The Red Hat

My therapist once told me a story that goes like this –

Once upon a time there was a woman who really wanted a red hat. She went to a store and walked up to the counter and asked the salesperson for a red hat.

“I’m sorry, we don’t sell red hats.”

Disappointed, the woman walked away. Then, she thought, “Maybe I didn’t ask in the right way.”

So, she went back to the counter. “I’d like a garment in a crimson colour that fits on my head.”

“I’m sorry, we don’t sell those.”

Disappointed, the woman left. Then, she thought, “Maybe I didn’t enter the store from the right door.”

So, she walked around the block to another entrance and asked again.

“I’m sorry, we don’t sell those.”

Maybe she should try a different time of day? Or day of the week? She tried again.

“I’m sorry, we don’t sell those.”

Maybe she wasn’t dressed nicely enough? She changed into nicer clothes.

“I’m sorry, we don’t sell those.”

.
.
.

And so it goes with you and me.

Looking for a red hat, I try again and again.

And because you love me, you offer me a blue hat. Or a purple hat. Or a red scarf.

And because I love you, I try to wear them and be happy. But they don’t fit right. And when I look at myself in the mirror, I no longer recognize myself.

I am left confused and unsure.

When my therapist asks, “what should this woman do?”, I answer without hesitation.

“She should walk away and look someplace else.”

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Seven Month Stretch

The other day a friend asked me how my word of the year – stretch – is going.  I hadn’t really given it much thought but we’re mid-year already so time for a mid-year stretch check-in.

In January, I described stretch as expanding my body and my spirit together in partnership to explore the potential of my life. To physically stretch my muscles to allow for free movement.To stop berating my body for the things I can’t get it to do and celebrate the things we can do together.

IMG_1273I think that halfway through the year, I might be halfway towards this goal. While I certainly hope to stretch more physically, I feel like I have stopped letting the “not good enough” voice in my head dictate my decisions. Whether that meant saying “yes” when I want to say “no” or saying “no” when my heart whispers “yes!”.

February included taking the beginner glass blowing class again. I took it in 2014 but never really found any partners to practice with.  This time, I reached out more, asking people to share practice time with me, and saying yes to strangers who were looking for practice partners.

It’s a bit like being the new kid at school. Finding new friends to sit with in the cafeteria or play with at recess. Except that you’re the kid that is still learning to hit a baseball instead of the kid who hits home runs.  In glass blowing, when your goblet or bowl or plate or whatever goes wrong, you turn it into a paperweight. Let’s just say I have a lot of paperweights, if anyone wants one!!

In March, I said “no” to an opportunity to step up into a leadership role in my spiritual community.  An opportunity that was fifteen years in the making. Thing is, I knew it wasn’t my path and I knew that meant it was time to head out, maybe on my own, to follow my heart and be true to my values.  And while one long-term friendship didn’t survive the change, the rest not only survived but are thriving as I am more excited and energized about the future. And here is where I could go into a long sappy paragraph about gratitude and blessings. Instead, I’ll just say that every day I feel so lucky to have the wonderful friends that I do have. Hashtag blessed.

In April, I stretched my concept of myself as an artist when I said “yes” when asked to submit a piece of glass art into the Studio’s silent auction fundraiser. I know it sounds silly but I never would have thought to volunteer given all the amazing artists at the Studio. I designed and created a necklace called Skye Dreaming, inspired by the colours and experience of hiking in Scotland last summer. I loved the design and creation process and am proud of my piece and my page in the catalog.

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In May, I left the slow stretch of change behind and leapt into an opportunity to buy a new home in a neighbourhood where I have long dreamed of being able to live. January’s experience of being present at the death of a dear friend who was only forty-eight made me realize that it is foolish to put off the things that are important to some imaginary future date. That date may not happen and so you’re just wasting time.

