Generations of Genorsity

My mother recently asked for the return of $4,000 she had lent me; to access Botox treatments for a condition called, Cervical Dystonia (Medically called Spasmodic Tortocollis) …which I had been at the mercy of for (at the time) 5 years.  I could not afford the treatments, and after 3 tries, with no positive results aka reprieve  – and a $10,000 bill, I quit.

My daughter recently graduated from College, I could hardly breathe to access the opportunity to pay off her student loan and her Visa card…as an honouring of her accomplishment.

Am I the better parent – Hell Yes!

Yes, financially, I am in a better place than back then when I was struggling with the onslaught of dystonic symptoms.  And that is not the point.  It’s my belief, that as parents, we support – we are there – we put our money where our mouths are – we realize, that our children are a result of DNA.

So – I paid the $4,000 (again I might add), because this I know:  I will do my best to reduce my children’s suffering, while I am around.

 

 

 

Divorce is about 2 things

IMG_4053It has been 14 years since we divorced.  14 years.  We were married for 18 years.  And it seems that its now, only now, that I finally got that I had carried the same relationship expectations through our marriage into all the subsequent years of divorce – that he would show up with more desire to listen-to-understand, to openly communicate, to be authentically present, care, learn and grow, than he wanted to.  I have realized in the last little while that I had retained my hope and my commitment and my expectations, that we would do our best in marriage and divorce, to be completely in sync as parents, and (magically) that we would find our way parenting together post divorce, with more conviction to positively influence each other, than we had managed during our marriage. (This is called ‘magical thinking’.) As I write that, wrote that, reread and reread it, I feel like I really am a fundamentally character-blind person…and I have always been more able to love someone’s potential no matter what the over-proved reality evidence is!

Other than the first couple of years post divorce that filled with me the ugly pain of disapointment in myself and my shame and blame stopping me from being able to share holidays and birthdays; we moved into sharing again family times – even going on small family trips together, sharing a bed once because that was less weird than sleeping on the floor, sharing financial and talking-it-through support for each other’s momentary life challenges,  having endless co-parenting conversations through the years…helping with house maintenance problems (mostly mine)…even living in the same house at one point to help me out when I wanted to go overseas to work…which is all really to explain this:  we never actually divorced.  I retained all the benefits of having a partner, minus the lovely sex, the awful snoring and having to iron.  He unwaveringly kept his commitments, he did everything he did during marriage and divorce; he reliably and consistently showed up in his best possible way and he continued to cook the turkey and gather the family for every holiday.  When the chips were down, he has always been an unwavering rock and presence.  So, what’s wrong with that?

There is an opportunity cost to every decision and action.  Our committment to our post-divorce relationship cost us the opportunity to move on into other relationships.  We have both tried several times, but we both learned the hard way that no future partner wants to know they are second to any call of need from the ex.  In this past 14 years, neither of us have had the opportunity to be fully loved by another, to create a more integrous relationship with another person, to have had the experience of growing and changing as a human being in ways that shape and deepen a partnership. Our commitment to our relationship created for us both a ‘fractured’ life.   We had separate friends, some were his, some had been ours, and they sometimes melded together.  In times of fear and when life was extra hard, it was easy to slide back into judgement, criticism and silence as a response, vs communicating truthfully.  Mostly it was easier to continue to ‘work around’ each other, rather than address real values conflicts. We were not and have not been authentically committed to each other’s growth and learning – that’s not part of our commitment to each other.  So, though we did help each other out with the ‘daily life tasks’ we have in equal measure continued to hold each other back from life.  Oddly, the core reason for our divorce, was my frustration that he was unwilling to learn and grow (at my pace), to examine (and change in my opinion) his beliefs and behaviours which I found limiting; and at the core, our relationship lacked a fundamental integrity – on both sides – to tell our truths to each other.  It scared me, to know that what I wanted was to be fully accepted and to be freed or liberated from my immature life mistakes and beliefs, when in fact neither of us felt safe enough in our relationship to risk the ‘safety’ of our marriage for the authentic safety of being fully loved for our fullest humanness. [A conundrum two people often encounter within any relationship of mattering: when what we want most is the fullness of human relationship acceptance (safety) and the thing we fear most risks that very acceptance.]

