Life can seem harsh at times, but there really is a light that shines, no matter how dimly. It has been my experience that when I give my attention to that light, it is the darkness that fades from view.
On this page, I write of my own experiences with a perspective honed by time and understanding. The hardships of grief and loss have matured and ripened to reveal a subtle sweetness that has taken its rightful place in my soul.
If you're looking for an easy, feel-good read, I hope you'll scroll down and see if something speaks to your heart.
And if you're curious, check out the Law of Attraction page, for this is truly the wellspring of my understanding, my peace and my joy. And it could be the source of all of this for you, too!
This weekend’s rain was a welcome end to a dry spell that had lasted far too long. I swear the drops disappeared faster than they fell, swallowed up by an earth thirsty for more. The plants expressed their gratitude in vibrant shades of green and I relished the view from my living room window, feeling an air of excitement about the change of pace ushered in by the rain.
Having spent the three previous weekends working in my ever-expanding flowerbed – planting, weeding and watering for happy hours on end – I didn’t realize how much I missed the great indoors.
There is something special about a rainy day and the permission it grants to just slow down and be. To step back from all the ‘have-to’ and ‘should-do’ activities and allow oneself to follow the impulse of ‘want to’ instead.
For me, this always means getting lost in thought and moving further into the knowing. There is nothing more delicious than a day full of questions, seeking, and answers. So I grabbed my iPad, practically giddy with the anticipation of learning, and picked up one of many notebooks kicking around, to permanently record any ‘aha’ moments I might have.
I know what you’re probably thinking…”What’s the deal with the pen and paper? Why not just make notes in your phone or laptop like a normal person?”
Simply put, I’m just not hardwired that way. Oh sure, I love my laptop when it comes to practical writing, but the technology feels inadequate when it comes to recording the joy of discovery. It’s as if the act of writing is part of the discovery itself.
There is something so satisfying about the frenzy of trying to get my words on the page as quickly as they appear in my mind. It’s as if the paper soaks up the lines of ink faster than I can scribble them down, thirsty for more. And when my thoughts are too big for the 8 by 11 pages, I turn to my trusty flip chart pad, neatly tucked under the old Hoosier kitchen cupboard, never far out of reach.
What exactly do I put on the pages?
It’s not just words. There are numerous diagrams that help illustrate a concept or a connection between multiple concepts. There are wave function diagrams that help explain how technology works and in my mind, represent many religious teachings.
There are diagrams of cell division, which to me look a lot like illustrations used to explain bandwidth in digital communication.
There are numbers turned into geometric shapes, which I see as the formula of life. There are angles and grids, which are logical representations of what philosophers put into words, and artists create on canvas.
Rather than seeing them all as separate disciplines, I see them as different languages, each expressing the same concept. They are not separate at all, but connected by the very concepts they represent; much like the idea of a greeting is the same, whether it’s spoken as ‘hello’ in English, or ‘bonjour’ in French. The words sound different, but they mean the same thing.
So it is with the concepts of life itself. The underlying significance of the balance between unity and individuality are everywhere. This message can be heard in the structure of music, it can be seen in mathematical equations, and felt in the beauty of art. The logical pattern of life can be described by science, observed in nature and experienced through human thought and emotion.
The tricky part is, the very concepts each language is striving to convey, often get overshadowed by the language itself. The whole of the message becomes diminished as science, art, religion and all other disciplines focus on their own language of expression, rather than the very idea it is trying to express.
For me, taking time to understanding the different life languages does more than just satisfy my never-ending curiosity. It reveals the underlying concepts and allows them to be whole again.
And that’s why thinking is my favourite thing to do. Through exploring all aspects of life, I give myself a clearer picture of the whole. Understanding the underlying concept from as many angles as possible makes it more tangible. It moves me from blind faith to absolute knowing and trust.
That’s what life is for me – a journey deeper into the knowing. It’s a never-ending dance of unity and individuality, of searching and finding, of have to and want to. It’s a replenishing pattern of rainy day thoughts and happy hours of gardening under the sun.
The messiness of spring is not something I particularly enjoy, but it’s a small price to pay for the signs of renewed life that start popping up as the snow recedes.