So, in a short 48 hours, I bought a new condo. And then, within a week  I had sold my home of the last ten years.  Now I’m in limbo til August when I move. I keep joking that it’s a bit like living with someone who you’ve broken up with.  I sort of emotionally detached from my home through the process of selling it. Massive de-cluttering and de-personalizing including painting over my vibrant colours with plain white. And I lie in bed dreaming of the new place; decorating it in my head and imagining myself in the space.

But I’m still awkwardly living with the old place, trying not to get attached to it again even though all the things that bugged me about it (that awful tile in the bathroom, the damn toilet that won’t stop dripping) don’t bother me so much any more since I know it’s all temporary.

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Me, trying unsuccessfully to not get attached to my rooftop patio and hammock.

One of the best things about the new place is that I am within 5 km of my work. Which means that in the second part of this year, I can focus more on the physical stretching of my body as well as the emotional stretching.  Being within biking or walking distance of work will mean less commuting by car – hopefully none! My aim is to walk home from work several days a week and then maybe start biking again.

I hadn’t given much thought to how much I’ve stretched so far this year until I was asked. I knew that ending the war with my body had brought a new found peace and self-acceptance. By not blaming my body for my problems (after all, thin means happy, right?!) I am now focusing on the things that actually make me happy.

It’s a stretch but I think it’s working!

Life is short … and other clichés

This year seems to be one that is determined to make me think about mortality.

January started with the profound and intense experience of being with a close friend, and his wife, as he passed away from cancer at the too-young age of 48.

More recent events of a  friend undergoing life critical surgery, others battling cancer and those dealing with the shock of loved ones who have died suddenly and unexpectedly  have made me realize that so many of the clichés we use about life and death have probably become clichés because they are so true. I am reminded that life is short and that we all will die. Including me.

But the knowledge that has really settled into my bones and blood is that none of us know how short, or how long, our lives truly are.

What motivates me, and what lights a fire in my belly, is not that I will die someday. But that I could die tomorrow. Or today.

And I could die with things left undone. Words that have not been spoken. Places left unvisited. Time still wasted on actions without heart or passion.

I am finding myself becoming wildly determined to not to wait to do the things that are important to me.  After all, what am I waiting for? Last year’s journey of “fierce” has combined with this year’s journey of “stretch” to urge me forward on my path leaving behind the “I should’s” and moving toward the “I want’s”.

Two weeks ago an opportunity came up to buy a condo in an area of town in which I’ve always wanted to live. In nine days, I bought the new condo, got my place ready to sell and accepted an offer.  Nine days. And I took Sunday off to visit with friends!

My initial thought was “it’s too fast, I’m not ready, I can’t do this”.  But as the Committee in my head began the bickering process of why it wouldn’t work, I could also hear the insistent whisper of my heart saying, “this is what we want, what we’ve dreamed of, we can do it”. But is my blood and my bones that are new to the conversation and who are speaking up and saying “We are doing this and we are doing it now. So get it in gear and figure it out”.

So with help from friends, a good real estate agent, and an amazing mortgage broker, I made it happen. And, with the bit of money left over I am starting my travel fund to finally travel to Africa on safari. I want to see elephants in the wild.

I don’t know how long I have left. So I am doing it now. I am not waiting any longer.

As the cliché says, “there is nothing like death to make you appreciate life”.

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Out here all alone

Recently, the following quote appeared on my Facebook feed –

crowd

While likely not ever said by Albert Einstein, it nonetheless got me thinking.

My first thought was that it’s a pretty scary looking picture with the grey mist, the old bridge and that crow waiting for you to try and pass.  And that is sometimes how it feels when you break off from the crowd and are all alone. Scary. And lonely. And dangerous.

So much of my life feels like a break from the crowd. Or at least from what they tell you you need to be and do in order to be part of the crowd. I’ve never been married. I don’t have kids. I’m not interested in climbing my way up the corporate ladder (and working 60 hours a week). I don’t want a house. I’m not thin. I don’t have cable. Or a TV. I probably haven’t seen the latest episode of, well, anything. And, I don’t much care about the big game. So sometimes it’s lonely and scary and I feel like I’m not doing it right.

