The Simple Truth of Turning 30

Growing Young

My parents were in their early 30’s when I was born, a period that I cannot believe that I am fast approaching in my own life (and no, this is not a pregnancy announcement, but more of a realization announcement). Growing up, I was incredibly blessed to have had a stable and loving home that allowed me to enjoy all the wonders of childhood. I remember looking at my parents in awe, wondering if one day I too would know how to navigate life on my own and terrified by how complicated it all seemed. Then suddenly, I was flung into a self-centred and turbulent stage of adolescence, followed by a period of self-discovery and experimentation in my early 20’s. Amazingly I came out on the other side of my younger days relatively unscathed, having found a more stable and grounded sense of identity in my late 20’s. Today I am finally ready to take on the title of adult and confront the complexities of life with a simple truth.

I could most certainly write an entire book about those earlier stages, with all the turbulence and self-discovery that one encounters throughout those prominent years. However, I will save those stories for another time and today, on the eve of my 30th birthday, share some of the lessons I have learned from years of growing, learning, and living on the roller coaster that has been the past 3 decades:

  1. Context reveals peace and clarity – After years of egocentric living as an adolescent and young adult, peace was finally attained when I shifted my focus outward from the self towards the larger context of connectedness. Mother Teresa says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” When we view every situation solely in relation to the self, we miss out on the interwoven stories of others that we are also a part of. Being able to recognize the larger context in which we exist helps to clarify the whys of seemingly unfair situations and releases us from the “why me?” of narrow, self-focused living.
  2. Your body is a temple that needs tending – I remember one crazy summer when I worked 2 jobs, was taking an art class, and doing hot yoga every day. It was a time when my body was unstoppable and my energy stores ran deep. Today, my need for an extra cup of coffee, a few more hours of sleep, and good ergonomics is undeniable. Through this sobering shift, my understanding of the body has grown from merely being an afterthought into one of respect and partnership. The body is a map of the past, present and future; a gift from your ancestors and a divine mystery of creation. As such, it deserves and needs to be cared for, understood, and valued as an important part of how we experience life. Yoga Girl (aka Rachel Brathen) explains that “My body is connected to my emotions. My emotions are connected to my thoughts. My thoughts are connected to my ability to stay present. And my ability to stay present is connected to my body.”
  3. Time speeds up with its own passage – I used to waste the days away without a care in the world. Time was a vast and never ending desert that I had my whole life to traverse. However, somehow in the blink of an eye that desert has transformed into a high-speed highway without an off-ramp in sight. The days fly by as I try to schedule and manipulate every second I have to keep up with all the have-to’s and should-do’s that clutter up the day-to-day. However, time is not a dimension that we are meant to control without intense stress; rather it is a reality we are free to climb on in order to better enjoy the view on the ride of life. For when Alice asks the white rabbit in Wonderland, “How long is forever?” The white rabbit responds, “Sometimes just one second.”
  4. Everything is subject to change– My first year as a Public Health Nurse was one of intense learning and growing up. I was no longer a student who could hide behind the certainty of books and scheduled classes. I needed to figure out how to navigate the working world of office politics, waiting for vacation time, and going with the flow; for as a very wise colleague would always remind me, “everything is subject to change.” This I have come to realize is true in every facet of life including our relationships, the environment, the economy, and our priorities. This fact has led me to the practice of the Beginner’s Mind, the freedom from getting stuck in the expectations of past experience. It is an attitude that accepts change with openness and curiosity. Studying the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn has helped me to better understand and embrace this way of being which “allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does.”
  5. Love is all you need – This is by far the simplest but most important lesson I have learned, period. Monetary success, job titles, and fancy things are all ways that we as humans create stress through competition, arrogance, and egocentricity. Putting all these above relationship is what All you need is lovefuels the endless rat race many of us are trying to find rest from. We have a tendency to complicate life by over-crowding it with all the wants and shoulds that quickly become our top priorities. But what I have come to appreciate with age, especially as time speeds up and everything keeps changing, is that the one constant I can cling to and be comforted by is love. Money, jobs, and stuff are not bad things in and of themselves, but when we think they are the ultimate be-all-and-end-all behind our efforts, it becomes easy to lose context of the bigger picture: our connectedness to one another. I always find it tragic how humans can take this truth and distort it over and over again through the corruption of religion and politics by exploiting others all in the name of power. However, I believe that the solution is simple, free and available to all in every situation: love one another (John 13: 34-35). That’s it. Period. And so, just as The Beatles sang, revolutionaries in their own right, “All you need is love.”

