Counting my fears

Today, I headed out on a hiking journey in Scotland but instead of counting sheep, I ended counting my fears.

Part of the reason to sign up for this week-long hiking trip was to face a challenge. To stretch my body and my mind and to experience new adventures. But today was far more challenging than I ever expected.

We hiked an area of the Island of Skye called the Quiraing. A giant landslip in the northeast part of the island, the Quiraing has large jagged cliffs with a slope that falls away into the green valley below. Our path wound is way up and through the cliffs, rocky face on one side and steep drop off on the other. Rocky and muddy, the path topped out at a windy and misty summit.

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While I knew some of the hiking trip would be difficult, I was not expecting the steep slope or the rocky terrain. It was probably the scariest thing I have done in a long time and most of the four hour hike was spent battling the trail and my fears.

Some of the fears were easily dismissed. The fear of not keeping up? Whatever. The terrain was a challenge and was going at my own speed. The rest of the group could deal.

Fear of physically being able to complete the hike? Well, I could stop and rest when needed. After all, frequent stops for photos was clearly warranted and gave a good chance to catch my breath.

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But the one fear that left me paralyzed and struggling to breathe was the fear of falling. About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with a type of vertigo and while I have had a few bouts of room-spinning, this was entirely different.

My body physically felt like it was about to fall. Panic flooded my systems, I couldn’t breathe and my body would not move. Not a step. It was like my body was saying, “we are about to fall to our death, so I’m not moving from this spot in order to save us from that”.

What is frustrating is that my mind knew better. I knew I was okay. There were other people on the trail, I had a climbing pole and I could go as slowly as needed. But my body was not listening.

But since I couldn’t stand on that hillside forever, somehow I had to figure out how to go forwards, despite that fact that it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had no choice but to try and unparalyze myself from the fear.

Since I’m back at the hotel room writing this, you will know that somehow I made it. I talked gently and lovingly to my body, respecting how it felt while trying to keep it moving forwards. My sister helped me, talking to me the whole way, telling jokes and stories to keep me distracted and she even took my camera and took photos so I could see them later. I watched only the path in front of me although I did manage to look up a few times, if rarely down.

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This was my second experience with whatever you call this kind of vertigo panic attack. The first was on Glastonbury Tor last year. From that experience, I learned that sometimes you just have to move forwards through the fear because there is no other choice.

What struck me this time, once the adrenaline had cleared from my system and I was having a nice cup of tea at the end of the walk, was that people say that one of the worst fears is the fear of the unknown.

I’m not sure about that. If I had known at the first upward turn of the path today what was ahead of me, I would not have continued. After struggling through the first of river crossings and down-up that first slippery slope, if I had known that it was but the first of many heart-pounding, breath stealing, panicky stretches of trail then I would not have been able to continue. Hell, if I’d known what that hike was like, I would not have left the carpark!

Perhaps when we face our fears, it’s best not to know what is ahead so we can do it one tiny step at a time. Focus just on the challenge in front of us and not worry about what is next. Perhaps the whole path ahead is too intimidating to think of in its entirety. It can only be traversed one challenge at a time.

Did I have fun? No. Would I ever do it again? Not willingly. Am I glad I did it? Meh, maybe give me a few more days to recover. Am I proud of myself? Hell yes!!!! And I am grateful for everything that my fears and that path taught me today.

And as I take my tired body to bed, I’ll be happy with just counting sheep.

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Half Way Fierce

It’s the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere and a good time to choose where to put all the awesome solar energy.

Being mid-way through the calendar year, it seems like a good idea to check in on my word for this year and see what has manifested and grown. Using Sas Petherick’s Solstice Six questions, here’s how I think it’s going …

1. Did you have a word for this year? How has it manifested itself? If you didn’t have a word, what is the theme that has played out in your life so far this year?

My word for this year is FIERCE! 

To be fierce about living my life to its fullest. Fierce about allowing myself to be seen and heard and not silenced by fear. Fierce about protecting my creative time and nourishing my passion. Fierce about my self-care, treating myself with respect, exercising my body and feeding it well. Fierce about my friendships. Fierce about my connection with nature and the Sacred.