Some hardy perennials have already started to green up in my garden and buds have bravely and optimistically emerged from the rose bushes. Birds that have toughed out another Manitoba winter sing with extra exuberance and overhead, geese announce their arrival to their still-chilly summer home. Chipmunks have returned to the woodpile after being absent all winter and I’ve even seen the odd flying insect.
There is something about this flurry of activity that still takes my breath away, no matter how many times I witness it. The magic of plant parts appearing where once there was nothing speaks to my soul and whispers of hidden possibilities and potential.
It is nothing short of miraculous to me that everything required to become a mature plant is contained within a tiny seed. I often wonder if a seed knows the greatness it will become or if it just sees itself as a seed, which becomes a sprout that just sees itself as a sprout, which becomes a seedling that just sees itself as a seedling and so on.
And if a seed is aware of all that it will become, does it feel inadequate for not having yet achieved its greatness? Or does simply knowing that the potential exists make its greatness feel real already?
If you regularly read my column, my goofy questions will come as no surprise to you. Nor will my belief that there is something to be gained by asking these questions of yourself.
1. Are you aware that everything required to become the happiest, fullest version of yourself is already contained within you?
2. Do you know the greatness that this life is causing you to become?
3. Do you feel inadequate for not having yet reached your full potential?
4. Or do you see yourself as a seed, that will become a sprout that will then see itself as a sprout, which will go on to become a seedling that sees itself as seedling and so on?
I think there are some interesting things we can learn from the way plants grow that can be applied to our own lives.
The first of these is they understanding that a seed cannot become more than a seed until it breaks through its neat and tidy limits, allowing its potential to break through the outer casing and reach for a place where it has never been before.
The second is allowing that potential to go where it wants, trusting that it knows the way, just as the inside of a seed that has never seen the outside world, knows that parts of it will reach into the soil and others will go beyond and reach for the sun.
Can you imagine what would happen if the seed started to overthink things and tried to decide which way is right?
So often, I think we stifle our own growth by trying to make it conform to predictable paths that others have established.
But just as every seed occupies its own space and sends out shoots from that point forward, (meaning no two seeds every follow the exact same path), I think each person occupies their own mind which sends out wishes and desires from that point forward, meaning that no two people can every happily follow the exact same path.
Can you imagine what would happen if you found a way to break through your own tidy limits and just let your potential go where it wants to? What would it feel like to reach places where you’ve never been before as you venture both into the soil and up to the light?
Could this really be the key to becoming the fullest version of you? And if you’re satisfied along the way, won’t each stage along the way feel like the fullness itself?
So often we are told not to be so full of ourselves. Does that mean that it is somehow better to be empty of ourselves? Could it be that not being full of ourselves is what is actually preventing us from becoming fully who we are?
I believe that no matter where we are in life, there is an eternal, ongoing blossoming waiting to happen that is the very source of our fullness and our greatness. So this spring, with all its messiness, why not ask yourself what’s waiting to bloom inside of you?
When I was a kid, I always thought ‘human being’ was an odd term. I got the human part, but what did the ‘being’ refer to? If we’re humans, aren’t we just being human? Is there really any need to tack on the being part?
Secretly, I hoped the phrase hinted at just the opposite: that we are something other than humans simply in a temporary state of being human.
In my rich inner world, I imagined that being human was part of a larger life cycle that we just can’t see from where we are. Kind of like the whole caterpillar / butterfly scenario. Although I can’t say for certain, I suspect a caterpillar believes it is a caterpillar… until it becomes a butterfly. And I suspect the butterfly believes it was born the day it emerged from its cocoon, with no memory of the caterpillar it once was. And yet, they are one and the same.
Could it be that we were all something before we were human and that we continue to evolve after we shed our bodies?
Well, duh, you might be saying. This thinking isn’t anything new. The belief that we are eternal beings is the basis of many religious and spiritual teachings. But how many people really believe this in a practical, logical, every day way? How many people really live like an eternal being and just what would it be like if they did?
If you really thought you had no beginning and no end, would time have any meaning? And if you existed before the day you were born and you continue to exist after you leave your body behind, what the heck are you really made of?
