Saturday, September 28, 2013

Escaping the Negativity Vortex


If I had to rate myself on "overall average lifetime cheerfulness and positive outlook" on a scale of one to ten, I would say I'm about an 8.5.  That sounds pretty positive right? Hopefully many of you reading this consider yourselves positive people. In fact, I think most of us are positive by nature. Our life experiences, conditioning and beliefs may affect our levels of positivity. 


In my experience, we tend to absorb the mentality and energy of the people we surround ourselves with. I wish I could remember where I read this line: "You are the sum of the three people you spend the most time with". That being said, think about what it means for you. Do you spend your time with people who high five you, encourage you, laugh with you, and who challenge you to be your best self? Or do you find yourself regularly drained and frustrated because your close circle is whining, complaining, judging, pointing fingers, gossiping, and just plain loathing life?


I don't know about you, but I know that when I hang around generally negative people for long enough, I start to take on a negative overtone myself. I sometimes catch myself after I have just ranted about something and I think to myself, "WOW. That probably sounded like a lunatic. I really don't want to perpetuate the negativity." 


It can be a HUGE challenge to draw personal boundaries with these Bad News Betty's and Negative Nellie's. It IS possible though. Another book I read called...(ok my memory is not at peak performance today)...nonetheless, it referred to these types of people as "energy vampires". Yeah. That pretty much hits the nail on the head. 


But...if we choose to not allow ourselves to give our own energy away, we will soon discover that we can interact with these folks and still feel like ourselves. Aaaaaand...we might also learn something about ourselves and even help the other person learn something about themselves in the process. 

This will take some practice. I'm still reminding myself of these techniques all the time. Try implementing these simple ideas (like garlic for vampires) the next time you encounter Mr./Miss Negativity Pants:

1.  Don't react. Listen to what is said, but do not commiserate or add to the negativity snowball.

2.  Counter the negative stuff with bright positive stuff. Be the Angel's advocate, so to speak. 

3.  Ask them "do you REALLY believe what you just said is true?" Might make them rethink.

4. Turn the whole thing around like a mirror and use these same techniques on yourself. That's right. When you are feeling out of sorts and/or mentally bashing a person or situation, take another look. 


Something else that I have gathered through the years is the concept that whenever we encounter a situation that brings up negative feelings, it likely means that we, ourselves, have some issues to face and heal. Call it the shadow side of your shiny, happy front. Are there certain kinds of people or recurring situations that you shy away from? What makes you feel awkward? What could you gain from facing your shadow and stepping right in? Often the qualities of others that make us uncomfortable are things that we are afraid to acknowledge in ourselves. 

Starting right now, I'm naming my shadow and facing it whenever I feel it breathing down my neck. I will call it Negatron. What's your shadow side called? I suggest that you give it a humorous name and share it with your friends and family so they can gently point out when it's raring its creepy face. Offer to do the same for them. This is one more step toward self-awareness. 
    

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I heart (parts of) Northern Alberta


Alas, we will be departing from lovely Northern Alberta next week. It's been a highly experiential six months here. I wanted to write down all of the things that have left a unique impression on me from this part of the world. The things that will stick with me wherever I go. Some of these things I have experienced in other places, but never to the extent that I have up here. There is a special way of life up here. That's for sure, eh?

Cribbage


What? Sounds like a baby contraption and a vegetable combined. The first time I was introduced to this fast-paced card game, I felt like my brain might combust. Now I would guess I have surpassed my 100-game milestone. Any time is crib time. 

Moose and Elk


In central Alberta, a moose sighting was a rare occasion. Up here, I have seen a moose per week, if I average out the encounters. Many of the sightings were up close and personal, by car, and usually they are as surprised as I am and seem to be in a big hurry to get somewhere. They are so huge and awkward that its hard to miss them. 
The elk on the other hand, are usually in small herds and are casually grazing in fields. So pretty. 


This brings me to something else that is in overwhelming abundance up north. Antlers. Tons and tons of antlers. Adorning garages, mantles, trees, vehicles, cabins, but rarely on animals. I'm yet to see a bull moose or elk...


Although, some of these antler collections are "sheds", meaning the bulls dropped them in the fall rutting season. May as well decorate with them!

