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

Breaking Life Boundaries – Living a Bigger Life

I did not write a travel story to share this week. I did, however, make quite a few notes for when I do stand-up comedy in NYC next month, so it’s been productive. It’s going to be my first time although I do have performing experience from high school and university (where I studied Business but nearly had credits of a minor in Drama.) As far as I can tell it is going to be recorded, so expect to see my performance link on a posting sometime after Dec 9th! (2013)

I’d like to give a shout-out to fellow blogger, Cupitonians, who decided to push herself by writing 30 postings in 30 days and is doing a great job keeping it interesting! Well done! You can visit her here: http://cupitonians.wordpress.com/

An Update of my Life in Transition – Breaking Life Boundaries

If you are reading this you probably know that over a year ago I dumped my life in Winnipeg. The whole thing. Soon after, I decided to pursue my passions of travel and writing which began in NYC in November, 2012. Toronto became my home base between travels because the most important people in my life are here, my brother and sister. I am very fortunate that my brother and his partner have completely welcomed me into their home as part of the family, and my sister considers me the same.

I have spent more time in Toronto this visit than I originally planned. Because my current mission is to travel and write about it, I figured on having perhaps 10 weeks away, followed by a few weeks in TO and then away again. Instead, by the time I leave for NYC I will have been mostly in TO for four months!

It’s a bit harder concocting new travel stories when not travelling, although I have been writing some stories from earlier travels, such as the Turks & Caicos stories which are among my favourites. Re-writes can be endless, and I need some new material to add to the mix to keep it interesting for me. But, the past few months in Toronto have been fantastic – I’ve been moving forward on a personal level in ways I would not have expected.

In my “about” section I write about being an outgoing introvert. I am also highly sensitive, so if you meet me in a hectic street in Bangkok there is a good chance I will be wearing earplugs to quiet the noise and tinted glasses even inside to soften the light. Someone who is overwhelmed by strong stimuli, I am perhaps a surprising candidate to stumble around the back streets of our planet and write about it. But exploring is when I feel most alive.

Most people seem to misunderstand the introvert/extravert difference so here is a very brief summation. With a group of casual friends, at a party, in a pleasant social situation – an extravert is slowly (or quickly) recharging. In the same situation an introvert is slowly (or quickly) using-up their battery. A weekend-in for an extravert might feel punishing, for an introvert it might feel like a welcome reward. There are extreme extraverts and extreme introverts but most people fall somewhere in the continuum between the two.

I used to be shy but shyness became not a part of my self-concept many years ago. I still recharge by being alone (or with certain close people), but I am not shy. Introversion tends to cause one to be shy, but it is not the same trait. And I am convinced that unlike introversion, shyness is not a fixed trait.

My introversion – my need to recharge at home – caused me to become quite a homebody in recent years. An introvert trying to socialise after a busy social day can cause great anxiety. There is a threshold reached at a different place for everyone, but once that threshold is crossed – the party is over. For me, panic ensues. Fight or flight kicks-in. I need to escape. It is a horrible, isolating feeling. You look around seeing others still having fun and feel absolutely beside yourself, hardly able to breathe. It doesn’t come on all at once for me, I can feel myself approaching overload, I generally know when it’s time to make my exit.

During uni I would come to this point at a bar or club and I would need to escape immediately. If I stayed too long, the entire night would be coloured with regret. Even the parts when I had been having fun would become part of the experience that caused me overload, suddenly tainted in my memory. So that’s what I would do, I would disappear. Because my extraverted friends didn’t understand, “Don’t go, it’s early, come on!” Nope, not dealing with that anymore. Now if I go to a loud party or a bar I will tell people at the beginning. If you see me waving goodbye even before you consider the night to be over, do not challenge me on it. Many people will never understand my experience. Many people are unable to comprehend that others experience the world differently than they do. It is a narrowness of mind that I find pitiable.

If I have had a quiet day I may be able to enjoy a party or stay at a nightclub right to the end. I have learned to balance my days so that this is the case, and I have been very fortunate to be able to do this. If I was still a teacher, I would need most every evening to be quiet retreat. Likewise when I’ve had to work in a busy store all day. When I was able to limit my mall-time to three or four hours on only occasional days I was fine but by then I had an established routine of solitude that was hard to break.

We tend to establish boundaries as to how we live our days. Our boundaries hold our life together, contain it to a comfortable proportion with some safety of predictability. Some of us have flexible boundaries and others more fixed. I tend to go to bed around ten and to sleep around twelve or one lately. Sometimes I go to bed at midnight. It is a flexible boundary for me, more a preference as I know I take a long time to unwind reading, listening to audio books – “going to bed” for me more means going for quiet time before bed in my room.

We have boundaries of distance. How far do you tend to go away from home? Every day, on weekends, on holiday. I prefer to take my coffee within walking distance of home, which means I prefer to live within walking distance of a coffee shop. I have a strong urban preference. I generally don’t go across town for a restaurant unless meeting someone or for a special occasion. I prefer to choose something nearer. Going for dinner, the company is more important to me than the food. As for travel, clearly I have almost no boundary limitations. Some people only go to beach resorts, which to me isn’t travel it’s just a kind of rest that I don’t like so much myself. Some people only stay in chain hotels, I prefer a variety of hotels big and small, even apartment lets and homestays. (Although doing homestays is for me, pushing my boundaries. I definitely feel uncomfortable organising them and worry that I’ll be crowded (personally) or uncomfortable (again, personally).

We have boundaries of what kinds of things we do. Routines. These activities for most people are not a random assortment, they fit neatly into a box. The “Things That I Do” box. Make a list and you’ll see what I mean. (ex. Things I do: work, go to movies, have Sunday brunch, go to gym, watch tv, drive children to activities, go out for dinners, shop at farmers market . . . . ) How often do we push-back the boundaries of what we do, going outside our box to try something new? For me, it was very seldom. Except when travelling.

