Cuidad Perdida or Bust

Mules passing me on the chalk trail.

Mules passing me on the chalk trail.

I seriously thought I was going to collapse. Hills should not be this high or this steep. Three hours up? In 35 degree C  heat? With no shade? Come on!

The rest of our small group had shown us their backs a while ago. I’d already guzzled most of the water by the time the trail turned to white chalk dust, reflecting the heat back into my beet red face. Dust poofed into the air at every step, sticking to my sweat and coating my heaving lungs. And yet, there seemed no end. Up, up, eternally up.

Earlier that afternoon, we started the three day hike into Ciudad Perdida, a “lost city” in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. It had been a wonderful day. Meeting our hiking crew that morning and driving out to El Mamey, the town with such a bloody history it was nicknamed El Machete, where we would start our hike. The peaceful little village that greeted us did not live up to its past reputation, thankfully. We’d seen a massive iguana (or I think it was an iguana – it was a huge lizard in a tree, anyway) and the two snow capped peaks in the Sierra Nevadas, the two biggest mountains in the world at sea level. Incredibly impressive!

The hike itself started out easy-peasy, with gentle uphills and the occasional downhill. It was hot, that was for certain, but it was also shaded. The surroundings were beautiful and exotic, creeks bubbled past, strange fruit hung on trees, and the flowers… oh, the flowers! They’d drive me to poetry if I wasn’t careful.

Anyway, it all seemed amazing, even for a little while after the gentle slope turned into a not so gentle slope. Then the shade vanished, the sun got hotter (I swear), we hit the chalk dust – and the hike became a trudge.

Brad stayed with me, encouraging me and dutifully offering to carry my pack every once in a while. No way, I thought. I’d rather die, right here, right now. I may be suffering the ego-beating of being agonizingly slow, but to have someone carry my pack? No way, dude.

Just a random awesome flower in the jungle.

Just a random awesome flower in the jungle.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to carry it?”

“Yeah (gasp) I’m sure (gasp, stumble).”

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

“Here, let me take your hand.”

“Aw, you’re so (gasp) romantic.”

“Uh, yeah.”

Pulls me up the hill.

“You know, I can carry your pack for you.”

“Grrr.”

Waits one minute.

“Do you want me to?”

“I’m (gasp, pant) fine.”

“Okay, just let me know.”

Washing off the dust

Washing off the dust

Well, I must admit, the time did come, and then I had the added pleasure of seeing him carrying both our packs up the last of that massive hill without even breathing hard, as I panted and wheezed alongside.

But you know what? That was an amazing day. I loved the challenge and the exertion and the heat and the wiping of dusty sweat out of my eyes and the chalk breathing – and later that day, washing said dust/chalk off in the river while getting nibbled on by little vampire fish.

That hill was a profoundly satisfying experience. I may not have conquered it in style or even reach the top with my own pack on my own back, but conquer it I did. And that makes me happy.

 

Being an Inspiration

So, I did my part in Colombia to inspire people. I had a panic attack.

We’d been working a tough schedule. Mornings at PARE (a home devoted to helping people get off the streets) doing English lessons and teaching the residents skills that they could use to make money. It was loud, high energy, and fun – and for a major introvert like me, incredibly bombarding. Add to that, the facts that I’m deaf in one ear and can’t hear anything said on my right side, and that I knew so little Spanish that I was afraid to say the little I knew, because the response would then be in Spanish and I wouldn’t understand a word said – if I even heard it… and well, I was stressed. During the afternoons, we either planned or put on events at El Redil del Sur, a Christian church in Sabaneta, and I had to hear and talk to even more people. All day. Every day.

To add to the upheaval, I kept expecting those closest to me (the team I was working with) to be mad at me! I know it sound crazy, but really it’s not so crazy as it sounds, because in my day-to-day life, my special-needs daughter has rage issues and is almost constantly angry, usually at me. Her anger has dominated my daily life for years now. What I didn’t realize until I went to Colombia was how much it has affected me.

Brad and me, later that day in Botero Square, Medellin.

Brad and me, later that day in Botero Square, Medellin.

