wisest and most interesting people I’ve met in my travels are taxi drivers.
  5. Trust people. This is a biggy. I’m not saying you should be naive and let some strange man take you home in his car (you still have to use your discretion about who’s trustworthy and who’s not), but almost every single time I decided to trust the person who was willing to take me under his/her wing and help me navigate their city turned out to be a good thing. I have only once gotten scammed by a person (and really, it was pretty harmless – he just got a little more money out of me than I should have parted with for helping me get to the market in Addis Ababa, but I was never in any danger), and on the flip side, have had some truly exceptional experiences when I’ve chosen to trust. One of my favourite travel moments was when a family in Ethiopia didn’t want me to have to eat alone and invited me to eat at their table. They ended up taking me out on the town to see some great Ethiopian performers.
  6. Walk in the rain. I’ve discovered that one of my favourite ways to see popular tourist attractions is in the rain while fairweather travelers stay dry and warm in their hotels. One of my favourite experiences while at a conference in Chicago was a rainy evening when I wandered all over Millennium Park. My feet were soaking wet by the end, but I loved seeing all of the outdoor sculptures tourist-free from under my umbrella.
  7. Pack light. I made a few mistakes early on and packed way more than I needed, but now I just bring the bare essentials. You never know when your flight might be delayed and you have to run from one gate to the next. When you’ve got nothing more than a small roller bag and a backpack, you’ll be thanking me for the advice. Plus it’s a lot easier to take public transit when you’re not overloaded. I spent three weeks in Africa with a suitcase that was small enough to be a carry-on bag and I didn’t miss anything – trust me, it can be done.
  8. Learn to adapt. No matter how well you plan, now and then, things will fall apart. The best you can do is learn to roll with it. Sometimes the best surprises come when your plans fall apart. I flew to the other side of the world with a film crew minus a videographer (he’d jammed out at the last minute), and without a film permit or visas for India. I had to hire local videographers in both India and Bangladesh AND hope that the Indian consulate in Bangladesh would treat me better than the one in Canada had. In the end, I hired the most amazing videographers (who are both now my Facebook friends) with all kinds of local knowledge I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and my hosts helped us navigate the consulate and everything fell into place beautifully.
  9. Slow down. The pace of the world we live in is moving far too quickly and the ease of air travel is making that worse. Our souls long for a slower pace, so we have to be intentional about finding slowness where we can. When I was a business traveler, I used to feel the pressure of having to rush in and out of places, flying into a city the morning of a meeting and sometimes flying home the same day. It didn’t take long to figure out that didn’t work for me. Soon I began insisting that I needed at least one night after business was done to go for a long walk and relax in a hotel (or B&B) before I was ready to hop on a plane again. Now that I’m self-employed, I take that even further, taking the train instead of plane when I can, and building transition time whenever possible. It’s much healthier for me, my family, and the people I’m doing business with if I’m a little slower and more contemplative in how I move in the world.
  10. Practice gratitude and sink into joy. After all of the travel I’ve done, I still love it wholeheartedly. I love seeing new places, meeting new people, and having new adventures. I love building community with people all over the world, and sitting in deep conversations with interesting new friends. Sometimes, though, I find the gremlins in my mind trying to tell me that “this is too good to be true” or “I don’t deserve this kind of joy”. Brene Brown talks about this “fear of joy” in her book Daring Greatly. She says that joy makes us feel vulnerable, so we protect ourselves against it by telling ourselves it won’t last. The antidote, she says, is to practice gratitude. (You can watch her talk about this in her interview with Oprah.)

 

Want to be more soulful in your whole life and not just your travel? Consider registering for the Fall offering of Lead with Your Wild Heart

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