Poplars


My first autumn in Alberta was a bit underwhelming. I was waiting for a long transition of rainbow leaves, like I was used to seeing growing up in New England. Instead it was about 4 days of yellow, followed by a blizzard snowfall which stayed for about 7 months. Now it's my 10th fall in Alberta and I appreciate the rich golden hue of the rolling foothills of the Rockies. The sheer ability of poplars to survive and thrive in this extreme climate has earned them my respect. 

Firewood


Flash back only 50 years in this part of the world and wood was what kept you alive through the insanely long dark winters. Many homes here still have wood stoves for heat and/or a nostalgic feeling. I also saw my first wood-stove-heated hot yoga studio.  Kinda neat. We just spent a weekend cutting up deadfall poplars and filling a woodshed. I find stacking firewood extremely enjoyable and rewarding. Anyone else need their supply topped up?

Sunshine!


I was so excited about the abundance of sunlight here that I almost wrote an entire blog about it. I thought the days were long near Calgary...but up in the far north, around the summer solstice, for a number of weeks it never gets completely dark. It's truly amazing. This makes it pretty tricky to fall asleep or star gaze. Good for suntanning and gardening though!

Gardening


The long hours of sunlight make gardening easier up north. If you can outsmart the frost and ginormous weeds, that is. The tomatoes, zucchini, corn, potatoes, greens, beets, beans, peas, carrots and most of what we planted went great guns and we have been scrambling to use it all! Growing your food from seed is one of the most magical acts of creation that humans can partake in. If you haven't tried it, start small and work your way up. One raised bed or a community garden where the work is shared are good ways to get your hands dirty. 

The Other Weed


Yeah, I'm talking about marijuana. I have never been in a part of the world where it is SO abundant. I remember when I first came to Canada and noticed the smoke shops on every corner. Growing up in the US, where possessing pot was the equivalent to being a serial killer, I was shocked at how liberal Canada is on this topic.  It is surprising how many people up North are growing their own supply. In fact, I walked up to a used book store that I have come to love, and this book was staring at me from the front window. 


After opening the cover and reading the first passage, I couldn't leave without it. I'm so intrigued. You can bet your boots that I will be giving a full report after I read this one. 

River boating
In a nutshell, a sleek, fast aluminum boat that zooms through rivers and can maneuver with only inches of water under it, propelling its passengers over huge sand or gravel bars. It's scary. But fun. 


People up here sure love their recreational vehicles. ATVs, skidoos, boats etc. I prefer my bicycle. Call me boring.

The Night sky
The star gazing and northern lights in Nothern Alberta surpass any that I have experienced before. Of course, from late May through early August, you'll be lucky to see much because the sky is brightened by the sun hovering just below the horizon all night long.  Now that fall is here, I find myself looking up every night. We camped out in the back of our trusty pickup to watch a meteor shower above us and a wall of constant pink lightning to the south. It was a magical night. Rivaled only by the riverside driftwood campfire and mystical northern lights. 
I have a feeling we will be back here to visit. These experiences are what life is all about. 


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Turning to One Another


Time for some warm fuzzies... The chill of fall has made itself known in northern Alberta. The moHo furnace is working at a fast clip to keep us warm in the mornings and evenings. The poplars are fading into a rich golden color.

For me, this time of year marks the start of indoor social season. When the days get colder and shorter, people seem to huddle together more often to laugh, cook, eat, tell stories and share music and ideas. I am very much anticipating this. 


I recently picked up a pile of goodies from the local library, which included a book that I had mentioned at the end of a recent post. I borrowed the title to name today's post. Reading this book was probably one of the earliest events that inspired me to write a blog. My fears of judgement and rejections held me back from writing for over a year and a half. One day, I woke up and decided to face my fears and just start typing. I never expected to enjoy it THIS much. (I also want to send out a big THANK YOU to all of you readers who may or may not be learning and/or agreeing with my thoughts and opinions. Knowing that you're following along keeps me inspired.)