Still, no matter how much I expected it, no one got mad at me there. I don’t even think they felt frustrated with me, though they certainly had a right to be. Every time I noticed myself closing down emotionally, I’d remind myself that no one was mad, that they actually even seemed to like me. I’d be fine for an hour or a day or whatever, and then it would sneak it again, and I’d start feeling like a miserable burden to the people I worked with, like any moment they were going to snap and say something mean… Surely they’re mad at me now. Nope. Okay, but what about now? Sorry, no evidence of that. But what about now? And on and on it went.

And then Sunday came. The first church service that day was very spiritual and I felt so open… and then when the service was over, it’s like all my doubts and fears of the proceeding week zoomed into that open space, and wouldn’t leave. I held myself together only a few minutes into the second service, and then for the first time ever, I had a panic attack. To make things worse, I had to leave the service during a relatively quiet time and I was sitting at the front, so of course a lot of people noticed. Though the panic attack was as scary as I’ve heard they can be, it couldn’t stop my feelings of embarrassment or humiliation. If I could’ve chosen anywhere else to have my episode, I would’ve done it. But, well… it was simply not to be.

Brad stayed with me the whole time of the attack, and eventually, I could breathe normally again. Ages later, the tears stopped. I tried to slink out of church unnoticed, and mostly succeeded. Either that or most people were giving me the gift of averting their eyes (I suspect that’s the case, actually). The rest of the day was awesome and rejuvenating, and I was able to start up again on Monday morning with no outward residual effect. But underneath, I still felt ashamed of my meltdown. I blamed myself for being both weak and an idiot. That is, until the day we left Sabaneta.

We had a last lunch together, and were sharing our thoughts on the trip, on what was a success and what might be better next time, and right at the end, Jairo, the pastor at El Redil, said something that completely changed my outlook. He said that one of the things that really impacted the people in his church during our visit was how supportive and gentle Brad was with me when I was upset. Many people saw it, he said (and I thought, “oh great!”), and they were deeply moved by Brad’s kind and loving response.

And all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so bad about my meltdown. I had made a difference. I’d helped to inspire. I might have done it by crying and hyperventilating, but if I hadn’t done that, Brad wouldn’t have had a reason to show me such kindness in front of so many people. Yes, at the time it was terribly embarrassing and frightening, but to have that painful experience inspire others on the value of kindness and gentleness? I’m glad it happened. What more can I say?

Life + + +

Jardin SquareThe wind sways the tree tops in a silver sky, and I find I’m mesmerized by their stark northern dance. So different from what I was seeing just a few days ago. I was in Colombia, soaking in the heat, sights, sounds, and smells of a culture that is very different from my own – and very attractive. I can see why writers and other artists gravitate to South America. It is place alive with passion! Everything is less reserved than in the north: the people, the vegetation, the colours, the streets, the churches… Life on overdrive!

The night we arrived in Sabaneta, a neighbourhood in Medellin, I saw my first example of this. We stayed in an apartment with a local woman, Adriana, who was very hospitable, welcoming, and kind. From her fifth story apartment balcony, we watched the street as night descended and saw groups of adults sitting in their plastic chairs in circles on the sidewalks, talking, gesturing, and laughing. Happy, loud music floated up to our balcony. Teens hung out in small groups, joking and teasing each other. Younger kids played with a skateboard, taking turns, running, shrieking with joy, and quickly moving to the side whenever a car honked to signal they needed to drive past. A searchlight swayed back and forth in the sky, and later in the night, the fast paced music and sky was regularly punctuated with fireworks. What was the celebration? Nothing, our host told us. It was just a normal Saturday night in the neighbourhood, hanging out with friends and family in a multi-generational gathering.

As the next weeks passed, I became even more impressed by the values of the people there. Family and friends not only seemed far more important than ego and influence, but those things hardly seemed to be in the running. The people were very accepting of us foreigners too, though I must admit, at first I found the expressive welcomes a bit intimidating. It felt weird to feel so welcome – until it began to feel good.

I learned a lot of things in Colombia: things about the culture, about the plant and animal life, about the history of an amazing country. Just as importantly, I learned to a much deeper extent the value of an open heart, and once again, I was reminded of how our cultures, both societal and familial, shape us. I also learned things about my own life that I just wasn’t seeing clearly before, because my perception was wrapped in my own personal convention, built up over years, or in some cases, a lifetime.