Where Love Resides

The physical body, a tangled mess of matter.

The human soul, a beautiful mass of presence.

There is an “I” between matter and presence,

But where does love reside?

We are broken in an anxious world,

Where hateful words slither along cyber channels.

Love mistaken by meaningless validations,

Are these connections real?

I am more than a tangled mess of matter,

Real connection was born the day my soul met yours.

Love resides in us,

Enough to help the defeated in our broken world.

Jumping on the Happiness Tour

Today I had the privilege of learning from Instagram sensation Yoga Girl aka Rachel Brathen, along with 250 other Vancouver yogis. Being new to the city, I didn’t have a close friend to bring along or anyone to share in the excitement with. So with my yoga mat rolled up under my arm, I stood by myself in line, praying that the West Coast rain would hold out until I got inside, and wondering what was in store for me from Brathen’s aptly named Happiness Tour.

Whenever doing something out of your norm, there is opportunity to re-charge, re-set, and be inspired…and that is exactly what happened. I am so freakin’ inspired by this incredible woman! Not only because she does a kick ass handstand or can put together a killer playlist (both of which she does). No, I am inspired because she has gracefully manifested love, peace, and happiness from a painful and destructive past. I can understand pain and destruction; the need to create chaos as a way of coping with all I cannot control. Yoga is definitely the most positive outlet I have found in order to cope with my own demons and find freedom from chaos. It is the space where I can be safe, calm, and open. Nevertheless, when I get caught up in my day-to-day routine, yoga is usually the first thing to be pushed aside. My ego comes up with all the excuses: “You’re too busy. You’re too tired. You don’t need silence.” The noise of daily living becomes the norm. I am convinced that it is tolerable and that I can hold out just a little bit longer.

However, during savasana in Brathen’s class today, I felt the calming buzz of my body radiating complete inner silence. Peace. I was letting go of judgments, lies, and stress. How did I let it build up for so long? I re-charged, re-set, and am now re-inspired. Yoga Girl is not an external fad promising happiness; she is a beautiful guide toward accessing a pure state of happiness from within, where it’s been all along.

“Caring for our well-being has to start from within and this is also one of the most important foundations of the yoga practice.”  – Rachel Brathen

Photo courtesy of Ben Kane Photography

http://clients.benkanephoto.com/yoga/vancouver/

Breathe.

It is with a sad heart and a awakened spirit that I write.

After a stressful day on the nursing front, I drove home with an anxious mind brewing, my invisible demons employing their inner abuse. I look back on the past and obsess about things I can no longer change. I look ahead to the future with worry and fear of the unknown. And just like that, another moment passes me by.

I got home, exhausted. I climbed into bed and let sleep overcome me. Upon awaking, I immediately grabbed my phone and mindlessly started to scroll through the endless realm of social media. That is when I saw her, a beautiful picture of an old friend’s little girl. My heart sank as I read the caption below stating that after a tragic accident while on vacation, she was gone, much too soon. And just like that it hit me, the tragedy of all these moments I let slip by. How precious life is, yet I continue to worry and complain despite how truly blessed I am in this moment, the only one I have.

