Why 2015 Is Going To Be Great!

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I left Canada on Jan 6th and here is a pic of my gratitude notes with me today from 2015. (Refer to my previous post if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) I’m using a stack of origami paper rather than a tear-off notepad at the moment.

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I’m still in Acworth, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, preparing for my soon departure for Manila, Philippines. I don’t really consider this travel, as I am visiting with long-time friends who I know well and the purpose of my visit was to spend time with them, it’s like being with family. So this is another non-travel posting.

Before I move on, I want to add another gratitude practice that my friends here do every single night with their two daughters. Last thing before bed, the family sits in the living room with their pajamas on and teeth brushed. After their daily prayer, they then go around the room and give account of what they are thankful for that day. It is a beautiful practice and a wonderfully positive way to end each day. The process of making yourself think about what you are grateful for during the day calls to remembrance that you have things to be grateful for. It also reinforces those happy memories rather than replaying the negative memories, a wonderful thing to do right before bed.

This practice differs from keeping gratitude notes, in that with the notes you will generally want to write down novel situations whereas at the end of the day, you might be most grateful for many of the same things every night. (Grateful for loving family, grateful to be able to eat healthy food, grateful to live in a free country, grateful for your loving friends, grateful for your employment . . . ) It’s good not to take for granted the amazing things we enjoy in life.

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More non-travel pics for this posting. I first started painting as a hobby in Matsuyama, Japan, which is also where I met my friends in here near Atlanta. Previous to that my main hobbies had been signing and acting. I also took a Japanese flower-arranging class at the same time, so my arrangements provided subjects for my first paintings. These first paintings were drawn with ink and then painted. This is around 1999.
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Why 2015 Is Going To Be Great!

This is another exercise I came upon recently, that I think is pretty great.

You’ve probably noticed that I have made no mention of “New Year Resolutions” in my New Year postings. The change of the calendar can be a good time to reflect on what is working for you and what is not – what is moving you towards the life you want and what is not. In that practice, making mental stock and writing down what you want to change is a great idea. Just don’t wait for the new year to start changing your life/living the life you want to live. Start changing your life today and every day. Even if you love your life exactly as it is, it takes work to maintain healthy and happy relationships and to keep the love flowing. When you remain still, you slide backwards.

The following is another practice that can help you have more happy days in 2015.

The exercise I came upon was to start each day by deciding why your day is going to be a great day. Do this when you wake-up, thinking about what good is going to come from your day, rather than letting your mind wander into worrying or fretting about what could go wrong or what you are dreading. Focus on the positive rather than the negative, and make more of what you want happen rather than more of what you don’t want. (You get more of what you focus on.)

That is the entire exercise. But I decided it can go further. Anyway, let’s start there.

Complete this sentence every day:

Today is going to be a great day because _____________________________________________.

This simple activity will help start your focus on the positive. We can dwell on all sorts of reasons why it’s not going to be a great day – it’s really cold, I have to work, it’s Monday, it’s garbage day, I have to do the shopping today – but that is only a good idea if you want to have an unhappy day.

How much better to focus on why your day is going to be great? Because my family is healthy, because I have a job to afford my life, because I have a car to be able to get to the store, because I can afford groceries, because I live in a warm home and have a warm coat and even though it’s cold I am not freezing myself. Because I have plenty my household has created rubbish, and it won’t just sit there rotting either, there is a collection service – I don’t even have to transport it away, I just have to take it to the curb!

Mine today: This is going to be a great day because I will enjoy another day with my friends near Atlanta, I will talk to my boyfriend on the phone, I will be able to get to the gym and work towards my fitness goals, and I’ll enjoy a nice dinner with friends and their family who are coming over tonight.

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Another of my earliest paintings from 1999, of a Japanese-syle flower arrangement (called Ikebana).
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Here is where I have extended the exercise to be more global.

Complete this sentence:

This week is going to be a great week because ________________________________________.

Many of us fret and worry that our week is going to hold all sorts of hardship. How much better is it to face our challenges knowing that in fact during the week, hundreds of little things are all going right. Your car will probably not break down, your dishwasher will probably clean dishes well enough to save you some effort, you will probably be able to do your laundry in a machine that makes that easier . . . if you have a loving partner even with ups and downs you are not alone . . . or because you are single you can enjoy the freedom that brings you whether or not you are looking for a partner. . . . because you love your children . . . , because you’re moving towards a goal you have set . . .

Mine this week:This is going to be a great week because on Monday I’ll be able to talk to my family by phone, I will enjoy a final night with friends here before on Tuesday I depart for the Philippines where I’ll be starting another great adventure!