Whether you believe you’re an eternal being without beginning and without end, or you believe you’re a physical creature and nothing more, I have to ask, “What’s the point of being human?”
I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer. Perhaps that’s the point. We each get to live our own life and figure out what it means to us personally.
I’ve had many conversations with God over the years, often giving thanks for the beauty of this world, but sometimes telling him ways he can improve his original design. After all, what’s the deal with making me in such a way that I like doing some things and not others and then putting me here in this world where I’m expected to do things I don’t enjoy doing before I can start doing the things I’m truly eager to do? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to create me in such a way that I enjoy those darned chores?
I know it sounds silly, but it really made me question God’s engineering skills. After all, when humans create things, we usually decide what we want that thing to do and then we create exactly what’s needed to get the job done in the most efficient manner. For instance, when I sew a dress, I don’t sew pants and then tell them to become a dress. That would be inefficient. I just sew the dress and let it be exactly what it is.
This really has been quite a dilemma for me for most of my life, until a couple of years ago when I came across an explanation of life that made me stop questioning God’s design and start reconsidering the structure of life created by man.
Could it be that I was created to want what I want for a reason? That it’s actually good to be the way that I am and to want the things I want? That it’s good for you to be the way you are and to want the things you want?
This lovely explanation provided by Abraham Hicks says the whole point of being human is joy and that when we give ourselves freedom to experience it; the result is love, learning and growth. When you mix up the order and put joy last, you diminish the love, learning and growth that you are truly capable of.
Just the thought of living for joy makes sense to me, because it feels so good to feel joy and it feels so lousy to experience the opposite. If it feels good to feel joy, could it be that we were created to be joy seekers?
So for three years, that’s what I’ve been doing – living just for the joy of it. And now I feel joyful pretty much all the time, which means I don’t very often feel stress, anger, frustration, grief or loneliness. Turns out, this is a great way to be human.
Like many Manitobans, I’m excited to see the Winnipeg Jets make the playoffs for a second year in a row. Has it really been almost a year since the team had their Stanley Cup run ended by the Golden Knights?
I recall spending part of my May long weekend in 2018 cheering on the Jets in the NHL Western Conference final. But despite outshooting the Golden Knights in four of the five games, they managed to outscore Las Vegas only once, and that just wasn’t enough. On Sunday afternoon, their playoff run came to an end after suffering their fourth straight defeat.
As is often the case, though, I found myself thinking about the life lesson that lies within everything. And no, this isn’t going to be a rant about professional sports or the win/lose nature of competition. In fact, I think both are a healthy part of life. After all, who doesn’t enjoy getting caught up in the emotion of the game and who doesn’t secretly want to be the best at something?
It gets tricky, though, when people apply the same method of scorekeeping in other areas of their lives. Most people aren’t aware of this, but making the number of shots a goalie didn’t stop more important than the number of shots a goalie did stop, is what science refers to as negative bias.
It’s a phenomenon that’s been researched a fair bit in recent years, although science has yet to figure out why humans seem more draw to negative situations than positive ones. What researchers do know is that negative events carry a lot more weight than positive events.
When equal in emotional intensity, studies have shown that negative situations are three times more likely to get someone’s attention than situations that feel good. And when people think about the bad stuff, they think about it way longer than they think about the good stuff.
I know I certainly used to be this way. Focusing on problems felt normal, even if it did make me feel kind of crappy. In fact, much of what people do has negative bias built right into it.
When kids make a mistake, they’re often told to think about what they did wrong. Isn’t it interesting that kids are never given a time out and asked to think about what they did right?
When you watch the news, stories are predominantly about something that has gone wrong. And the worse it is, the more air time it gets. According to research, this gives people a very skewed sense of the world. It’s estimated that for every negative news story, there are hundreds of similar positive ones. But because people are fed a steady diet of ‘things gone wrong’ stories, they think the world is far worse off than it is.
Is it possible, then, that negative bias is actually a learned behaviour? If so, does this mean that by nature, most people would have a positive outlook if they stopped focusing on the negative?
There are several studies that seem to back this up. A review of literature by Drs. Amrisha Vaish, Tobias Grossman, and Amanda Woodward suggests the negativity bias may emerge during the second half of an infant's first year.