It is the days that I don’t get on my mat, on my knees in gratitude for the breath in my lungs, that my anxiety can truly take hold. I forget to breathe through the chatter and instead start to believe all the lies saying “you are not good enough.” Four years ago, I lost a friend to this darkness. It was a loss that also made me reflect and truly respect the breath that sustains me. After receiving the news of her death, I sat down with a sad heart and an awakened spirit and I wrote. I think it is a fitting reflection today in honour of another beautiful soul who has now passed on.

Carefully protected to ensure we get a first breath

Carried in the womb, a perfect life from conception to birth

Breathe deep, life is fragile

Breathe deep, life is short

Breathe deep, from the first to the last

A careful first step, but we fall many times

Do you see that life is precious with every smile and every tear?

Breathe deep, life is beautiful

Breathe deep, life is fast

Breathe deep, from the first to the last

Heaviness in the shadows, hope in the light

Do you know you are perfect with all the imperfections you try to hide?

Breathe deep, life is turbulent

Breathe deep, life is uncertain

Breathe deep, from the first to the last

The end is not calculated, an unknown in this equation

Keep breathing deep, you are perfect, from the first to the last

Back pains. Life lessons.

Yoga is not about self-improvement. It’s about self-acceptance.

– Gurmukh

I was awoken last Thursday at 5 am by a terrible shooting pain up the right side of my neck. I wasn’t able to turn my head or bend over. I was overcome by fear for my health, but also worry that I wouldn’t be able to do all the things that I had committed to for that week. I have been working a lot lately and admittedly have been quite caught up in the busyness of life at the expense of my well-being. When friends from back home ask me how I’m doing, I find myself responding with: “Good, but I’m so busy.” Why do I do this to myself? Why do I feel the need to fill up every moment of the week and run myself beyond capacity?

Maybe it’s society convincing me that success come from being busy. Maybe it’s my insecurity of needing to prove my self-worth without checking in with my capacity first. Whatever the irrational fear behind my drive to be busy, one thing is clear: my body, mind and soul can’t keep up. Something’s gotta give, and it seems that something was my back.

Lately, my perfectionist personality had begun using my intense Bikram yoga practice as a means to self-improvement, a forceful inward expectation that eventually led to exhaustion. I have mild scoliosis, a slight curvature in my spine that often leads to irritating back pain. Yoga certainly helps, but only if I let my body guide my practice rather than my mind. Forcing myself into postures and willing my body to bend in a certain way can often lead to more damage than the healing I am intending. Patience can be the most difficult virtue, especially when my ego is telling me to push just a little bit harder.

The intense pain in my back was a pretty loud message that I needed to take a step back from my current routine and re-evaluate. The result is, I’ve taken some time off from Bikram to engage in a new type of challenge: turning down the intensity and checking in with myself. I am taking it slow by following Rachel Brathen’s Release & Let Go*  and  I am already feeling the benefits of this new pace both on and off the mat. The pain is not gone. However, instead of it being a frustrating limitation, the pain has transformed into a beautiful reminder to slow down and be more present, rather than mindlessly busy.

Limitations and set-backs are not always negative, but rather can be opportunities for growth and enlightenment. If it’s no longer serving you, don’t fight it. Embrace the practice of letting go.

*Check out Rachel’s new practices available at http://practice.rachelbrathen.com/

Luke’s Update: Light shines brightest in the darkest night

In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.

– Francis Bacon

It has been one month since Luke’s surgery. Here is an update on his progress:

The day of the surgery and the almost 2 weeks he spent in hospital afterward were nothing short of scary and traumatic. My parents were able to prepare Luke for getting to the hospital but were unable to explain that he would not be back home that evening since it is difficult for Luke to process too far into the future. Every day was heartbreaking as Luke would sob in an attempt to cope with pain, confusion, and home sickness. My parents would take shifts so that he was never alone, which meant they too became isolated and weary.