My former husband and I shared an incredibly deep commitment to support each other as a post divorce ‘couple’ and to completely share our children’s lives and upbringing.  Yet this beautifully intended committment also held he and I in patterns of unhelpful limiting behaviours.  This commitment to be present for our children, and for them to know that their parents had each other’s ‘backs’ (so they would feel safe) –  led he and I, at times, to sacrifice our individuality and our growth, which has likely created a false-family-hood experience for our children.

I hated the concept of divorce, always had publicly proclaimed – not us – ever.  Never never will we do that.  And yet – when I found myself on the divorce path – I loudly proclaimed that our commitment to shared parenting and doing our best for our kids together was our shared priority – regardless, it did not ever change the fundamental differences their father and I shared.  We do life differently, we explore life differently, we care about different things, we wanted different experiences, and though I always felt he didn’t want to grow, I think now, its that his growth choices were not mine – and that is where the real rub still is – will always be.  The lack of respect, acceptance and valuing the need for me and maybe for him too, to find ‘safety’ in the inherent risk growth equation, brings an expansion and treating growth as a ‘distancing’ and separation – that was the chasm in our relationship.

For 14 years, I have been divorced, but in reality, we have never not been in a relationship of mattering and caring for our family together, just that this 14 years we did it together from mostly separate homes and mostly separate bank accounts, and mostly different friends.  We just have now, I realize, divorced; because divorce is putting down the expectation, the investment, the choice to show up.  It’s not a diminishment of prioritizing my care for him, its about realizing that my care and my commitment for him, has to change, for me to actually grow and change and to be available to be loved fully by myself and another.  That is what divorce is intended to do – to liberate the commitment – some of it, maybe all of it; but it did not liberate me 14 years ago – it did create breathing room, it did create opportunities to do for myself what I had to do and to stop putting on him, my own claiming of my own integrity – for myself – separate from anyone else’s approval.  That is probably the most unsung or unrealized chapter of my divorce journey, til now.

I don’t have regrets.  I could get lost in them…in the dark nights; but, what I know is that we have done our very best, and our commitment served a purpose, far beyond what I could have seen.  He provided a relationship container and our fierce shared commitment to our children created a vehicle for me, to try things out – to grow up my own self.  And for that and so much more, I am deeply grateful for his presence in my life.  Claiming my integrity, liberating myself from my need for the approval and acceptance of others, yes, I imagine, that is likely my life long journey.  Just as learning that it is a soul destroying mistake to make trading my integrity for another’s approval – for placing my happiness in someone else’s hands – for putting my judgements on others as a projection of my own disowned parts of my perfectly imperfect self.  I borrowed his courage and his integrity, and I leveraged it so I could be bolder and to keep going even when I was afraid to fail.

I went to Bali this April for a holiday and I realized mid-way that I had had, for the first time ever, zero worry about our kids.  Since returning from Bali – I didn’t set about contemplating or looking for profound realizations, yet, the unconscious sifting has occurred and new ‘pictures’ and understandings have emerged.   The biggest maybe is that though we were married a few years longer than we have been divorced, in truth, this last 14 years of divorce has been the maintenance of a commitment we made to each other in 1986, and though the divorce papers were signed in 2004, we have only just now completed our real-time commitment.

Our relationship will be freer going foward –  my care for him will always be a part of me; he’s a good human and I’m grateful he chose to show up for all these years together.

Our children stopped asking years ago, why we got divorced…it was unexplainable…many of our friends and family didn’t understand it – then or for years.  I couldn’t articulate it well, without feeling like I would sound like a selfish heartless bitch, or a flake…until now.   I wrote this in recognition and honour of our committment, I wrote this for our children and for him, and for me. I am very, very grateful for their extension of Grace – because in all these years, with all our life trials and achievements, we have never abandoned our commitment to each other.

Divorce is a legal change of marital status and it is a journey of liberation and of claiming; if you will let it.  I’m deeply grateful that I’ve finally come to understand this and realizing now, that the journey had been happening all along, I just couldn’t see it, til now.

 

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The Magic of the Great Bear Rainforest

“Serenity is the depth of being that holds difficulty, not the resting point after we’ve ended difficulty. And peace is the depth of being that holds suffering and doubt, not the raft we climb on to avoid suffering and doubt. This leads us to joy, which is much deeper and larger than any one feeling. Happiness, fear, anxiety, contentment, doubt, regret, unworthiness, anger, despair – all these are the waves that rise and fall in the sea of being. Joy is the ocean that holds all feelings. “

Mark Nepo, The Endless Practice.