Believe it or not, I could fret over the 37 hours of travel ahead of me. I could worry about arriving in Manila after flights to Chicago and Tokyo. I could fret that my accommodation might be less than I hoped, that I might get lost, that it might be too hot without air conditioning, that I won’t be able to sleep from the 13 hour time difference, that I could get taken advantage of by a taxi driver who wants to cheat my fare or try to take me to “his friends hotel, the one you want is closed, sir”. But I choose to know that this week is going to be great. Things will go wrong, they always do, but in the end I know I will be alive and well.

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These paintings are not very clearly photographed because they are framed behind glass and hanging in my Dad’s house in New Brunswick.
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Complete this sentence:

This is going to be a great month because: ________________________________________________.

Rather than focusing on that this is going to be a hard month because I miss my boyfriend so much and I wish he were with me and I’m worried about being lonely without him – I choose to be thankful that :

Mine this month: This is going to be a great month because I love and feel loved by my boyfriend even though he will be far away, and by my friends and family even though they are far away, and I’m thankful that we will be able to keep in touch with the internet – how lucky are we to have the internet! And it’s going to be great because I’m going to meet lots of new people and make some new friends in Asia, have lots of new experiences, and create some great adventures to write about to further my goal towards having a publishable collection of stories.

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This painting took me a week to complete all the details, it was not one I could feasibly sell at the price-point I was able to charge as a mostly unknown artist. Listed at $800 (a bargain considering that time effort in Toronto) it never sold from multiple shows including the One of A Kind Show. The original hangs in my mother’s home in New Brunswick. I ended-up making paintings that took much less time so that I could afford to charge much less and still make a living, and in the end I was just painting products for sale and didn’t care about it any more. (Completely different experience for hobby artists who may not by trying to charge for their time as an income.)

I think you know what is coming. Why 2015 Is Going To Be Great!

2015 is going to be a great year because: _________________________________________________.

Now, hopefully we can all do more than a sentence. But think about what you most want to achieve in 2015 and believe that you can do that. Think about upcoming events and challenges and know that you can rise above them. Acknowledge that if a door closes for you, it means that you are supposed to find another door. Sometimes our path takes turns that we don’t expect and that we cannot see the immediate purpose of, but it is still our path.

Mine this year: 2015 is going to be a great year because I no longer suffer anxiety and depression and I am able to share love and kindness with friends and family better than ever before. Because I love and am loved by my family and friends. Because I am enjoying the freedom to travel and find stories to write about. Because I will take a great writing course in April and May that will improve my writing. Because I will enjoy travels with my boyfriend and create life-long memories with family during a family wedding in Tuscany this coming summer. Because I am able to pursue my health and fitness goals and feel great because of that. Mostly 2015 is going to be great because I have started it with the greatest love I have experienced in twenty years.

Now don’t just read it – do it!

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Thank you for visiting my blog! I hope you will join me on my adventures by clicking on “Follow” to the right of your screen and entering your email address to receive my postings to your inbox. You can unfollow with a single click on any email you receive from me, and you will receive nothing apart from my blog postings. Cheers! Darren

My Autumn Journey Part Five : The Conclusion

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Just for colour, I include some more of my paintings, my Autumn journey ending in snow. For a short time I was mostly painting custom home portraits. (I do not paint anymore, not for quite a few years.)

My Autumn Journey Part Five: The Conclusion

I just want to make a quick wrap-up to my Autumn Journey with a conclusion that I couldn’t have made-up.

As you know this fall I spent some time dealing with shame issues (at it’s core, shame is the fear of being not good enough/unlovable). Everyone has some shame issues, and to reduce their power we need exposure plus love and acceptance. It’s important that the exposure be to the right person/people as to have a positive outcome. This came from the teachings of Brene Brown, if you have not at least watched one of her Ted Talks yet, do it!

I also learned that the main thing people have in common who feel loved is that they feel worthy of love. When you don’t feel worthy, you deflect peoples expression of love (you don’t allow yourself to feel their love because you can’t believe it), and you don’t attract people to love you. It’s like you’ve taken in the welcome mat for love. People may still love you, but not nearly as much as when you have that welcome mat ready to give and receive. This fall I’ve been cleaning-up and brushing-off my welcome mat simply as a part of my journey and not with thoughts of what it might lead to.

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Toronto row houses. 2003.

I am in a chapter of my life when I am embracing personal growth and change. I am also working on becoming a writer, specifically of humourous non-fiction travel stories. To this purpose, I go out in to the world looking for interesting experiences to write about.

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A farmhouse in Uxbridge, North of Toronto.

At the same time, I have been investing in my life in Toronto between travel adventures. Although I did not want to have reason to stay around at the moment, I find myself becoming more and more connected to my life here. New loving friendships, a spiritual journey, activities and groups I enjoy. I still want to travel, but not for as long and it’s getting harder to leave.