The picture here is one of the few available to me, since one of our bags went missing somewhere in the Mexico City airport and our camera was inside. Until it’s found (if it’s ever found) this photo will have to do. It’s not even of Sabaneta, but the square in a small town outside of Medellin, called Jardin.

We may not have come home with all of our luggage, but honestly, I came home with something far more valuable. A fresh perspective. And a very strong desire to move to South America!

The Importance of Purple Hair

AvatarThis is my avatar on a site I share with writing friends. A while back, I changed my hair from brown to purple, just having fun, and then the jokes started about the power of the hair. Well, this week the purple hair feels limp and faded. “Bad” stuff has happened, but because of my commitment to live as if all things are possible, I did my best to embrace the experience.

My theory for this choice: if I fully feel my sadness instead of trying to force it into becoming happiness, and feel the loss and betrayal instead of trying to deny it, then I’ll move through the emotional shock faster. This meant no hiding from the sadness, no making futile efforts to make things appear better than they are, no pretending that the situation isn’t serious, plus accepting that my relationship with someone I love may never recover. It was (is) hard. I felt old and tired, beaten and dejected, like a big lump sluffing around. Believe me, it was uglier than it even sounds.

However, by yesterday morning, it seemed like I may have chosen wisely. I felt lighter and slightly more energized than the days before. I was still really sad, but still, life seemed a touch sunnier.

Then today, after encouragement from my husband and friends, I went for a walk in the rain – and had an epiphany. This is it:

When things get tough like this, I need to remember to set my own value and not react to the value others put on me. I need to treat myself kindly and take care of myself psychologically, spiritually, and physically, to keep myself strong during challenging times. Just as important, I need to do if for the right reason. If I try to patch up my psyche just so I can be of further use to others, I’ll always be weaker than if I do it out of self respect and self care.

And finally, I need to remember that I may never have a good relationship with this person – because she chooses her own value and her own life path. She may never accept me. Her choices are hers, mine are mine, and our individual value is not determined by anyone but ourselves. While it really hurts to think she may never want me in her life, her choice is not a statement on who I am.

Since I choose my own value, I’ll try to see myself honestly as I work to be my best self – and maintain that bright, shiny purple hair, of course – even when things get tough. Fingers crossed.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

I am living this year with the view that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. What this year may include: growth in living without past resentments and programing, overcoming fears, achieving career goals, developing stronger, more loving relationships, and acting with more open kindness (click here to read an amazing true story of kindness). You have just read my Week 7.  Thank you!

Week Six

First of all, my apologies and thank you to those who let me know you were unable to comment on my blog posts. The problem is now fixed (I think). 🙂

Second, so many of my thoughts, perceptions, and long held beliefs seem to be in motion right now. If you can bear the rambling, here’s a snapshot of my last two weeks.

braceletpileIt all started with a bracelet for Christmas like the ones in the photo. My inspiring words are: “Make It So”. I thought over the next few days, why did I choose that saying? Other than the fact that it’s cool because of Captain Picard, of course. Anyway, I couldn’t seem to answer the question, or the ones that followed. How much of what I experience in life is me “making things so”? How much is others making things so? What should that balance ultimately be?

From there, I moved on to wondering if life is not as much about making things so, as it is about making the most of what is so. Not passivity, but complete faith; what is here, is good or for my good. In that case, it isn’t me making it so. It’s the unifying force, God, the universe, the Great Spirit – I can’t list all the names here but you know who I mean. While I mused on active faith, the idea of “making it so” myself seemed not only limiting, but even somewhat tacky.

Then I watched the movie “Pawn Sacrifice”, a movie about Bobby Fischer. One line at the end stuck to my psyche like glue: when Bobby Fischer (played by Tobey Maguire) says, “chess is a game of unlimited options, but there’s only one right move.” Whoa! I thought, but my thoughts didn’t obey. Off they went… Is that true of life as well? Is there only one right move in each unique situation? And if so, how do I discern which one move out of unlimited options?

