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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The Real Reason I Came to Montreal

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I’ve shared on my blog a number of times that in May, 2012, I crawled away from the rubble that had become my life in Winnipeg. I had a good life there for some years, just by the end it had all come crashing down around me. I literally couldn’t breathe. I had completely isolated. I was going down a very dark path and I had to get off of it before it was too late. I would have drowned when at the last minute, flailing uselessly as my lungs started to fill, I was thrown a life saver. What was my life saver? Sudden knowledge that I could lead a different life- that I didn’t have to cling-on anymore to the one that no longer felt like mine.

Back in Toronto I decided not to resume life as usual. I decided to take the broken pieces and rather than rebuild right away, I decided to fix each piece. I decided that the next time I build myself a life, it’s going to be with some really great building blocks.

Thus began my current life adventure. I am a work in progress. As are we all.

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I have long been a lover of travel and the personal growth that can spring from going outside one’s usual comfort zones. Many of my most memorable and life-changing experiences have happened during travels, from age 21 when I left New Brunswick for London, England, it was exhilarating to create a life starting with a suitcase and a CV, discovering who I was and who I could be along the way while having few ties to who I had been. I guess travel has become my comfort zone for periods of self-development, I feel so free to grow without the constraints of the familiar around me. It is true that not living somewhere in particular can also become my new comfort zone and eventually I may need to break that too in order to settle down. But, for now, travel presents me with situations and opportunities and meeting people that feels right.

Wherever I go my issues come with me, you can’t run away from yourself. But I want my issues to come with me, so I can work on them. In my travels, I happen upon people who become part of my journey. Notice that I don’t happen upon THINGS that become part of my journey. Life is not about things. I’m not about the sights and museums. I do like to look around me and smell the flowers and yes, even to notice the rotting rubbish and experience passing through all manners of lives. But in the end, I have no interest in writing a travel guide. My interest is in sharing personal experiences.

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I am working on my writing, I hope to more and more be able to share authentic experiences with a fun and entertaining tone. Some photos thrown in for context, looking around where the experiences are happening. But history and place are not the theme of my travels.

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to spend some time in Montreal. I figured I’d find some stories to practice my writing and that I’d study and practice some French. But that hasn’t been my direction. I started with listening and repeating language lessons in my headphones everyday but then I got pulled away. Again and again. No, language is not why I’m here. In Montreal the life building blocks I am mostly working on are friendships. This is an area of my life in which I have always felt inept. No doubt that is surprising to many who know me (I am good at fitting-in), and unsurprising to others who also know me (fitting-in is not the same as belonging.)

In my severe and painful personal disconnection on leaving Winnipeg, connectedness soon after became a life focus that I realise needs to be life-long. First I had to deal with blockages. These were mostly anxieties and fears that had gotten out-of-control and were a large part of my isolation. These days I look for all sorts of meaningful activities I never would have before. In Montreal, meeting groups of strangers for dinner has been especially interesting. One thing leads to another. Suddenly I find myself drawn to Cape Breton after meeting a Cape Breton enthusiast. Bali reignites interest from hearing stories of adventure. Someone spends their winters in Panama. There’s no telling where an evening might lead. I didn’t use to be open to such evenings. Hardly ever with friends let-alone with strangers.

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After leaving Winnipeg I focused on regaining my health, which I had let deteriorate over some years. I started feeding my body the nutrition it needs, and giving it the exercise it needs. Today I’m 43 pounds lighter than I was in May, 2012. It’s not as easy as I make it sound, I often want poutine but more often choose salad as I’m walking the streets of Montreal. But I sometimes let myself have poutine. I try to nourish myself first, and then I crave the junk less. But if I want to indulge in ice cream, I probably will too. But I try to find balance. I’ve talked about food before and I will certainly talk about food again because we all eat everyday and our food system is a disaster. If it were a machine, it’s like it’s been set to “harm” rather than “nourish”. The world’s abundance is at our disposal and yet it takes a lot of self-direction to eat healthfully.