Because I was also completely blind-sided.

But the heart knows what it wants, and apparently it wants to be in love.

I met someone.

It’s early days, but wow does he feel like “the one”.

Time will tell.

I’m still departing for my next trip on January 5th, but now with heavier feet. And as for my original idea of missing winter, I can’t stay away that long.

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Toronto’s main Chinatown, Spadina Avenue. 2003. I did a number of city scenes, luckily my sister bought two of them as the rest went to homes unknown sold through a gallery.

Thank you for visiting Personal Travel Stories! I hope you will join in my adventure by clicking on “Follow” and entering your email address to get each of my postings by email. (And nothing else.) Worry not, you can unfollow at any time with one click. Cheers! Darren

My Autumn Journey Part Four : Reconnecting

My Autumn Journey Part Four : Reconnecting
Learning to Live a Wholehearted Life

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In this posting I share some photos of paintings I did. I was an artist professionally in the early 2000s. These ones are from one style I played with, but I played with a variety of styles.
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In parts one, two and three of My Autumn Journey I focused on the teachings of Brene Brown and the universal need to love and belong. Through extensive research, Brown had discovered that the common quality of people who feel loved, is that they feel worthy of being loved. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like right now there is a societal movement away from pretension and towards authenticity. Away from pretending all is perfect and always showing a brave face – to exposing our imperfections to connect more deeply with others. A recognition that we all have our struggles and challenges.

If you are joining me for the first time, I’d recommend joining my Autumn Journey from Part One.
Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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I have often written about how I left my life in Winnipeg in May, 2012 and started my current journey back to becoming the person I was meant to be. Throughout my life I have fluctuated further from and closer to my authentic self, but for sure by the end of that chapter I was as far away as I could have become. I say this because I had hit rock bottom, to the degree that my will to live was very weak. I was self-destructing.

2013 was mostly about adventures and having the feeling of moving forward by physically moving forward, mostly in India and England. I focused on regaining my health mentally and physically.

2014 has mostly been about relationships. Including repairing old wounds, self-acceptance, and continuing to move forward in all areas of my life.

2015 will be about cultivating love and taking my writing to a new level.

I have had chapters where I’ve made loving friends in the past, but they have been chapters. I knew some great people in Edinburgh, but then they were no longer part of my life. I made very loving friends in Japan, but then I was alone and isolated again. Especially in those days before Facebook and email that moved with you, and affordable long distance calling.

In 2014 I had planned to winter in Asia but I changed my plans instead to take a reunion tour of the Eastern US, where a number of friends who had been very dear to me in Japan now live. The time since I had last seen them, or even contacted beyond sending a Christmas Card, ranged from ten years to seventeen. It became a healing journey where I loved and felt loved. (In 2015 I again plan to winter in Asia, but again my plan may change direction as I follow the ebb and flow of where I feel I am meant to be. Already my expectation of duration is changing due to a scenario I did not imagine. More on that in future posts.)

I had so many years when I had no one-to-one friendships, from an early age all through my development years I had lots of “friends” but I felt friendless. I didn’t think anyone would accept me so I only had friends in groups. This was a tendency I repeated and returned to throughout my life, my default was to feel unworthy of having friends.

The week after I turned 40, in October, 2013, I joined a discussion group in Toronto. This turned-out to be an amazing group where we discuss things that matter in a non-judgemental and very supportive setting. Members share our deepest regrets, our darkest secrets, our biggest challenges. Things that are normally hard to bring-up. I had lots of issues I wanted to work on, things from my past that I wanted to revisit and find clarity about and things in my present that I was not satisfied with. I had already broken out of my depression, changed my lifestyle with regards to health (eating healthfully, exercising regularly, drinking far less, and I quit smoking) but I was still suffering social anxieties. And I was not where I wanted to be emotionally. I had already been working on reducing my anxieties by pushing through my fears to do things and to reduce their power.

I hadn’t realised until I was in Montreal (Aug, Sept, Oct 2014), that by sharing our shameful secrets in this group, perhaps the biggest thing we were actually doing was removing the shame around them. In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, Brene Brown tells us that to be healed from shame, we need to feel EXPOSED and LOVED and ACCEPTED – all at the same time. The group, led by a loving psychologist, provided this. The more deeply and vulnerably one member shared, the more deeply and vulnerable the other members shared too. And we loved each other for it. For our imperfections. Our imperfections make us human.

My initial behaviour at the group was to push myself to share very authentically in the group. I would even decide beforehand what I wanted to deal with so that I would move deeply, rather than just attending to see what happened. But each evening as soon as the group ended, I would bolt out the door and run home. A complete return to highschool. I tended to be an integral and even central member of groups, with no personal contact outside.