With each passing day, Luke got stronger and stronger, both physically and emotionally, until the day he was finally discharged home. The hospital decided that Luke was not compliant enough to be admitted into a long-term rehab facility and so sent him home with weekly physio and nursing care. This turned out to be a great blessing, since being back in his own environment where friends can visit has continued to inspire him to work hard each and every day towards recovery and my parents can once again work together as a team. I receive texts, pictures and pLuke at homehone calls about his daily progress, and my heart aches as I wish I could hold Luke when he cries and be able to cheer him on as he does laps around the house with his walker. My mom and dad, true heroes in their own right, have pulled him through by being his coaches, care aids, and ever shining light.

Family is the greatest gift, one that can so easily be taken for granted. Without family, which includes an incredible community of friends, Luke’s journey to recovery would have been a treacherous one. Your thoughts, prayers, and support over the past month have definitely proven the incredible power of community. Being non-verbal in our ever-stretched health care system is most often a sentence of being forgotten. Let us not forget those without a voice, for if we take the time to listen we will see that they have so much to teach us beyond what words can say. Please share this story as a dedication to all those with disabilities who need advocacy and in reverence to all the selfless parents and caregivers who truly are the definition of unconditional love.

Eat. Panic. Repeat.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. – M. Scott Peck

In my teens and early twenties, I was involved in a very unhealthy relationship, one that caused me debilitating anxiety and fear… It was my relationship with food. In order ease anxiety I would tightly control what I ate and when I ate it. The act of eating was no longer about what my body needed, but rather was based on the state of my anxious mind. This created a very unhealthy disconnect between my mind and body. I was desperate to heal and attended yoga classes everyday in search of release from the chains of anxiety. However, the more I pushed myself to heal, the more anxious I became, and the more I controlled what I consumed. The negative intention I brought toward the yoga was pushing me farther down into despair.

As I’ve gotten older, I am proud to say that I have developed a healthy relationship with food and more importantly, with myself. There was no magic answer to finding healing but rather developed slowly as I set a daily intention to be present, and to be honest it is still an ongoing journey. Every day I have the choice to honour my mind, body, and soul, or to judge, criticize and undermine myself. Taking time to slow down and focus on my inner truth helps to drown out all the noise of the external world that tells me over and over that I am not good enough. My place is in the hot room, where the yoga brings me peace in the present moment, exactly as I am.

It is not easy to share this part of my past, however I believe that there is great power in telling our stories. There would be no stigma if I were to write about a physical ailment. I hope that one day the same can be true for mental illness. Here is my truth, one I am proud to share: Today I can eat to nourish and honour my body. Today I eat with gratitude in celebration of life.

Photo courtesy of  Iron & Bragg Photography

http://www.ironbragg.com/

Be True To Who You Are – a caveat

It’s amazing the amount of rejection that I see
In my reflection and I can’t get out of the way
I’m lookin’ forward to the girl I wanna be
But regret has a way of starin’ me right in the face
So I try not to waste too much time at the bathroom sink

– Miranda Lambert (Bathroom Sink)

There are days when I get home after work and the tension in my shoulders feel like rocks and I realize that I haven’t taken a deep breath all day. Instead of listening to my inner voice, I have spent the whole day compromising myself for a mere perception of others’ opinions of me or worse, my ego’s expectations. It’s as though the world speeds up all around me and I’m constantly criticizing myself for being behind or not good enough.

This morning I started my day with a yoga class instead of my regular cup of coffee. I usually don’t have the luxury of making it to the 6 am Bikram class since I have to be at work by 8:30 am. But today I was scheduled for a late start, which meant I got to contend with the inner battle of whether to sleep in or go to yoga. I am grateful that the yoga won, for as I starred at myself in the mirror for the 90 minute class, I realized that I had been holding a lot of negativity towards the girl looking back at me.

With my mind always trying to skip 10 steps ahead of right now, I am never able to live up to my ego’s criticisms of where she thinks I should be. This made me realize that there is an important caveat to the saying, “Be True To Who You Are,”  for it is really a practice of being true to who you are in this moment. It is about getting to know the person you are within your own individual context, not where you will be tomorrow, next month, or next year. Honour who you are in the present and have respect for the moment, whether good or bad.

