Sunday, June 29, 2014

Happy Interdependence Day (to me)!

Yes, you heard right, Interdependence Day. I don’t mean Canada Day or even, for those down south, Independence Day. I mean exactly what I wrote: interdependence, just like the blog. You won’t find it on the calendar although you may have one in your journal. It is a personal day, a day that is intensely private yet supremely beneficial to all concerned. My interdependence day is arriving fast and it just so happens to coincide with my birthday.

It all started three years ago, a few weeks before I turned 50. I got into a minor conflict with my then employer who wanted me to work on my birthday. It was an unexpected request, not my usual day to work, but through implicit and explicit messages of obligation and duty I finally agreed with one caveat: Mark this day, I said, for I will never, ever back down on my birthday again. Let my 50th year be the beginning of doing exactly want I want on this one day.

And so it began. Ever since that fateful statement I have made my birthday exclusively mine. I do not pick up the phone, answer emails, or hang out with friends and family. It is not that I isolate, it is more that I spend time to celebrate me and me alone.

You know how it is… you get together with another person and during that time together you have to consider their limitations, feelings, and thoughts as they do to yours. This could be anything from trivial concerns to major ones: a time constraint, a dislike of too much sun or a lack of money. And it’s not that I feel  taking others into account is a bad thing—I deeply appreciate the give and take of community living—but one day of the year should be devoted totally to self… one where there are no feelings of guilt if you don’t call your aged parents or you have to leave the party because you are the designated driver and your passengers want to leave. A day where are all expectations are known (as much as you know yourself), where decisions can be sporadic and choices bizarre, and where the full panorama of life can be met with utmost presence. My birthday is totally egocentric and self serving and I make no apologies for it.

My day starts with a long hike through old growth forest—the quiet rhythm of cedars and firs setting the pace; the rich stillness of nature a tapestry of connections. The trail meanders up to a small lake high in the hills where I take rest and meditate, reflecting on the year to come and that which has passed. I give thanks to my ancestors and give gratitude to my friends and family, abilities and idiosyncrasies. Later in the afternoon I find a café for decadent desert and coffee. I sit in solitude enjoying the flavours while I reflect some more. I am home by nightfall, tired but joyous with full knowledge of all the gifts that make up my life.  I wish this day on everyone.

I haven’t always called my birthday Interdependence Day. In fact, today is the first time but I like it. It totally meshes with my beliefs of what defines this state of being.

What is interdependence? Simply said, it is the opposite of codependence. Whereas codependence is about trying to get one's needs met by taking care of (or, adversely, bullying) others, interdependence is about taking healthy care of self with the result that there is overall gain in one’s community. It is about respecting both ourselves and others, acting within the parameters of mutuality, and taking leadership over who we are and where we are going. Lying beneath it all is a foundation of creative living and celebrated uniqueness.

Each birth(interdependence)day I dedicate to celebrating me with full-hearted exclusiveness. Although it sounds selfish and perhaps even narcissistic, this one day balances out the other 364 days of community living. My Interdependence Day is about honouring self and giving reverence to over 50 years of learning how to do it. This day shines with the internal brilliance of "I am enough" and provides a year’s worth of joy knowing that I not only like myself but trust who I am.

As I said above, I wish this day for everyone. Happy Interdependence Day to you, whenever you choose to celebrate.

If you like this blog, please "like" my FaceBook page and get notices on your timeline when a new article is posted.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hard Decisions

A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to Premier Christy Clark. I cc’d my MLA, Ralph Sultan. The letter was in support of BC teachers. Mr. Sultan replied with an articulate and well thought out three pager in which he highlighted the issues facing BC’s education system. I respect Mr. Sultan and would vote for him if he belonged to another party. Below is an excerpt:

Teachers in today’s world have a tough assignment. Classes of varying size tend to be further complicated with students of markedly different capacities. … Extremes of intellect, emotion, or behaviour, at both ends of the scale, are manifest. The challenge of teaching such heterogeneity is great…

As if that were not challenge enough, teachers today are commonly expected to fill the voids in upbringing among students who present themselves with inadequate norms of civic behaviour, socialization, discipline, and concentration—or even basic nutrition. … So when teachers exclaim that there job is hard, we should respond ”Yes!” And thank them for their efforts to maintain our society.

Does the solution simply boil down to more money? I don’t think so. But if society decides to allocate a larger share of our collective resources to the education of our young, then society must be prepared to dig into its collective pocket book to pay for it. This means higher taxes. …

…It is my observation that my constituents want to hang on to their money as much as possible.

It is that last sentence, however, that says it all. Governments only have as much power as they are given by the people. Unless they are a dictatorship or have a tendency to stuff the ballot box, local representatives have to please their constituents to remain in power; without the authority given to them on Election Day they have limited capabilities to make change, good or bad. And therein lies the key. We live in a democracy; if we want change, it is up to us to push for it.

But it’s not just about making our voices heard.  We have to be willing to make hard decisions and, indeed, sacrifices to safeguard the potential of success for future generations. As Mr. Sultan implies, a higher quality of life for all citizens is not cheap.  Someone has to pay the toll.

As a retail clerk I hear people complaining about taxes every day. Then something interesting happens: they get into cars and drive on roads and highways; they pass soccer fields and parks, drop off books at the library and gaze appreciatively at the beautiful flowers bedecking some street corners. On arriving home they are guaranteed a system where clean water runs in and sewage runs out.  Their kids go to public schools and on summer weekends, the beaches are cleaned and guarded by city personnel. All this is maintained and paid for by  municipal and provincial taxes. If they get into an accident their health care is heavily subsidized and while gas prices are high, we still pay less than what we would if its true cost included environmental damage. Our taxes pay for our standard of living.