I was expecting acceptance in the group, but still fearing rejection outside of it – by the very same members. A very unhealthy mental loop to be replaying. I recognised this and shared it with the group leader because it was an isolation tactic that I wanted to break. He challenged me to accept every invite thereafter, to make my default a “yes” rather than a “no” until I have broken my habit. I started to meet members after the group for coffee, and I started contacting individual members to meet-up completely away from the group. This was new behaviour for me. I was learning how to create meaningful friendships I had not learned how to do growing-up. And I was learning that I am worthy of those friendships.

My experience in the group is what inspired me to reunite with friends who had been dear in my past. I would not have had the worthiness to reach out after so many years without that experience. I would have told myself that maybe we were very close only because we were expats in Japan. We were a tight little community, we only had each other. We were like family because our families were thousands of miles away. I was only worthy of such loving friendships in that very specific situation.

I was wrong.

I set out in the winter of 2013/2014 on a road trip and I proved myself wrong again-and-again, all the way down the US Eastern seaboard. Time and distance had not broken my love for my friends, nor their love for me. I was re-learning my worthiness of love and belonging.

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Thank you for joining My Autumn Journey. I hope you’ll come with me by clicking on “Follow” and entering your email to receive each post to your inbox. You will not receive anything else and you can unfollow at any time with one click.

In January, 2015 I depart for my next travel adventure (probably Atlanta – the Philippines – Brunei – Indonesia – East Timor – durations and destinations not yet finalised) and until then I will be sharing more of my inner-journey, including the exciting unexpected developments coming from learning to feel worthy of love. Follow now and don’t miss a thing! Cheers! Darren

My Autumn Journey, Part Three : Unconditional Love

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More views form my visit to New Brunswick in October, 2014.
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Most of my postings are travel-related but my Autumn journey to Quebec and New Brunswick became more an inner journey than an outer one. So thank you for joining me as I continue to explore the teachings of Brene Brown. As I apply them to my own life, I hope you will take the time to reflect and apply them to yours.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend visiting http://www.BreneBrown.com for these universal lessons.

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My August Journey, Part Three : Unconditional Love
Learning how to live a wholehearted life

Brene Brown studied people who she described as living a “wholehearted life”. Apart from feeling worthy of love and acceptance (belonging), she discovered that these people had traits that she would come to describe as “shame resilience”.

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I have now written several times that Brown describes shame as coming down to “the fear of being unlovable”. Being loved and belonging are the two essential traits of a happy life, in fact they are essential human needs. It should therefore be no surprise that without these things some people become depressed or even suicidal. It would seem that shame is the main block to feeling worthy and therefore the main block to being truly happy.

Brown tells us that to live and grow, shame needs three things. And unfortunately, these things tend to self-perpetuate when living in shame. It needs: 1. Secrecy, 2. Silence, and 3. Judgement. It’s pretty easy not to talk about our greatest secret, but over time can lead to all manner of mental health issues. For me, I have mostly suffered anxiety and depression.

In fact, my shame that caused me to suffer anxiety and depression grew still and I also became ashamed that I was depressed, and ashamed of my anxieties. The self-punishment we humans inflict on ourselves! I went to great lengths to hide my depression and was so successful that it was only discovered after a serious suicide attempt landed me in the hospital for some time. One of my doctors figured it out.

Eventually this led to my acceptance of being gay and the incredible release of shame that I had had around that. I was happy for a few years. How did I release my shame surrounding being gay? Exposure. First I met other gay people through a somewhat secret group organised by the counselling department of my university. In meeting other nice gay people, I realised that they were good people who should not be ashamed of being gay. I could see they were worthy of love and acceptance. Soon I was able to apply this to myself.

Shame hates to be exposed, it nearly requires secrecy and silence. And the judgement was both self-judgement and what I had been taught growing-up with Christian convictions. Most peoples Christian convictions have now adapted to accept people much more than at that time.

I spent the next few years after university mostly living abroad. It seemed I had recovered fully from my depression that had lasted through my younger years, that by releasing my shame of being gay and by living openly I was whole again. But it didn’t quite work out like that. That was a big lift, for sure, but eventually shame crept back again and brought with it depression.

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I went on antidepressants some months after my return to Canada. I just couldn’t seem to break a sadness that had re-occupied my mind. I had perhaps forgotten my past while living overseas, but I had not adequately dealt with it.

There is a difference between forgetting about something, and having closure with something. When we force ourselves to forget it may seem like we are healthfully moving forward rather than reliving the past, but in reality the past comes-out in our choices and our actions whether we want it to or not. We may end-up choosing relationships that repeat unhealthy relationships from our past, because they were not finished. We may unknowingly self-sabotage – feeling unworthy of being happy, or unworthy of being successful. We may make poor choices, clouded by repressed anger or frustration or hurt. My greatest tendency is to isolate. It comes from a fear of being unworthy combined with self-preservation. As in introvert, I need some alone time to recharge. If I don’t get that time, panic can ensue.