Fierce has absolutely manifest itself in my life. To be more accurate, I feel like I have manifested IT in MY life. I have made so many decisions in the last six months that put my needs and my life first. Choosing to travel where I want to go, even if it means going alone. Choosing to not attend events that I really don’t want to go to, even if I disappoint people. Saying no bullying and drama and gossip even under peer pressure to participate. Choosing to not sacrifice my own needs to help others with theirs. Making decisions for me even when I know it’ll affect other and might cause them hurt.

It still feels really selfish but I am learning that subsuming my needs to others just makes me unhappy and resentful. And an unhappy and resentful me is not able to be who I want to be in this world. It leaves me less able to be a loving and compassionate friend, less able to focus at work, less able be fiercely fabulous, less able tone brave and less able to get a peaceful night’s sleep.

In some ways, being fiercely me is the hardest and scariest thing I’ve done. It is also gives me peace and serenity and is helping me love myself.

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2. What are you most proud of?

I am most proud that I am better able to love myself and to forgive myself for not being perfect.  Especially around my physical self-care. I still struggle to eat well and to exercise my body. I still have days when I all I see is failure and not-good-enough. But, I am proud that I am slowly learning to not beat myself up about it. To do my best each day and accept what is. After all, treating my spiritual self poorly is not going to help me treat my physical self any better.

3. What have you chosen to let go of? 

I have chosen to let go of a number of obligations in my life that were not feeding my soul.  I still have lots of obligations but they are things that I am happy about doing and that make me feel good.  I am excited about them. Whenever I am forcing myself to do something or go somewhere, I have tried to stop and ask myself, “why are you doing this?”. If the answer is “because I should” then I am rethinking my actions. No matter how scary and overwhelming the consequences might be. On the other hand, if the answer is, “because I want to” then I ungrump myself and enjoy the moment.

4. What has been your greatest joy or surprise?

My greatest joy and surprise has been how wonderfully supportive my friends have been. While they might miss me at some events I’ve chosen not to participate in, they are always enthusiastically cheering me on for the things I am doing. It does make  me sad that some friends seem to be dropping away and seem to judge me without talking to me but the quality of the relationships with my friends who have stayed in touch fills my heart with gratitude and joy and love. Hashtag blessed.

5. What book, movie, exhibition, tv programme, play, concert, article, photograph, or website has been your favourite find? 

This year, I’ve discovered Rebelle Society. Full of amazing poetry and writings and articles that reach in and connect to my heart and open my mind.  As it says in their creative manifesto, “We are editors of life. We cut and paste its daily beauty and pain with the sharp scissors of our minds on the canvas of humanity.”  It’s a fierce site!!

6. What three things do you want for yourself by the next Solstice – 21st December 2014?

This is a hard question. I tend to not try to want things. I feel like my job is to keep showing up and working hard, and the Universe gives me the most amazing gifts. My thank you is to actively practice gratitude.

If I think of three things I’d like to have achieved by the Winter Solstice, I would say that I’d like to have a healthier, stronger body in order to do the things I want to do. I’d like to be back in a groove of daily spiritual practice especially meditation and journalling and I’d like to take my creative endeavours, either my photography, writing or glass art, to a new level.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep being lovingly fierce and let the Universe take care of the rest.

Happy Summer Solstice!!

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My top 5 TED talks

I love TED talks. So many interesting things to learn in 20 minutes or less!! Here are my top 5. So far.

1. Learning to be Vulnerable

Bréné Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability has transformed my approach to relationships. I discovered her talk when I was doing work with a style consultant. I thought I was trying to look more “corporate” in order to move my career forwards. In fact, I ended up learning how to dress so that people saw me, instead of my clothes.

Which meant that I had to be okay with being seen.  With being vulnerable. To shine a light on the dark corners where my shame and my “not good enough” voice lurks. To practice authenticity and to live and love whole-heartedly. In fact, the banner for my blog page is my beach drawing of whole-heartedness.