But then my next thought was how awesome it is to be out here on my own traveling through my own landscape. I’m living MY life and not the “supposed to” life constructed in my head from too much advertising and not enough self-worth. And the more I inhabit this space, far from the maddening crowd, the happier I am and the easier it is to make decisions about my life and my path. Even the hard decisions are becoming easy to make if still somewhat harder to implement.

Not that I’m becoming a hermit, although I am sometimes tempted to escape to the woods to a cabin all by myself. It’s just that making my decisions about my path without worrying about what everyone else is doing (or thinking) means that I really am going places that I’ve never been before.

So here I am crossing the bridge and heading into the misty unknown.  And finding it pretty damn exciting.

(side note – have you ever noticed the large number of internet quotes attributed to Albert Einstein?!)

The war is over

In 2014, I picked the word fierce as my word for the year and it was a damn fine word.

I wanted to be fierce about the decisions in my life. To stand up for my needs more and compromise my happiness less. To live my life fully and not let my fear of not being liked (or loved) stop me from doing what I really want to do. To be visible and courageous and unflinching in my authenticity.

Did I succeed? For the most part …hell yes I did! Not always, of course. And I’m sure I had my clumsy and inelegant moments in which I inadvertently hurt others. But mostly, I loved being fierce. I made some really hard decisions and then hoped my friends would understand. Some did and our friendship is strengthened and more deeply valued by me. Some didn’t and the loss of that connection brings sadness but few regrets.

I tackled some big physical challenges and made it over the damn mountain. Twice. I spoke some hard truths and I tried to do it with love, compassion and thoughtfulness. And I walked into the darkness to poke at what hurts in the hopes of healing the wounds.

Now that it’s 2015, I’m not sure I want to let my fierce word companion go. I think I might keep that fierceness tucked in my back pocket and just keep on keeping on.

subversiveBut as 2014 came to a close and I began thinking about a word for 2015 one thing became increasingly clear. The most troubled area for me in living fully is still my physical relationship with my body. I’ve put on weight (again). I never feel like I eat healthy or get enough exercise. But July’s experience hiking the Quiraing planted the seed that I needed to get along with my body more. I couldn’t force it to do what I wanted; I needed to support it.

And then, at the end of 2014, I had the incredible experience of being with a dear friend in the last days of his life as he passed away from cancer and his spirit was released from this world. As I watched his body break down and stop working, I realized that I have spent a lot of my life at war with my body.  Hating it for being too fat, blaming it for the things that haven’t gone the way I wanted them to (hello rejection and heartbreak), yelling at it to be in better shape like some kind of abusive coach.  Faster! Stronger! Not Good Enough!

The fact is, though, that my body is working pretty damn well.  There are a whole lot of things going right each day that mean I am mobile, not in pain and able to do the things I want to. It has done its best and stuck with me even with the negative self-talk and the crap I sometimes feed it.

Perhaps instead of being at war with my body, I could instead be at peace with it.  Maybe instead of yelling I could celebrate my body and all the amazing things we can do together. Perhaps if I loved my body more then this idea of self-care would become less of a battle and more of a partnership. If I could take the fierceness with which I have tackled the outside world in 2014 and turn it inwards into celebration and partnership then I might be much happier and waste less of this precious life.

IMG_1270And so I have chosen the word stretch for 2015. To stretch my body fully and gloriously and revel in all it can do. To expand my body and my spirit together in partnership to explore the potential of my life. To physically stretch my muscles to allow for free movement.

If fierce was the word that acted as a backstop to keep me from eroding myself away in compromise and people-pleasing then I hope stretch is a word that helps me join hands with my body and reach forward towards my goals and dreams and desires.

It’s time to make peace with the enemy.

The war is over.

Let the parade begin.

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