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For me, the pain of too much interaction is worse than the pain of too little interaction. I have come to see this as a strength – many people can not have solo travel experiences as happily and successfully as I do.

We humans are wired to connect with others. I prefer to do this meaningfully, I prefer quality over quantity. I am happy to explore all day by myself and if I can then meet people for some real conversation in the evening I have had a perfectly balanced day. I can even achieve this through Facebook or the phone or even email if needed. Many extraverts, for whom it often seems the world was designed, would find my current life painfully lonely. So it can be seen as a weakness, of not being able to always be with others, or as a great strength, of being able to be happily alone.

Antidepressants definitely have their place. I was trying therapy but had very poor luck with the therapist I tried, and I was quick to suppose that I had grown-up feeling depressed, so perhaps that is just the way I became wired. Eventually I also ended-up on ADHD meds, which also had an off-label use for treating anxiety. In my case, they may have contributed to developing anxiety, also a known effect.

I stayed on antidepressants for much of my adult life and I am thankful to have had them until I weaned myself off all medications during my India travels in 2013. I have realised since that even without the specific shame I had attached to being gay, I have a generalised shame, as so many of us do. That I am not good enough.

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In this next bit I don’t mean to mislead. Let me be honest and explain that I don’t actually believe in Jesus but I do believe in the metaphor of Jesus. Lately, I have even chosen to attend a Christian church that promotes love and acceptance for all. I attend because I believe in connection and community and moving forward and the positive values this particular church encourages.

It is interesting to me that even though I am unable to force a belief that Jesus existed, I can still embrace much of what he stood for as an icon. I even take communion now, whereas I hadn’t for some years. Because I believe that we are all one; we are all connected. We are all a part of the same universe. That when we hurt another, we hurt ourselves. When we help another, we help ourselves. We must love ourselves to love others, forgive ourselves to forgive others. We need to feel worthy of love to feel loved. To feel worthy of forgiveness to feel forgiven. The message is that we are worthy. So worthy, in fact, that we are worthy of someone sacrificing himself for us. So that we may live. Not just be alive, but LIVE. Even if I don’t believe it physically happened, I believe the message is true.

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The church has long used our shame issues as a hook, with the message that Jesus loves you (even if no one else will). This is a very healing message and it plays into our fear of being unlovable (shame).

We are told that God can see into the deep recesses of our heart (where shame dwells); that he knows our deepest secrets but he loves us anyway. With this belief we feel exposed to him and accepted by him. This, according to Brown, is exactly what is required to be healed from our shame. Exposure (telling someone) with acceptance (someone loving us anyway). Brown points out that we need to choose carefully who we share our shame stories with, the person needs to earn our trust first as someone who will accept us, as to not become a reinforcement of our shame story. Basically, we need to share with someone who will either not judge us, or who will exercise unconditional love.

The good news is – when we learn to be vulnerable and share our shames with these people we trust, we discover that many fellow humans can still love us too. Not just Jesus.

Because none of us are perfect.

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I hope you’ll join me for Part Four of “My Autumn Journey”. Click on “Follow” and enter your email address to get my postings (and nothing else). You can unfollow at any time with one click on any of the emails.

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My sister’s dog, Andy, also visited New Brunswick (from Toronto) when I was there. My sister came with him. Here he is reflecting on his own shame issues (most of us have some) while looking out to Mom’s patio.

If you’re not sure about your own issues yet, watch Brene Brown’s Ted Talk (that has already been viewed more than four million times) by clicking here: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame

My Autumn Journey, Part Two

The greatest predictor of feeling love
is whether or not you feel worthy of love.

The greatest predictor of belonging
is whether or not you feel worthy of belonging.

Brene Brown.

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This posting contains scenes from my visit to New Brunswick in October, 2014.

I paused a long time before sharing part two, because I’m feeling vulnerable sharing shame stories and I wasn’t sure if anyone wanted to read about this anyway. Then someone emailed me about part one, with interesting and thoughtful remarks and asked when part two was coming. So If you’re not interested in this, just delete it, no harm done!

My Autumn Journey, Part Two
Learning How to Live a Wholehearted Life

Thank you for joining my journey!

In part one I introduced some ideas from leading shame researcher, Brene Brown, mostly from her book, “The Gifts Of Imperfection : Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life”. In this posting I continue this topic which came onto my radar while visiting Montreal. Issues come up for us when we are ready to deal with them, no matter where we are and what we are doing. Just because I am travelling does not mean I leave my issues on-hold at home. Quite the opposite is true for me, a variety of experiences bring-up a variety of issues.