Then, a day later, after a conversation about personal responsibility with a very smart woman: what am I actually responsible for when it comes to other people? And if I am responsible for others, how much responsibility do I have? How do I judge how much to give and how much to keep back so all benefit the most? Gut feeling? A theology? Advice from others? And another biggie with responsibility: how do I see true need in others and not be fooled into feeding their pathologies, or mine for that matter? My head was really hurting by then.

And then something happened. All the thoughts pulled together into something bigger than all of them, something I can barely put into words at this point. In fact, I’m hoping that the act of writing it here makes it clearer in my own mind.  The thought was…

I don’t need to worry about making anything so, nor do I need to make the most of whatever comes my way. Searching for that one right move among unlimited options is a waste of energy. Responsibility to ourselves and others in every situation can’t be covered by any rules.

Yet, at the same time, the opposite is true too. I can make it so. I can make the best of what life gives me. I can find that one right move and accept the perfect amount of responsibility. And the best thing is I can do them all by doing one thing – by living as powerfully as I can in each moment. By powerfully, I don’t mean the power of the ego; I mean a much deeper power, the power of the heart, the power of my inner guidance, the part of me that’s connected to spirit.

Because I’m basically a normal person (or at least as normal as a human can get), and I feel this inner guidance in myself, I believe that everyone who desires a meaningful life also has that inborn sense of what their every moment calls for. I also believe that we all naturally follow that voice to an extent, and when we don’t, we feel disappointed in ourselves. And no wonder. We can be so much. Examples abound of those who followed their guidance to greatness. They’re the giants among us. The ones who inspire us, the ones we go to to seek wisdom and understanding. They are the leaders and heroes that we never forget, though some lived thousands of years ago.

But I too have the capacity of living powerfully, in every moment. You do too. We all do – but I’m not going to speak for anyone else here. What I need to learn to do: stop worrying about the details. Keep connected. Live powerfully. Every moment that I do that, the world is a tiny bit better. Every moment I stand up and live by the code written in my heart, I am a success.

It’s that simple – and that hard.

Week Four

CHRISTMAS whos around your treeIt’s the day after Christmas, and what a week! So many cool things:

1. My parents spent Christmas with us. They could have stayed home and enjoyed the company of my sisters and their families, and probably would have preferred the comfort of their own house rather than our little home, and yet they decided to get into their car and drive 999 km each direction (according to Google Maps) to spend the week before Christmas until Boxing Day with us. I understand the sacrifice they made, though of course, they didn’t say a word. They only seemed glad to be here, despite the facts that it rained almost every day and I saved the Christmas prep until they got here, which meant lots of shopping. Poor Dad! However, their patience and kindness knew no bounds. I am incredibly grateful for them.

2. A fantastic time was had and an amazing dinner thoroughly enjoyed at Seth’s and Elaine’s home. The little kiddies are so bright and engaging in their celebration; it’s simply a joy to be around them.

3. Marina came back for Christmas, and it’s wonderful to have her here. Now that Christmas Day has passed, we are going to work on a script together. Exciting!

4. It was so nice to have a FaceTime chat with our Texas kids despite the fact they kept bragging about how hot it was there (29C). I guess that was payback for us bragging to our family in Calgary (who were at -20C) about how warm it was here. 🙂

5. So many gifts of love given and received, one being an incredibly generous gift of money from Bev and Lyle to use as we wish during our upcoming trip. I feel so grateful to pass my share of that gift on to PARE, a home for street kids in Columbia.

So the summary of all this: There is so much to appreciate. The biggest present I gave myself was to live in each moment as fully as possible, while being as aware as I was able. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses but even those moments were appreciated as growing opportunities (as per my Week Two post) and I found that as long as I followed my intuition, all seemed more or less well timed on when to enter a conversation, when to exit.

I was sad to see my parents leave this morning. I hope they know how much I appreciate them and acknowledge the sacrifice they made in coming here. I love them dearly, and I also admire and respect them. Their examples guide me as I work to grow into a more spiritually mature person.

Wishing peace, love, and light to you all!

Week Three

This story has been popping back into my head a lot this week. It’s a true story, something that happened to my daughter/friend, Charity, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, something she helped make happen because she followed her intuition.