 

2. The Power of Secrets

Frank Warren asked people to send him their secrets on a postcard of their own making. The results are simply stunning.  Some of the secrets are funny. Some take your breath away and some will break your heart.

Every week, Frank posts some of the postcards on his blog Postsecret.com and I usually start my Sunday morning with a coffee and a sharing of the secrets. Some of them are hard to believe. Some of them are so much like my secrets that I feel like I could have written them. Or, maybe should have. The courage and bravery is inspiring.

 

3. A Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher, gives a beautiful and eloquent talk about the process of having a stroke. Of her having her stroke.  Of the two halves of her brain becoming separated from each other. The half that is in the here and how, fully in her body. And, the half that transcends the physical and becomes fully integrated into the universe. And of the possibilities around learning to move more between the two. And, the audience reaction to the moment where the stage hand walks out with a real human brain is priceless.

I have a Jill Bolte Taylor quote on my wall as you come into my home which says, “Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.”

 

 

4. Texting is not our downfall

Have you ever listened to anyone bemoan how texting will be the death of the English language?  How young people aren’t learning to communicate properly?  Well, here’s your ammunition to prove otherwise. John Mcwhorter gives a great explanation of how texting has the characteristics of a new language. One that can better represent human speech than written English can.

If that doesn’t convince you, maybe the long list of people who have complained about the degradation of the state of the written language going back several thousand years might at least make you feel better.

 

5. The stress of being creative

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the best-selling book, which was turned into the blockbuster movie, Eat, Pray Love. And then she had to produce her next piece of work/art.   She talks about how the pressure to produce good art (writing, music, painting, whatever) takes it’s toll on the modern artist. From alcoholism to drug abuse to depression and mental illness, it’s no wonder we don’t consider going into the arts a good career choice!

So she goes back to the Greek and Roman idea of the creative inspiration, the genius, and looks at the idea that creative inspiration lies not within us where we are responsible for it, but outside of us. And that our job is to do the hard work of writing or painting or playing music and rely on the muse to show up. If it’s crap, it’s your muse’s fault. If it’s genius, it’s not you, it’s your genius!

I am a fledgling artist with my photography, my glass art, my music and my writing.  I can put the stress of creativity aside, and just do my art work.  Sometimes, genius and inspiration are there. Sometimes, it’s just a practice session. And, that’s okay.

 

So, those are my top 5. For now. What are your favourite TED Talks?

Thoughts on turning 45

Last week I marked my 45th birthday and I discovered something neat. I actually really like me.

I have always found birthdays slightly stressy. On the one hand, all the birthday greetings and love from friends and family are wonderful. They remind me how blessed I am. I have been whisked away on surprise trips, had birthday parties and I usually treat myself to an extra long massage session. I mean, pretty blessed, right?!

But then there is that niggly feeling, that “still not good enough” gremlin. Still not married. Still not thin. Ungrateful for what I have. And, somehow the “middle of the decade” birthdays seem worse. Somehow, 35 felt closer to 40 than 30. Time slipping away into another year of failure. And, 45 has brought 50 into view for the first time.

So, while I love celebrating my birthday and being reminded of all the great things about my life and especially all the wonderful people in my life, I find myself unconsciously bracing myself for the emotional blow of “not good enough”.

When that didn’t fall this year I was left a little like a stranger in a strange land. It was a new place, a new landscape. I felt my shoulders gradually begin to loosen from their tenseness of the anticipated blow and I realized –  I am so okay with where I’m at this year. Life is full of wonderful things which I am ever grateful for. And, yes, it still has the struggles that I still keep chipping away at. That’s what exploring is. Enjoying the journey, the view and the scenery while facing the unknown and doing my best to change directions when I need to, with honesty, gentleness, compassion and fierce loyalty to myself and my path.

On the day of my birthday I took myself off to the glass studio for some creative time. And, I made myself a heart. This was only my second try at making this kind of pendant and I absolutely love how it turned out.  I’ve been working on pieces for other people over the past while but I decided on my birthday I would make something just for me.

Only later did it occur to me that I had made myself a heart.  A manifestation of love for myself.

Self-love is a pretty awesome gift at any age.

 

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