As I mentioned before, we all experience shame in some form (with the exception of those who are incapable of empathy) so I hope you’ll take some time to examine your own life and the role that shame has played for you, and to see if maybe it’s time to change it’s role. This is about embracing ourselves fully and accepting that none of us are perfect. I highly recommend spending some time on Brown’s website: http://www.brenebrown.com

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As a kid I felt an enormous amount of shame and that tends to come-up for me every year on my birthday. I was ashamed for being who I was. I was ashamed that I liked to colour rather than to play baseball. I felt shame for wanting to create things rather than destroy things. I preferred quiet activities over physical ones. I “knew” it was wrong to like these things, although I had no idea why.

This was my early elementary school years, age 5 to 10. The most innocent years. Society, especially at the time, tied sexuality to things that have nothing to do with sexuality, but most people didn’t know better. There was also the misbelief that pursuing creative things would cause one to become homosexual, so many caring parents would try to guide their kids away from their natural talents with the best of intentions.

My fear of not being good enough (shame) caused me to retreat more and more. Added to this was being introverted (recharging by being alone) and being highly sensitive (overwhelmed by too much noise, light, commotion, crowds) , making school one huge confusion. I had a nice friend in grade three, but I felt unworthy of his friendship.

I befriended a kid on the fringes who I suppose I felt adequate to be friends with, but in so doing I lost my only real friend. I had feared his eventual rejection anyway, I figured it was only a matter of time before he realised I wasn’t good enough, so I hastened the process, around age 9. At that time I also remember feeling ashamed of my body, his body was much better than mine, more what it was “supposed” to be. Manlier. It could have been as simple as he was hitting puberty before me because I was young for my grade and he was a year older even though we were in the same class. My new friend had issues with obesity and I was more comfortable with him even though he tended to be loud and we actually had very little in common apart from both feeling like rejects.

My friend had a tendency to be obnoxious and by grade seven I could not abide his company any more. Knowing him definitely encouraged my introverted tendencies as he was really draining. I didn’t know being with other friends would feel differently. Everything went wrong in grade seven and I would become friendless for some years, although no one knew or noticed. I now know that this was entirely caused by me feeling unworthy to be loved – which translated to feeling unworthy of having friends. Being an outsider and not having any one-on-one friendships became my greatest shame that I spent a lot of effort hiding. Later as I started to notice an attraction to guys more-and-more and not to girls, that became another great shame.

Like so many of us, I still attach shame to my body. No matter what the shape, too. This was the case when I was a fit and muscular rower during uni, when I was very slim during my years in Japan, when I was carrying extra weight a couple of years ago, and still today when I’m an average healthy size. I looked back at photos from earlier years and was shocked to see that I had a great body. I remember being surprised even at the time when I saw the photo of me at a beach in Thailand. I hadn’t felt sexy, so seeing it was like, wow, look at me last week. I shared that photo with friends. I remember wishing I could feel the way I looked, but I still had shame for my body NOT BEING PERFECT. Luckily it was never enough to encourage an eating disorder as it is for so many women. That must be another whole level.

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Even if you are a hundred pounds overweight, that is not a moral issue and there is no reason to attach shame to that. You might feel guilty when you eat too much, or exercise too little because you know that those behaviours are not helping you to lead a happy and healthy life. But lots of people judge others and we judge ourselves based on size. I am well-aware that many of us do attach shame to our bodies and that we may even be shamed by others for our bodies. It is great to be fit and slim and healthy, a worthy goal for sure. Whether you are or not, you are still worthy of being loved and accepted as you are.

That bears repeating.

You are worthy of being loved and accepted as you are. However that is.

I think that when you feel worthy of being loved and accepted, you actually attract people to love and accept you. You can also send a signal of worthiness or non-worthiness. Twenty years ago, I came-out publicly after I had pushed-back the shame and fully accepted that I was gay. (That was a very long and difficult road for me.) I am sure that my own self-acceptance was instrumental in how people reacted.

I expected acceptance and most people lived-up to my expectation and accepted me at a time when few people around me even knew of someone being gay in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Except my church community – I was completely rejected there. I was expelled from the quartet, banned from the youth choir, cancelled as a soloist, and asked not to attend the university-age youth group. I would be allowed to attend as long as I didn’t “talk about it”, but people acted like I was highly contagious. Former church friends would cross the street just to avoid saying hello. Suddenly turn the opposite direction when they had been coming towards me at the market. I didn’t afflict my discomfort on them (not theirs on me), I never attended that church again. Nor any church for a long time.

This was before Ellen, before Will & Grace, the only icon I knew of was the late Liberace, who only added to the misconceptions.