Homeless ManA year or so ago, Charity was finishing her last year of University. She’s also a mom with two young children, and like most young families, she and her husband struggled financially. One day while driving home from campus, feeling particularly grateful for the good things in her life, she saw an elderly homeless man pushing his belongings down the street in a shopping cart, and felt compassion for him. She had $60 in her wallet, and she wanted to give it to him.

However, since he was on the other side of the street, one of the busiest streets in Victoria at that time of day, she knew she’d have to double back, find parking, and then approach him on foot. It took her some time to get turned around during rush hour, and by the time she got back to where he’d been, he was gone.  She drove slowly along, hoping he hadn’t gone far. He hadn’t – but he was once again on the wrong side of the street!

Another lengthy exercise in patience as she turned around in traffic, and ten minutes later she was heading back to where she’d last seen him. Again, he seemed to have vanished – until she saw him disappearing into a driveway to an apartment building.

Determined now to chase him down on foot, she found parking at a nearby bank, and ran toward the apartment building – and there he was, already pushing his cart down the street away from her. She says she must’ve looked like a crazy woman running after him, money fluttering in her fist.

Finally, she caught him! “This is for you,” she said, and pushed the $60 toward him.

He didn’t even seem surprised. “You keep that money,” he told her kindly.

“You don’t want it? But… but don’t you need it?”

The old man chuckled. “No one knows what they need, and those who think they do are just fooling themselves.” Then he patted her arm. “Pass your good deed onto another. And have a nice day.” He smiled as he turned back to his shopping cart, and walked away.

I’m not drawing any conclusions from this story or trying to pin down why it’s sticking in my mind this week. I’m just sitting with it, in gratitude, thinking of the power of Charity’s experience. There are so many awesome lessons in it: following intuition, showing compassion, thinking outside the box, being persistent, not being afraid to do something unusual and different, accepting the wisdom gifts of others, and on and on and on.

Interesting, multifaceted life learning – the best kind.

Week Two

I have a person in my life who really doesn’t like me. We’ve had a very negative relationship for some time, but because of people we mutually know, I can’t seem to escape him. At get-togethers, he baits me, usually by saying something judgemental or unkind. I feel I have to speak up, and because I’m usually right (or at least think I am!), he gets angry, which in turn makes me feel threatened… and it spirals down from there. I feel shaken for days after an encounter. Well, we had another get-together last week, and because of being open to All Things Are Possible, I saw things differently, more honestly. This is what I noticed:

participationHis words and actions are specifically chosen to bait me, because we don’t just have a negative relationship. He actively and intensely dislikes me, so much so that I am the person he is most aware of when we are in the same room. When I saw that, it slowly dawned on me that I was the one in control of the situation – something I never would have guessed before. I realized that his entire satisfaction depended on me doing one thing: taking the bait.

So I’ve been thinking on that, on what to do, on what the possibilities are. At first, I thought there were two things I could do: either ignore the comments or speak up with integrity – but as I started to write things out, I realized a deeper truth.

It’s not the bait I need to worry about; it’s the trap – the bait is the comment itself, but the trap is the negative feelings. That’s what I need to avoid. Even truth can be spoken with the intention to do harm, to aggravate, to belittle. And when bait doesn’t trap you, it isn’t bait anymore. It’s a snack. 🙂

So the question isn’t: do I ignore the comment or speak up with integrity? The question is: can I be around this person without reacting to their malice? If I choose to remain silent when he baits me, can I still maintain my positive outlook? If I choose to enter the conversation, can I impose my own value system on it, instead of allowing his anger to dominate? To draw attention to Wayne Dyer’s quote, whether I choose to engage in the conversation or not, I must refuse to engage in the conflict.

So I don’t know if I’ll speak up or remain silent the next time, but really that’s irrelevant. What is very relevant is that I’m not trapped in a bitter mindset. I’m wondering now if inner strength is not shown by fighting against bullying, angry comments, but instead, by facing someone who has ill intent, seeing their motives clearly, and not only refusing to engage in the spite no matter how personal it gets, but act true to my own beliefs of respectful, kind interactions. In other words, instead of diving into the negativity, elevate the situation.

I know it sounds strange, but I’m almost looking forward to the next time I’m in the same room with him. I want to explore this more. I want to turn this negative into a positive. And I believe I can do it because for this year, All Things Are Possible.