"There is no power equal to a community discovering what it cares about." - Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another

In the opening lines of her book, Margaret says "I believe we can change the world if we start listening to each other once again."  What a simple concept. Yet, so many of us struggle to find a few precious moments in our packed-like-sardines schedules to stop, sit down, listen to (and I mean reaaaaally listen- which I will dive into below) and connect with those who are dearest to us. Maybe it's a good friend, a child, an elder or a sibling. Who is waiting to receive your gift of presence? Maybe you could start with gifting yourself the permission to make the time for these connections?


Last year, on a road trip with a dear friend, we listened to an audio book called The 5 Love Languages. In a nutshell, the author explains that there are five basic ways that humans give and receive love. We all have one dominant language. Receiving this gift from others makes us feel loved more than any of the others. The five languages are: gifts, physical touch, acts of service, quality time and positive affirmations. Which one speaks to you above the rest? Which describes your partner? Kids? You can get a good idea of someone's love language by which of the languages they tend to put forth for those whom they care about. Mine is quality time. Hands down. Anyone who knows me well knows that I absolutely love time to chat and laugh and share stories and just BE together. I need quality undivided presence from friends and loved ones. I also enjoying giving the same gift to the people who make my life more wonderful. Knowing love languages has shifted my relationships in a big way. Give it a try. Nothing to lose. 


Something that all of us want and need is an ear to listen when we face challenges or are inspired. Listening is an art. It may sound silly, but it is a skill that takes practice. Hearing and listening are distant cousins- they are not the same. I have been practicing conscious listening for several years and still find myself challenged when I'm especially emotional about a topic that is being discussed. I have to hold myself back and remind myself to just listen. Look people in the eye so they know they have my undivided attention. Put my phone away. With the sound off. Don't interrupt. Don't say "Yeah. Hmmm. Mhmmmm! Yup. Uh-huh. Oooooooh. Ugh! Wow. Hmmmm" in the middle of what someone is telling me. No commentary. Just be there in silence. Listen with every ounce of my energy field. 
Feel free to smile, laugh or cry. This is a sign that you are truly listening. These things make us better listeners. Maybe no response is needed. No fixing or solutions. Maybe just a big warm hug. 


"We don't set out to save the world. We set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." -Pema Chödrön

To finish up, I am challenging you (and me). The challenge is this: Think of a person who you have some preconceived idea about. It's a person that you don't know very well but that you have developed an opinion about via other people's opinions about that person. Challenge yourself to have a chat with him or her. Bring them a tea or coffee. Erase all preconceived ideas and start fresh by asking them how their day is and what's new in their life. Then....listen. And listen some more. This is how we can change the world.


Monday, September 16, 2013

You DID sign up for this! And continue to sign up for it. (Part TWO)


This is a second piece to my last post about "collective consent". There are so many aspects of our culture that seem SO backward and corrupt to me. Every day I observe people and situations that make me at least shake my head, sometimes they give me a queazy feeling in my stomach, and at worst, they drive me to write about it. Why do we all continue to follow along like a flock of helpless, mindless sheeple


I think it's about darn time that we speak up and say a big bold NO to the leaders of our world and the corporations that are mutually supporting each other to control our thoughts and actions every single day.  At least be the black sheep!  I'm one. I have been one as long as I can remember. Go against the [GMO] grain. Don't be afraid to raise a few eyebrows! Make people do a double take. Be the topic of conversation (But be normal enough so people actually listen to what you have to say and don't run for the hills when they see you).


Media
When I was a kid, I despised the news channels on the TV and radio.  I didn't have a clue what they were reporting about, but I remember seeing awful images and hearing the words "bombing" "gunfire" "injured civilians" "casualties" "war" "drugs" "borders" "tragedy" "child abduction" "rape" "attacks" "gangs" and many others that stir up feelings of sadness.  I didn't understand why on earth adults wanted to see and hear that stuff.  I still don't understand.  I'm quick to leave the room or change the radio station when news comes on.  Newspapers and magazines tend to be slightly more tactful about their presentations. However, in my humble opinion, all mainstream big media raises a major red flag for me. 


I believe that we are fed the side of the story that makes most of the population either: (a) feel afraid for themselves and their families, (b) angry at someone which creates a target ( such as making a poor poor POOR judgement about a whole race of people or an entire region of the globe) or (c) sympathetic enough to agree with what they just saw/heard/read. Often it's enough to sway "we the people" into supporting whatever ridiculous attack or war on this or that or the other scheme that they have dreamt up to gain more power and control. 