I had learned that being gay was not something to apply shame to, but I continued to apply shame in other areas of my life.

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As for my birthday? It’s embarrassing for me to admit this but I am practicing vulnerability so here it goes. People hide behind pride and it only separates them from others. The specific yearly shame came from not knowing friends who I could invite to a birthday party, so I only had family birthday parties. Actually, I feared no one would WANT to come – I did know lots of people. I feared and expected rejection. This was from as young as I can remember until about age twenty. So when my birthday came-up each year, I felt embarrassed – and ashamed – that I didn’t have any one-on-one friends. I kept it a secret, I didn’t want anyone to discover my pathetic reality. And on the actual day I feared that someone might notice and point-out that I wasn’t doing anything with friends for my birthday. In high school I looked like a popular kid; no one knew how differently it looked from my angle. I should have felt like a popular kid too – I just didn’t know it. Apparently people liked me but I couldn’t believe it because I didn’t like myself.

This year I felt very loved sharing my day with mostly new friends in Montreal a few weeks ago. So thankful was I that I decided to write each one a thank you note that I gave out at the end of my birthday dinner. I put myself on the line being vulnerable, expressing honest love and affection to each person who attended, writing completely different notes for each person.

Everyone responded to my notes of flowing affection, thanking me for my words or expressing their fondness in return. Except for two. I had the feeling of dropping the “L-word” and then the other person awkwardly looking away because they don’t feel the same. All I needed to hear was, “thank you for the note” so as to not feel awkward about what I’d written. In my insecurity, I needed to know that what I had written was okay. This was highlighted by most people replying, so that those who didn’t stood out.

A number of days passed before I dropped the mental ball, eventually misinterpreting their silence about the notes as non-reciprocity of affection. I was no longer in Montreal, but we had a few casual texts. It blew-up in my head until I decided I must have shared too much and offended them. Why else would they not mention them like everyone else did? It seemed like the notes were something we would have to put behind us rather than the affirming expression of love I had hoped for. I regretted the whole day.

Notes to Self:
-Turn down the affection a bit.
-Work on reducing my insecurities.
-Don’t be so fast to anticipate rejection.
-Don’t interpret something from nothing.

I finally addressed the issue in the manner it had grown in my head and discovered my complete error. No, they hadn’t responded to the notes for any reason except that they hadn’t. We were totally fine. They also didn’t say anything because, of course they liked the notes, how could I think they wouldn’t? They’d shown affection by their previous actions, why would I think that suddenly changed? (Answer: Because of my insecurities. Because for many years, I saw myself as someone unworthy of friends.)

Notes to self: Turn down the affection a bit. Work on reducing my insecurities – don’t be so fast to anticipate rejection. It was a mistake for me to interpret something from nothing. My insecurities kicked in – my brain said, “You were wrong. The only person feeling love at your birthday was you – you only thought they were feeling love because you were.” My brain wants to repeat the same old pain story rather than change the record. I WILL change the record. It will just take more work than I thought.

My mantra:
I am worthy to be loved and accepted, as I am.

I know there are LOTS of people who would benefit from making this their mantra. Repeat it especially when you feel it’s untrue, because then you need to correct your thinking.

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And the struggle to live wholeheartedly continues.

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More scenes from the province where I was born and raised, New Brunswick, Canada.

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Here’s an old photo! I’m around 26 in this photo, in Ko Samui, Thailand.

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I hope you will join me for part three of this series of working towards living a wholehearted life.

My Autumn Journey, Part One

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Feeling the Love in Montreal!

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Where’s the Kitty? Oh, there he is!

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Kitty likes to remind me that he’s here.

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In case you missed it in an earlier posting, I was cat-sitting for two weeks in Montreal during month two.

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“Oh Good, you’re awake. I’ve been waiting for you. On your chest.”

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“I brought some of my food into your bed to share. You’re welcome.”

Is part of why we love our pets so much because we feel their love and acceptance no matter what? We don’t feel judged by our pets. We don’t feel shame with our pets. They love us as we are and we love them. All we have to do is share a bit of affection and all is perfect. Our pets don’t care about what flaws we have. If we feed them and love them that’s all they need. Our shortcomings don’t matter to them.

Why can’t we do this with other humans? I think we can. I don’t care how much money you make or what you have achieved, I only care about how you interact with me. I don’t judge you if you suffer depression or anxiety, I’ve had those human experiences myself. I hope you won’t judge me for having more than you or less than you, but I can’t worry about that if you do.

Most of us carry shame that is not serving us. We let it needlessly separate us from others. Sometimes we may be too proud to reveal a weakness. Or we fear judgement if we are too open.

Montreal became a place where I have practiced being more open. I have often over-shared. Sometimes it has been a bit messy. But in the end, it has felt good.