Food is our biggest drug. (My Mom said that so it must be true.) It is all processed by our body. Our body breaks it down and tries to use the nutrients to supply all of our functions, including our brain functions which affect how we experience the world. Your body needs various elements in real food to operate properly, if you’re not supplying it with some real food (especially fruits & vegetables that look like fruits and vegetables) you are punishing yourself. Think about your body trying to break down dozens of different chemicals that are foreign to it when you eat processed food from a box. Your body looks at Butylated hydroxytolueine and thinks, okay, what should I do with this? Hmmm. Maybe I’ll just try . . . Food affects our mood and energy and life in ways we often don’t recognise or accept.

Our body is constantly rebuilding and it needs the right materials. Just like I’m trying to create healthy building blocks before using them to rebuild my life. No, in creating them I am rebuilding my life. My life doesn’t look like a house and a job. My life looks like a collection of healthy and loving relationships and meaningful life work. That’s what I’m building. Because too soon the pretty house became meaningless and eventually the work became without purpose except to earn money.

When I can eventually pull my journey into one story, that will be my book. First I plan to collate a book of short stories. Learning how to write – practicing writing and studying writing – is also a part of my journey. I am a work in progress and my work is also a work in progress.

If you’ve followed my blog you know that I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone a lot over the past two years. There have been successes and failures but an overall movement forward. I’m always carrying about some self-help books and listening to audio books and as much as possible having authentic conversations with the people the universe puts in front of me. Which brings me to Montreal.

If you had told me that in Montreal I would make progress and healing to my friendship blocks, I would have told you that when your Mother dropped you on your head, she forgot to pick you up. She left you in a little pool of your own blood, the family dog licking where it was still coming out your ears. And then your Dad stumbled in reading a newspaper while he was walking and tripped over you, knocking you down a flight of concrete stairs, your delicate body tumbling end-to-end completely smashing your cute little face and skull and any chance you ever had for even a semblance of a normal life. In other words, I would have suggested you were possibly somewhat mistaken. But that your parents were probably to blame. As all parents are. Yours particularly though. That was pretty bad.

Before coming to Montreal, I had one friendly acquaintance here, and one casual friend who I knew with my former partner. So I did not imagine this to be a location where I would end-up focusing on healing when it comes to friendships. It felt right in coming; it had long been on my radar to see what it would be like to live in this major Canadian city and to do so while it was still in full swing with summer festivals and street life. I had expected to find a few stories and work on my French. Nope. My purpose of being here has surprised me.

Author, scholar, researcher Brene Brown agrees that we humans have an essential need for connection. She ties it in to spirituality and she breaks it down further. As people, we have a fundamental need for love and to belong. I spent most of my week studying her ideas. This will be my topic next time.

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Some views wandering around North of Mount Royal.

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This interesting roof is below the height of the overpass, so I look at it at length as I am walking to the gym inside the large building you can see in the background.

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I like urban graffiti. And it is proliferate in Montreal.

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Along Van Horne perhaps still in Outremont approaching Rosemont station. Outremont is actually an upscale Montreal neighbourhood but none of the fancy bits seem to have caught my eye.

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Yeah, this isn’t one of the fancy bits either. It’s just that the “fancy bits” look a bit normal and not so photogenic.

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This is my first view every morning while cat sitting, very cute! I moved to a friend’s place in Outremont for a couple weeks after my month in Le Village which was on Rue Ste Catherine near Metro Beaudry. KittyKins likes to make sure he’s the first thing I see when I wake-up. He does this sometime before morning by sleeping-on and clinging-to my chest as you can see in this photo – I was very careful to hold my phone out and to the side to capture this rare wilderness moment. This evening I cut his cute little toe nails to reduce the marks he leaves when I surprise him by waking up, as I tend to do every morning. Like most humans who didn’t die in their sleep that night.

Although his name is KittyKins he seems to prefer me to call him Mather Theresa. Which is bit of a girls name and quite similar to someone else’s name too, but it’s hard to explain that to a cat. You can’t expect a kitty to know who Mother Theresa was can you. And try explaining that although she did want the ill to die in peace, which is lovely, when there was a simple known cure she withheld treatment because she didn’t actually want her patients to live or to get better. So that’s not quite as lovely. You can see my blog postings from Calcutta (Kolkata) by looking through my blog index to the right, although I don’t remember what I said in them.

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