Yes I have goals, and as Miranda says, “I’m lookin’ forward to the girl I wanna be;” however, that doesn’t mean I can forget to take care of the girl I already am.

An Update of Uncertainty to Unveil the Truth about Love

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.

– Maya Angelou

Since my previous post, the amount of love that has come from so many, far and wide, has been a testament to the true power of community. You have raised us up, broken and defeated, and filled us with HOPE.

My parents and I have been overwhelmed with peace as a constant influx of positive energy has been surrounding us over the past few days in preparation for Luke’s surgery. Your prayers have allowed us to surrender to what will be and trust in what is. That being said, when news came today that Luke’s surgery would have to be postponed due to an outbreak of influenza at the hospital, my first thought was: “No, that’s not fair!”

We finally felt ready and in control of the situation, feeling like we could take it head on. Then all of a sudden, we were humbled by how empty our preparedness actually was. We were reminded that the very essence of trust should not be based on our ability to feel in control of the situation, but rather is about our being able to surrender to the Universe, God’s very own intention for us.

There is so much we can never know about the future, about others, or even about ourselves. However, I can trust that where there is love, there is hope. For the love you have all shown us knows no bounds, and it has made itself real through the unwavering hope that we are leaning on through the uncertainty.

We don’t know what date Luke’s surgery will be. My parents will be waiting on call for days or even weeks and in the meantime Luke must continue to live through the pain. Nevertheless, we trust in what is and we have HOPE in what will be.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank-you for your continued thoughts, prayers and intentions of love and healing for Luke.

A request. A prayer. A plea.

In 3 days time my sweet brother, Luke will be having hip replacement surgery. He is only 26 years old and yet arthritis has crippled him with pain and stolen joy from even the simplest activities. You may be thinking 26 years old…he is too young to have arthritis! Well, Luke also has Trisomy 21, better known as Down Syndrome. Individuals with Down Syndrome are at higher risk for various musculoskeletal conditions and autoimmune diseases which can lead to the development of arthritis. What started out as an occasional complaint of leg pain and a slight limp, quickly progressed into debilitating pain and physical disability for Luke. Despite Luke’s inability to clearly articulate what he is feeling, his tears and noticeable distress say more than words could ever express to us. For when Luke cannot get out of bed to go to the YMCA (his favourite activity of the week), it is clear that something is not ok.

Following a very difficult pre-operative appointment on New Year’s Eve, my parents brought Luke back home feeling unsupported and apprehensive after being told to reconsider their decision to have the surgery by hospital staff. Yes, Luke is stubborn and strong-willed…It took half an hour to take his blood pressure and his blood work could not be completed even after an hour of trying. However, how can we let him live in pain, on 8 pills of Tylenol #3 a day for the rest of his life when there is the possibility of fixing his hip? As a healthcare professional myself, it is frustrating to hear how quickly the nurses and doctors want to give up. Luke cannot advocate for himself. He has not been given a voice to stand up for himself. Luckily, both of us have been blessed with strong, smart, and brave parents who will carry him through the adversity.

Being so far away at this time is heartbreaking. Through all the doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, and tests that my family have endured, I have anxiously awaited updates from 4000 km away. Even now as I type, I must fight a lump in my throat and the tears that cloud my vision. I wish I could stand alongside my parents at this time, carry some of the burden, and ease my brother’s pain. Yet in this moment all I can do is pray, surrender my guilt, and trust in the community of love all around us. Therefore, I ask for your prayers, positivity, and healing intentions. “A miracle is a shift in thinking, a shift from fear to love” (Marianne Williamson). Help us pull Luke through the negativity and fear. Help us surround him with love.

Photo courtesy of Iron & Bragg Photography

http://www.ironbragg.com/