My Autumn Journey, Part One

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I’m healing my life one building-block at a time. Thank you for joining my journey.

I came to Montreal for four weeks on August 13 and I eventually pulled away on October 8th, making a total of eight weeks to the day. I didn’t want to leave, but it’s not where I live and it’s not where I want to live. Maybe someday, after studying French somewhere else, but not now. I developed some really great friendships and was having meaningful experiences so I just didn’t want to drive away. Home is where the heart is and I am leaving a lot of my heart in Montreal.

I always knew that I suffered a lot of shame growing-up and carrying into adulthood, but in Montreal I really looked at that and faced it head-on. I have carried a lot of shame for a lot of things, none of which was deserved or warranted or served much purpose.

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I was very fortunate that these issues surfaced for me while visiting new friends in Outremont and that I was able to dedicate as much time as I wanted reading and researching about it. I had heard shame researcher Brene Brown through a Ted Talk and I knew that her work was where I needed to go. “The Gifts of Imperfection – Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life” would be my guide for this segment of my life journey.

The following ideas are not my own, but are things that I gleaned through presentations of Brown. I highly recommend this Ted Talk and I will recommend another later. Click on this link to open in your browser: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame#t-1313554

To be happy, Brown concludes, people need to LOVE and BELONG.

She also discovered that the greatest single predictor of whether one feels they are loved and belong is whether or not THEY FEEL WORTHY OF BEING LOVED AND BELONGING.

That is the magic trick! To find love, feel worthy of love! To belong, feel worthy of belonging. Simple! Now we should all be happy! Yay!

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This raised a major question for Brown. If people need to feel worthy of love and belonging to achieve love and belonging, what are the blocks causing so many of us to feel unworthy? She found the main answer and ended-up dedicating the next eight years of her research, with thousands of case studies and interviews, to SHAME.

SHAME is basically the FEAR OF BEING UNLOVABLE. The fear that others will reject us. The fear of not being good enough as we are. It’s cousin is perfectionism- attaching being good enough with our actions being good enough and taking it to the extreme that only perfect is good enough. We can be ashamed of being fat, of not accomplishing expectations, of not being perfect, of not having a nice enough or clean enough house, ashamed of where we come from. We can even be ashamed of how successful we have become, of having more than others, and we can even feel shame of our greatest talent. It knows no bounds.

Shame is a nearly universal emotion, the only people who don’t experience shame are our sociopaths and psychopaths – those who also do not have the ability to experience empathy. Imagine Dexter except in his case he was taught to focus on “those who deserve it”, his own code of right-and-wrong. For most people, the shame of having killed someone (by their own volition, I’m not talking about war) would be pretty strong.

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Shame differs from guilt. Guilt is the feeling that I DID SOMETHING BAD. Shame is the feeling that I AM BAD. So guilt is about our behaviour, and it serves us well to not repeat poor behaviour, not to repeat a mistake, not to intentionally cause harm. Shame is about who we are and it does not serves us well. I AM A BAD PERSON BECAUSE I CHEATED ON MY TEST, is not a healthy response to cheating. IT WAS BAD THAT I CHEATED ON MY TEST, I SHOULD NOT DO THAT AGAIN, is much more appropriate.

When parents use shame to teach children what’s right and wrong they are teaching their children that they are inherently not good enough and not worthy to be loved. This was more common in the past than it is today, many parents today are much more aware that they should address specific behaviours in isolation. “I am very disappointed that you hit your sister,” is not a great way to teach but is much better than the crippling, “I am very disappointed in you,” said in a very stern and serious tone. Or, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” (WRONG – you should be ashamed of something you did, not of who you are, of yourself.) Add to that, “now go to your room and think about that all evening, I don’t want to see you again today,” and you have a kid focusing on the fact that they are a disappointment to their greatest source of love. Nurturing the fear of being unlovable. Shame.

(Side note to parents, when correcting behaviour it is often a great opportunity to teach empathy or consequence, “Think of how your sister must feel”, or “What would it look like if everyone made a mess and didn’t clean-up?” and actually have them describe the mess. Guilt has a role but don’t teach the child they should feel shame. Separate the behaviour from the person. Because when a person identifies as being a bad person, guess what happens on top of being set on a miserable path of low self-esteem – behaviour does not improve.)

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Some sights around Montreal. I cycled past this old warehouse often.

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“If we paint cute things on the bridges, maybe no one will notice when they collapse!” Good idea! Spend your money there!

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I thought it was cute, a pig encouraging you to buy more pork at the butcher. It would be like McDonalds having a cute animated cow character as their mascot. Hmm.

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“I found you!”

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part Two of my Autumn Journey. This will be a four to six part topic I feel is important for everyone to think about and talk about.

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