For this reason alone, I do not believe in television, radio or printed news from any mainstream source. Simply put: We are not receiving all of the necessary information that we would need in order to create an intelligent and educated opinion on anything. Period. Exclamation point. 
Do your homework. Question everything. Especially if the news told you that it's true!


(PS. Pleeeeease do NOT believe everything that Facebook tells you. After all, Facebook is a collaboration of sheeple spreading sheeple fears. There is some good stuff on there too. Use your intuition to separate the two.)


Technology
 Oh wow, BIG topic. I had to take a really deep iBreath before I typed this on my iPhone.  That wasn't a typo. I was just testing to see if anyone thought that the concept of a device to tell us when and how to breathe would be crossing a line of insulting our innate human intelligence.  When is enough going to be enough?  

Ask yourself if your life is any easier now that you have all these gadgets? Remember when all you had was a phone attached to your wall, an address book, actual social gatherings, and to keep life flowing smoothly....a wall calendar with puppies or cool cars on it and you couldn't wait to get to the next page because it was your birthday month!? How the heck did we get anything done back then? Our calendars didn't beep, vibrate, flash or interrupt us in the middle of an important conversation to tell us to take the dog for a walk.  I actually laughed out loud when I just imagined calendars doing all that. 


I heard a real live duck quacking in a pond the other day and briefly thought that maybe the last person enjoying that bit of nature left their iPhone in the weeds. (?!?!?)  Enough about the iRevolution. I'm just getting flustered. 

Let's talk about the new fancy technologically advanced cars! So smart! They warn you when vehicles ahead of you are stopping (some even warn you two cars ahead!) so you don't really have to keep your eyes on the road, beep madly when there is something behind you in reverse so that you don't have to use your mirrors, and give you a thumbs up when it's safe to change lanes in rush hour traffic, so you don't have to strain yourself with a brutal shoulder check. Might as well put your dog in the driver's seat so you can text away or scroll through Facebook on your iThing. Or better yet, just reveal the iDrive already. I'm sure it's coming and does everything for you so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. Oh, wait a minute. That's called a taxi.


What else can I examine? 3D televisions? (I prefer real life.) I won't even go there. My point is, be present. LIVE each moment...and going along with today's theme, iThink for yourself.


Monday, September 09, 2013

Did YOU sign up for this? (Part UNO)


I am finding that my posts are alternating between uplifting and concerning. This topic is concerning to me and also really huge (so i am splitting it up into multiple posts). Once again, inspired by a chapter in a book, I write today to encourage you to question everything. And by everything, I mean every. Single. Thing.

The concept that sparked my writing is that of a "tribal consciousness" or "collective consent". In other words, I'm going to examine some of the many facets of our society's "normal" practices (that most of us seem to be ok with, otherwise we would be changing things, right?) and explain why I think we are all being mislead in a huge way.  I don't have all the answers...I ask you to come to your own conclusions:


Water
We all need it. It's not optional. How do you like yours? Tap? Spring? Reverse osmosis? Vitamin enhanced? Fruity? Perhaps with a bit of fizz? When did something that falls freely from the sky start belonging to the world's governments and big corporations? How is it even possible for some places to deem it illegal to catch your own rainwater? How did our environment get so filthy that we have to treat our water like its toxic waste and run it through a series of contraptions in order to drink it or bathe in it? Gulp


Food
Also not optional, except for a handful of folks (called Breatharians. What? You don't know one? Geez.) who have apparently surpassed the need for food. Once upon a time, people around the globe grew their own food. Mhmmmm, pretty much everyone. Most of them hunted for something too. So that would mean if you were lazy, you would likely starve. These days most of us would call producing food "dirty work". We have much more glamorous goals to achieve, so we mindlessly roam through the mega "food" stores, piling carts full of processed packaged stuff labeled as edible.


  At your next meal, quiz yourself to see if you know where any of your food was grown or how far it travelled to arrive in your fridge. As Joel Salatin joked, but was actually frighteningly serious, some kids on his farm tour asked to see the salsa tree. Yikes.  If you don't live in an agricultural area of the globe, you are really missing out on seeing where many of your staple foods are coming from. The next time you eat anything containing conventional (and verrrrry likely GMO) wheat, corn, or canola oil (or a myriad of other cheap, scary fillers), consider this series of images.


