Tuesday, 27 December 2011


This  year was one where I was given the opportunity to dive into the world of compassion. Historically, I have related to myself as a fairly compassionate person. Until this year, that is, when I was presented with the daunting task of showing myself compassion. It wasn't until I was faced with a very real and intense situation that required me to choose one of two things: Beat myself up emotionally for my shortcomings until I eventually destroyed any trace of confidence or, show myself some compassion. Sounds like a no brainer, don't  you think? How hard is it show yourself a little compassion? Easy right? It wasn't. There was a great deal of internal dialogue, arguments in my head - it was like watching a trial going on with lawyers presenting their arguments to a jury who would ultimately determine the fate of the person on trial (me). I immersed myself in the 'evidence' that justified the execution of ambition and creativity. I hopefully presented the case for understanding and the value of learning from mistakes. Back and forth, back and forth.
It wasn't until a colleague asked me a very powerful and simple question:
"Are you willing to forgive yourself and move forward?".
That question stopped me in my tracks. I hadn't realized that I wasn't being forgiving to myself or that it was even part of the process to be considered - it was like a surprise witness that shook the entire courtroom up. I remember, upon hearing the question and trying to figure out a feasible answer, taking a deep breath and pausing. I began to consider all that might happen if I wasn't willing to forgive myself - what good would I be? How would that impact the people I love, my colleagues? What lessons would my children learn from an unforgiving mother?
Perhaps it was the increased levels of oxygen to my brain that caused a shift. Maybe it was the question that made me pause just long enough to actually consider the impact of my behavior outside of my little self that inspired a new perspective. Whatever it was that caused the change, I realized something powerful: If I truly intended to give myself to others, I would first have to be willing to forgive myself. 
This is where the compassion came in, for it was essential that I show myself at least a bit of compassion to allow for forgiveness. It was different from justification and explanation. There would have to be no strings attached, no caveats, no conditions. Just compassion.
What was invigorating was that once I started to take small steps to forgive myself, it became easier to accept what was going on around me. Instead of judging or being annoyed, I could simply observe and true to my purpose, I could wonder.
I am still here. For the time being I have mustered the strength to look at my shortcomings and instead of using them to destroy myself, attempt to use them as resources to explore, to learn, to share. It is, I will admit, a clumsy process but I am willing to forgive my awkwardness in hopes of sharing what is possible.
That invariably brings me wonder about something: I wonder what is available in collaboration when I am willing to forgive and create out of compassion. 

For all of the 'unforgivable' things that might have happened this holiday season, I offer a tiny gem of compassion. You can take it, you deserve it. Should you see someone else who could use some compassion, I invite you to share it willingly. 


Sunday, 18 December 2011

What the hell do I do now?

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty that I could do. In fact, I counted 32 things scrawled on my little notebook that MUST be done in the next 24 hours. There is no shortage of things to do, especially now in the week approaching Christmas. I find myself invigorated by the excitement of the holiday very reminiscent of the feelings I had as a child. The buzz is palpable. As I unpack the boxes of decorations,  gently freeing pieces of porcelain and thinly blown glass from the tissue paper that has held them captive for 12 months, it is like I am reacquainted with old friends and memories. Christmas seems to be where the past and the future overlap for me this year: memories, expectations from this year as well as years further in the past coming to meet the anticipation and expansiveness of a new year. Perhaps that is why Christmas can be such a beautifully volatile and energetic time; perhaps that is why it can also be an intensely peaceful time.
Amongst my favorite readings is Shel Silverstein's book "Where the Sidewalk Ends". It is a collection of poems created by a master who eloquently weaves the darkness into the light, the madness into the joy and the excitement into the fear. Just upon reading the title, I am aware of an illogical concern... 'What? I didn't know the sidewalk was going to end! Where will I walk? What if I get hit by a car? What the hell am I going to do now?" I think what I love about Shel's book title is that he invites us to move beyond the question into the exploration of what is beyond the last paving stone of our familiar and stable sidewalks. For me,  is as if someone is saying "It is OK, there is something wonderful just past the concrete, take my hand and I will show you".
So it would seem to me that the sidewalk is ending as we approach the final days of this calendar year. Though I have some ideas as to what I would like to see beyond the parallel forms of carefully laid curbs,  I don't really have a clue as to what really awaits me. Perhaps the ground is softer and will sink with my weight, or maybe the grass is unruly and grows with disdain. I think the wind will shift slightly and the light will be different. I expect there will be parts that I will not like one bit, but I am almost certain that other parts out past the sidewalk will light my heart up like a firecracker!
I wonder what you see beyond the sidewalk? I wonder if you might be willing to look past the illogical fear and explore with me and tell me what you see, what you smell, what you can feel beneath your feet.
Maybe these are the stories that will be shared amongst our children as they read to their children. Perhaps our willingness to step beyond our own sidewalks, even though we have no idea what the hell we are going to do next, will pave the way for generations to come.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Celebrating the days past

'Tis the season of giving and celebrating with the people we love. We focus on what we will bestow  upon those who we cherish, be it an object of our affection, a kind gesture, or good will to them in the coming year.

What happens though, when we don't make an offering to ourselves? How much can we give? How can we give our best? I am not talking about pampering ourselves, or buying a 'Me' gift. I am talking about the very important reflection of what we have accomplished, what we have already offered, the difference we have made and the lessons we have learned. It is an act of emotional assessment that fills us so that we can in fact, continue to give.

This contemplation of self isn't always a simple task. In fact it is one that is easily and eagerly swept aside to make way for more altruistic ventures. What is at stake if we don't acknowledge and celebrate what we have achieved? Burnout, exhaustion, bitterness, or worse, resentment. By not taking the time to assess past achievements, we limit our ability to plan future achievements that will really feed our soul and contribute to the world around us. The fall out from avoiding this assessment can turn a well intentioned holiday of giving darkening into a frantic fray of half hearted generosity and gifts lined with a sour note of scarcity or desperation.

We cannot give what we do not have. And so, if we wish to give we must acknowledge what we have done, what we are capable of and what we will offer to those around us. Perhaps instead of writing a list of resolutions (which is code for 'stuff I didn't do last year, feel disappointed about and really should do next year'), we could write a list of things we are proud of - big ones and little ones. Perhaps we can acknowledge ourselves and, should we be so bold, ask to be acknowledge by people who love us.

Today, I wrapped gifts for six teachers, I prepared cheese and cracker plates and managed to make a rush batch of cookies for a last minute 8-year old Christmas party requirement ('Mommy, you are on the list of parents who are bringing treats for our class') between my morning coffee and school departure. I acknowledge myself for that today.

What did you do this year that made the world a better place?
What did you today to make this world a better place?

That seems to me to be a list worth writing.