Week One

The first thing that happened was that I started to pay attention – and I first noticed I kept slipping back into old ways of thinking. Instead of keeping open to All Things Are Possible (ATAP), I turned back to the Usual Things Will Happen (UTWH), and as we all know, when you think the usual is going to happen, then you act as if the usual will happen, and then the usual does happen! However, every time I noticed the UTWH mindset I did my best, sometimes unsuccessfully, to think in an ATAP way. By the end of the week, it was getting slightly easier.

On Sunday, ATAP helped me big time. Instead of just feeling my usual social anxiety at church, I found that I was also observing myself feeling it. As I observed, I tried motivating myself: if all things are possible, then it’s possible to not feel anxiety. This helped the anxiety diminish a little more – not enough to approach anyone and actually talk afterward, but it was enough to feel more relaxed. A first step.

SailingLater that day we went out sailing. There was fear there too, right at the beginning when I though we were taking Viento out, because of the currents that go through where she’s docked. As it turned out, we took Wind Borne instead. She’s docked in a different place, with very low current. My nervousness evaporated. The wind was perfect, the motor started despite the cold – everything seemed perfect. We put up the sails before we cut loose because we thought we could sail her away from the dock – but ended up almost ramming the dock. And oddly, I felt no fear then, just exhilaration. The fear was with Viento, thinking about bashing the dock.

That night, I watched After Earth again.  It turned out to be an interesting choice. The theme: Danger might be real, but fear is a choice. To put this toward my social anxiety: yes, social humiliation may be real; I may say something stupid and have people think I’m weird; I may inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings; I may act like a total idiot. But to be afraid of doing that is a choice.

This week, I’ve also had a shift of writing focus, from one screenplay to another, from Freedom to Undertow. I’m happy for it. I think it’s the right project for me right now, and events conspired so that I can – All Things Are Possible!

And one more thing happened that was mystically powerful. If you come along on this journey with me, you’ll have to get used to weird interpretations of possibly very normal phenomena. I’m telling my experience the way I interpret it; it’s not meant as a statement on the way the world is. Anyway, I was sleeping in, tired because I woke up at 3 and couldn’t sleep again until 6:30, and yet I was still waking up. I didn’t want to wake up. I fought it. I wanted another hour…  And a voice spoke inside my head (no, it wasn’t Brad – lol!): “Don’t ask for more time to extend your experience, ask for more experience to fulfil your time.”  I have no more words for that right now. Just putting it out there.

So in the first week of living as if all things are possible:

  1. Changed writing projects;
  2. Entered a writing contest;
  3. The power went off a few times (but that wasn’t me, I promise);
  4. Observed my usual social fears instead of only feeling them;
  5. Realized something important about time and experience;
  6. Fear is a choice. Now I just need to have the focus and inner balance to choose to not feel it in fearful situations.

And right on time, the power has returned… time to post.

The Year of Living as if All Things Are Possible

Crofters WindowCombining my optimism, hope, faith in the goodness of the world, and free will, I have decided to embark on a year long journey. I am going to live the next year with the view that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. My initial goals: to live as much as I can without past resentments and programing, to overcome fear, to achieve my career goals, to develop stronger, more loving relationships, and act with more open kindness. I’m sure those goals will grow and change.

The inspiration came from a book I just finished, which I highly recommend: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. After reading about habits and how we can change them, how we are manipulated by them, how the big corporations use them to target customers, I came to a story about William James, who when he was a young man, suffered from depression and more. After struggling for years, James made the following commitment:

I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. I finished the first part of Renouvier’s second Essais and see no reason why his definition of free will — ‘the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts’ — need be the definition of an illusion. At any rate, I will assume for the present — until next year — that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.

This decision changed his life, and focused him on the path that led to him now being considered the Father of American Psychology.

Obviously, my year will be different. To begin with, I’m not focusing on free will to gain free will, but on using free will to live the life that some part of me has always believed is possible. I’ll try to report every week but before I start I have one more thing to say: if you subscribe to my blog, please don’t feel bad deleting the notifications in your inbox. And that is my first act of kindness on this journey. 🙂