When outside of my usual surrounds I am far more likely to try something new. This is true for most people. If you decided to go for a helicopter ride it was probably when you visited the Grand Canyon, not on a random Saturday when you thought, “Why don’t I take a helicopter ride over my own city.” Would that be exciting and interesting, show you a new perspective of your own town? I think it would. Did you have more money when you were travelling? Not unless your income spikes when you are on holiday, lucky you if that’s the way your life works. No, you had the same money. But when travelling our priorities change – we give more priority to spending money on having new and unique experiences. At home we spend more money on buying “things” and home improvements and clothes and everyday bills.

“I feel so alive when I travel,” I remember saying a few months ago, “is it possible to feel so alive right at home?” Well, home is not going to have the excitement of EVERYTHING being new, but I have discovered that by pushing-wider my boundaries of what I do at home, I can make my experience of life much richer. Right here. In Toronto.

Toronto is a large city with loads of opportunities so it may be easier to push one’s boundaries than in a small town, but no matter where you are there are possibilities to try things that you have not tried before. If you’re bored of your gym routine, maybe there is a fitness class you could sign-up for. Afraid to try? So are most people the first time. Take a deep breath and walk in.

I’ve started to push myself to sign-up and go to activities that honour my self. I would never sign-up to join a basketball league because I hate basketball. But I enjoyed acting when I was younger so I went to an Improv workshop last weekend. I was a bit nervous but I went anyway. It was fantastic. Two weeks ago I went to a comedy workshop. I had little idea what it was so I felt a bit nervous about that too, but I knew I wasn’t going to die and I just showed-up. Loved it. Now I’ve signed-up to do stand-up at an open mic for 6 minutes in NYC. I think I’m going to love it and sign-up for more. Am I nervous about it? Of course I am, I’ve never done it before. Even if I had, it’s probably one of those nerve-stimulating experiences every time, I don’t know yet.

Until very recently I felt anxious to have time commitments. Having plans made me feel “trapped”. I had to push though that anxiety just to plan anything at all. Meeting someone for dinner any time apart from right now made me feel uncomfortable. What if the time comes and I am not up for it, then what? I mostly started breaking this terrible boundary during travels when I either made plans to meet people to do things, or I didn’t meet people. The discomfort of being completely alone pushed me to break my boundary. I find most change comes from discomfort.

If you’re looking to add some new zest to your life I have found fantastic opportunities through the website http://www.meetup.com . There are countless groups and activities you can join, perhaps not in very rural areas but it’s worth a check wherever you are. Like to sing? Want to meet other introverts or extraverts or other single Dads with teens or other survivors of cancer? Want to meet people for coffee, or for brunches, to go bowling or to try salsa dancing? Love the opera but don’t really go because your friends don’t? (Here I say, go anyway. I’ve been three times in the past month, by myself. So glad I did too!) The internet has pushed us away from each other on a face-to-face connection level as we text and Facebook and play games remotely rather than actually sit across from each other. But now websites such as meet-up are bringing us together again.

We evolved to connect with others. It used to take a village to raise a child, now we mostly operate very independently. Many of us don’t even know our neighbours. This is not the way we evolved, through thousands of years we relied on those around us with a much stronger sense of community. Together we survived, alone we perished.

As a sensitive introvert there is a balancing act which I have often failed. I have failed many friendships. I have pulled-back in to my comfort zone of independence. The familiar role of being an outsider (when appearing to be an insider) growing-up is one that I am now trying to break. It’s not easy. But I’m working on it.

Work on making your life whatever you want it to be. Don’t stop yourself from trying new things due to fear or inertia. Somewhere inside you know what is working for you and what isn’t. There are probably things you need to change and putting them off doesn’t make them go away. Delay won’t make it easier, the opposite is usually true. Whatever change you are resisting, consider ripping the band-aid off. Excuses won’t help you either. “It’s easy for you, you don’t have to worry about . . . . ” Maybe I don’t, but that has nothing to do with you. Don’t compare your life to someone else’s and remain stuck because of that, what good does that bring you. “I don’t have time to . . . ” Maybe you don’t, just be wary that most people fear change and most of us come up with myriad excuses why change is not possible. Most of us will not change until we reach our breaking-point. Suddenly the excuses are no longer concrete road blocks when we can’t stand it anymore. I could not take my life in Winnipeg for another moment, I felt like I was dying and I was. I was eating too much, drinking too much, not exercising at all and my will to live was actually waining. I know that I am in a fortunate situation now, I’m not deluded to think that everyone has the options I have. However, I still had to dump my entire life to start-over and I could still be sitting at home not trying new things. I had to push myself. I continually have to push myself but the more I do it the more rewards I find and the less I have to push. Trying new things and meeting new people is getting easier and easier. I’m not saying I will keep-up the pace or that we should lead even more hectic lives than we already do, but we should attempt to pursue passions.

Work on things in your life FOR YOURSELF. We are all human and I think that anyone who has it ALL figured out – is probably mistaken. If they really have, they are incredibly rare. If you’re not moving forward, then you are probably slipping backwards because life tends to go uphill. I slipped backwards for quite a few years and now I’m learning to hike again. I have a lot to fix in my own life; I have a lot to fix in my own head. I just wanted to share that I’m having fun trying new things in this growth phase of my life and I encourage everyone to try something new.

Write down something you want to try right now so you don’t forget. And make it happen.

On this topic I’d also like to recommend a book called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. I read this book some years ago, but I wasn’t ready to actually act on it at the time. If you want to expand your life I would recommend this book, whether you get advantage from it now or in the future it’s all about moving forward.

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