It starts in the expansive fields where the crops (and surrounding homes and schools etc) get a routine shower of poisonous chemicals several times a season...

Then it all gets sprayed one last time to ensure that it all ripens perfectly just in time to harvest...


It all eventually ends up in your kitchen...And...in a frighteningly huge percentage of anything that comes in a package, box, can or bag...or a restaurant. 


I have watched the spraying on a very regular basis while riding my bike around rural Alberta. Even got sprayed once while riding. It burned my skin. I was told to smarten up and not bike around crop sprayers. Also, every minute counts in farming, so we don't stop spraying when a human is nearby.   Gag. Choke. Head shake. Huh??!


Education
I have a hard time even calling it that. It really seems more like "fill your brain, limit your creativity, think...but only inside the box, this is how it is, leave out the actual life skills portion (like taxes or budgeting or healthy eating or proper communication skills), oh and sit still and stop talking for 12 years-ucation."  


Then...if you are wealthy, a superstar athlete OR want to pay back mega debt for the next few decades, university is totally for you! What? You're not going?! You'll never make it in the real world!!! Might as well just give up now. Or work your butt off at ____ and give away a huge slice (wait, no. You keep a slice and we will take the loaf) of your hard earned money to the government. Oh, don't you worry. They are going to use it to help make your life better. Ahahaha *snort* Oh, gosh. That's funny. 


Well then. I think that's enough for everyone to question for one day. 

Ps. I plan to elaborate on all of these topics in the near future. Stay tuned for Part 2...

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

People flock together...


Community comes in so many forms. I believe we all need it to complete our lives. They say no man is an island, and I couldn't disagree more. I think each of us is an island, surrounded by a sea of supportive, loving people. 


People share the community experience constantly: at home, at work, at the grocery store, in school, on sports teams, volunteer groups, places of worship, at musical events, on vacations and more. We all seek it out daily in one way or another. I was inspired to write about this while I was biking. A chanting song came through my headphones and it flashed up a warm memory of living at a yoga ashram in Pennsylvania 10 years ago. One of my favorite community events there was the monthly kirtan, or spiritual music and chanting, that the group shared. It was beautiful and magical. Other group aspects of the ashram were communal meals, cooking classes, Hatha classes, group meditations and lectures. Things just seemed to flow there.


Even though we live in our motorhome, and every day is kind of like camping, there is still something wonderfully familiar and somewhat tribal about camping. We pulled into a remote campground after dark, our headlights illuminating groups of small children frolicking in the night air. Campfires flickered in the towering groves of grandfather poplars, and fireworks filled the sky. I think the moHo felt warm fuzzies too, when we nestled her amongst a herd of her boxy fiberglass friends. When you consider the length of human existence, it wasn't that long ago that we were all tribal people. Surviving (and thriving) in numbers. 


Children often seem at their best in nature. We watched bunches of them swinging on swings, running through the bush and being creative and spontaneous, exactly how they should be! I was touched when a 7 year old boy and his 4 year old sister (whom we had not previously known) gave everyone around the campfire a big hug at bedtime. So simple, yet such a testament of positivity to friendly gatherings of humans in the woods.


Something else magical happens when people camp together: They share. Tents, clothing, food, kids, campfires, laughter... In no other setting have I seen that much willingness to give. Ok, maybe at Christmas time, but still, it's really amazing. 


Around midnight, a group of us wandered down to the Peace River at the edge of the campground, salvaged a few hot coals from previous tenants and built a driftwood campfire along the river's edge. We all sat in wonder while we counted shooting stars and watched the shape shifting colors of the Northern Lights spanning across half of the dark sky. If you have never experienced the magic of the Aurora Borealis, its well worth a trip to the far north. I am told it gets even better as the winter draws closer. I look forward to that. 


My birthday is coming up this weekend. All I want is to have a few friends together, a campfire to keep us warm and the astral community shining above us. These are the things that make life rich. 


Ps. I spotted this book on a friend's coffee table a couple of years ago and it's phenomenal. I think I need to go request it from the library...time to reread.