If we truly want to support teachers, it must be made clear to our government that we are willing to pay for it. Cutting elected official’s salaries and forgoing superfluous infrastructure (i.e. BC Place’s retractable roof) is not enough. It still comes down to limited funds and hard decisions about what we want to prioritize and what we are willing to do without. Do we care enough about education to take money from some other sector or pay extra taxes? Does industry care enough? Are we willing to pay more now so that our kids will live better lives and, hopefully, figure out how to get us out of this mess we, and previous generations, have created?

The same goes for the Enbridge pipeline. I, along with many folk, do not want it. But are we willing to make the sacrifices necessary to cut down on our oil consumption so to make the need for more pipelines, oil carrying trains, supertankers and deep sea oil wells obsolete? Yes, we need the federal government to seriously look at cleaner energy sources but it isn’t happening today and most certainly won’t be in place tomorrow. If the pipeline does not go through are we willing to make the necessary changes in order to reduce our dependency on cars, planes and other combustible engines? Can we reduce our love of plastic; polyester and synthetic rubber (running shoes, tires) to name but a few oil based items? 

David Suzuki sums this up this last argument nicely:

Our choice is between ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence about the human contribution to climate change and pollution or changing our ways and reducing carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependence. It's about whether to join the green economy or pin our economic hopes on an increasingly risky industry. It's about the kind of country — and planet — we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.

We need to make decisions, and we need to take action. Our future, whether it is our children's education or the air they breathe, is counting on it.

If you like this blog, please "like" my FaceBook page and get notices on your timeline when a new article is posted.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trusting Self; Trusting Life

It is interesting the things I take for granted. One of them is a rich inner life. My interior landscape abounds with colours, shapes, sounds and feelings: ancestral voices and heart-felt emotions; vivid hues and textured imagery. With my imagination I am never lonely and, while at times I may doubt the veracity of my sensations, I generally know how to describe them. It is so much a part of me that sometimes I forget that not everyone has this connection or ability.

Take my father. While a fine and capable man he is also one of his generation and culture. A taciturn Swede of aged years he is a man more used to physical deeds than explanatory words. The expression of inner feelings, emotional and visceral, do not come easy if they come at all.  

Over the years, with my near chronic need to discuss such things, he has become more adept. It is not uncommon (although prompting is still in order) for him to acknowledge that yes, indeed, he can feel sad or angry, happy or lonely. It is still difficult, however, for him to find words for somatic sensations. Here’s an example: For a couple of years now my father takes a rest midway through our walks. He states fatigue. No problem. But then I got curious.  Why can he do water exercises for an hour but find it hard to walk for half that time. I began to ask questions. Turns out he was not so much tired as in pain. He just didn’t know how to express it. It took several more conversations and just as many days to get a better feel of what was happening for him.  It was by no means easy for either of us but we got there.

This inability to describe one’s body sensations is called alexisomia. For most people, as with my father, it is due to never learning (or practicing) the skill but for others it may be reflective of past trauma. There may be a history of shame or fear; distrust in the body or a tendency to dissociate. In any case, whether it is a lack of skill or a history of abuse, I have learned one must go slow when introducing this new form of expression.

It took my father time and energy to talk about his pain in a way I could understand. I don’t know the all the reasons for this but I do know that if I pushed too hard he shut down. I had to pace my questions, be gentle in my approach and validating of his responses. In other words, I had to create safety for him to learn this new way of conversing with his body. Then again, isn’t that the way in learning any new language? You only have to try talking rapid fire English to someone who doesn’t speak our tongue to see the distress on their face. Not knowing a language, or anything for that matter, can feel unsafe and stressful. We learn best, work most effective and have the deepest curiousity when there is safety.

As a BodyMind therapist my session work relies on safety. It is a prerequisite for healing but also a necessity for learning the language of the body. And, to become adept at this language, one needs a sense of trust in who they are and what they feel. Trust needs safety and safety breeds trust. This trust not only helps us when we seek help to alleviate pain (as with my father) but it also helps validates our emotions, gut feelings and heart openings. In self trust we are stronger and healthier if only because our body and mind are in cooperation rather than struggling the never ending (and useless) conflict between logic and emotion.

With my clients who have difficulty in expressing their physical sensations I start slow. If touch is safe for them, I may place my hand on their foot and ask how it feels to have my hand there. Is there pressure or heat; coolness or something else? I may ask what happens to that feeling when I take my hand off or compare it with the other foot. And so on. If touch is not safe, I may ask the client to notice their foot as it touches the floor or how their hand feels as it rests on their thigh and go from there.  Eventually, as safety increases, we focus more inward.

Learning the language of the body reminds me of French class way back when in grade eight. Our first dialogue was Bonjour Guy, ça va? Ca va bien, merci. Et toi? Those first few words became the foundation (if not the fodder of silly jokes) for learning Frenchwords I have never forgotten and ones I always end up reverting back to when I try to converse some four decades later. It doesn’t mean I became fluent (I certainly did not) but it does give me a measure of safety. I know how to begin a conversation in French and that gives me some reassurance. The same goes for our body. We need a beginning, a few tools to build a foundation, a way to say hi and find out how we are doing to begin the process.

Trusting one’s body increases one’s sense of safety. The more one feels safe the more they trust. This trust extends outside the body. We cannot trust life until we trust ourselves, and that begins with knowing how we feel inside.

If you like this blog, please "like" my FaceBook page and get notices on your timeline when a new article is posted.