So what can you start doing now to get that positive focus back? According to Alex Korb, a neuroscience researcher at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), the four following activities create positive feedback loops in your brain:
1. Look for things to be grateful for. I know, this one sounds like old news. After all, who hasn’t been told to count their blessings? But it turns out just the act of searching for something to appreciate rewires your brain, even if you can’t actually find something to be grateful for in the moment.
One study found that it actually affected neuron density in the prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that the more you look for gratitude, the easier it gets to find it. And it feels good while you do it, because searching for something to be grateful for releases the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin.
2. Take a few minutes to identify negative emotion. This seems a little backward, but a study involving brain scans revealed that when you use several words to accurately describe your negative emotion, you actually reduce your brain’s response to it. It’s a little like breaking an addiction. On the other hand, if you try to suppress the emotion, you actually increase your response to it.
3. Make a decision. Spending too much time weighing the pros and cons actually compounds stress and can make you feel overwhelmed. By making a decision, you calm the limbic system, which is involved with emotions and motivations related to survival, such as fear and anger.
And the most beneficial decision to choose? One that is good enough. Trying for the perfect answer brings too much emotional activity in the brain and increases feelings of stress and anxiety.
4. Human touch. Sometimes a hug is all you need. One of the primary ways to release oxytocin, sometimes called the cuddle hormone, is through touching. Even a handshake or a pat on the back can be uplifting.
Research shows getting five a hugs a day for four weeks increases happiness big time. Don’t have someone to hug right now? Neuroscience shows that getting a massage boosts your serotonin level by as much as 30 percent. It also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels, which helps create new good habits.
I can vouch for these practices, as I’ve been using them myself for several years, along with some other mindful techniques. Gone are my old ‘woe is me’ thoughts. Gone is the belief that life is hard. Gone is the grief that I carried for so long. I can’t tell you how good it feels to feel good. It really is worth turning your life sunnyside up.
I was chatting with some friends the other day about their favourite stage of life. One grinned and said it would be great to go back to his 20s. Another had a preference for her 30s. But for me, there is something magical about being middle-aged.
Much like the first half of any good book, I feel the first 50 years of life establishes the storyline and introduces the cast of characters. Random twists of fate pop up out of the blue to confuse things and keep the plot interesting.
Then, at the halfway point, a pattern begins to emerge from those seemingly unrelated incidents, and everything starts to fall into place. The unpredictability and unfairness of life gives rise to a beautiful logic and ease that is so worth the wait.
And with the second half of the show just getting underway, I am eager to apply this new understanding and see what happens.
Having said all that, I do think it’s possible for people to find the magic of life before middle age. It just requires a determination to focus more in the now and what lies ahead, rather than what’s behind. In some ways, that might actually be easier to do when there’s not so much to look at in the rear view mirror.
Of course, it’s never too late to discover the magic. My mom, who will be 83 this year, is beginning to realize for herself that everything in the past has brought her to where she is and beyond that, it has nothing to do with where she is going. This concept is easy to understand when we think about moving through life physically. We instinctively know that we can't move ahead with clarity and accuracy if we are constantly looking behind us. But somehow, the past seems to get an disproportionate amount of our attention when it comes to moving through our lives in that vague realm of thoughts and feelings. But I have discovered such freedom and ease in applying the same technique of driving a car to managing my trains of thought.
It took me quite a while to get this. Perhaps I’m just a late bloomer, although these days I prefer to think of myself as a perennial that just took a while to get established.
But now that I am, I’ve discovered there is so much more to life than I realized. There is a beautiful language of life that is expressed in many different ways: through science, math, music, art, language, philosophy, the human body itself. And the message is always the same – life has an underlying order and logic, and when everything is in balance there is a recognizable harmony. And when it’s not, there is obvious discord.
So it pays to figure out the structure of your life and listen to those little whispers of the soul that are letting you know how in balance, or out of balance, you are. After all, who doesn’t want to feel good?
So, I invite you to join me each week for a mixed bag of feel-good stories. Some will focus on a light-hearted look at life, others will offer a new perspective on the ordinary, and some will provide exposure to topics you might be unaware of.
And all will be served sunnyside up, with a dash of middle-age magic.