 

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I love overcast blustery windy not-quite-but–almost-rainy-days, hot breezy sandy oceanside days, books with provocative titles (like; Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, Good Grief…), steaming hot tea, awakening into a day relaxed in the knowing that there is no where to go and my day is in front of me to choose; almost-but-not-quite-pee-my pants laughing, holding hands, the natural world; and hiking and paddling…to name a few…and I do not love the doubt, the fear, the anxiety, the regret and the unworthiness I feel at varying times to varying degrees. The unsettled emptiness of ‘what now’ and ‘how to’, have had me over the years clinging to memorable moments of joy – gnawing away, pulling my awareness….and I’ve never had a sense of lasting serenity nor peace nor the deep content of knowing I can deal with life on all levels and still have peace…until a trip I went on this past summer.

 

I’ve been wanting to write about this past summer’s kayaking trip around the Great Bear Rainforest in the Queen Charlotte Islands…except it was not really a kayaking trip – well, on the ‘outside’ it was – and yet, the magic of the trip was discovering the trip was an inside job.

 

This experience was cellularin-nature, some would call it a spiritual experience, some might say it was an awakening, certainly for me, it was a soul-touching expansive experience. I am hopeful I can convey the freedom this trip has created inside of me. Liberation is exactly my best word to describe the core feeling, of what really occurred and continues to occur for me, as result of this trip.

 

I didn’t know what I had truly encountered until the end of the week…it stealthily emerged; made itself known as the week unfolded.

 

Like how this trip was a Sea Kayaking trip, and the Crew were Sea Kayak Guides, a Cook and a Captain…those turned out to be woefully limited titles for the roles they have cast themselves in. What was ‘done’ by the crew, is true, authentic facilitation. Their facilitation occurred as if it was the floating text of a story or the undergirding of a building structure; yes they were all highly skilled at their titled-practical-roles, but really they were in service to a much higher calling; The calling of stewardship of humans and their intersection with the majestic environment we were immersed in. Their facilitation was deeply centered in respect and kindness, with an offering in every interaction of a quiet, in-service, light-hearted, love for humans and the natural world. It bespoke of a shared camaraderie of intention far beyond the loading and unloading of kayaks and people, the guiding of paddling passageways. It worked on us, in quiet ways, as we grew individually and collectively lighter and quieter, more solid and yet freer. I have since wondered to myself often, about this way of being these Guides provided us with, and it has had me contemplating – what are my deepest commitments and how do I live them out-loud, how do I relate these commitments inside my world of teaching, facilitating, coaching, friending, parenting…

 

Returning to the hustle and bustle of my ordinary life, I was desperate to put the Genie back in the Bottle – except first I had to figure out what the Genie was…and I needed to talk about it, ruminate about it, hear from others what they had experienced…which we did – some said to stop unpacking the experience because the constant attention to it would dissipate the magic…

 

I was born with a deep appreciation for nature and the ever differing landscapes the world offers…and I do have a strong affinity for the ocean and the natural world as a safe, centering place for me – the wind on my face and physical movement are certainly part of my personal definition of bliss – this natural world is a place that has offered me solace and joy, and flashes of peace often in my years.   But this, this trip, it was an immersion, and as I relaxed into it the more my body and mind gave-way, the freer I became and the clearer I became – I emerged different.

 

It was a trip that turned out to offer healing, it was an experience of complete acceptance, no striving, no proving…the Guides and ‘program’ had a rhythm of a gentle open hand here’s what is on offer…care, acceptance, support for choice, in the accompaniment of the freedom of whales, grizzly bears, eagles, seals, sea lions, elephant seals…boundless ocean, stunning waterfalls, fjords, streams, estuaries, the wide endless expanse of open water, lunches on white sandy beaches, blissful quiet paddling, dead rotting whales, beach games, spontaneous ocean dipping, the presence of companionship if wanted, conversation if desired, steadying of kayaks, unassuming Guides with a mentoring of reverence for the environment…choice, safety, quiet activism, offers of whole hearted embracing care, blankets of stars, sunsets with dancing sky-pink-cloud ballet shows, gratitude and appreciation flowed, alongside belly laughter and heart-full connections. Snoring, banging doors, cramped berths, were a background part of ‘what is’…no resistance, all a part the greatness of the totality of environment. It was an experience of witnessing Human and Environmental Stewardship, or by another name, Grace-in-Action.

 

I have often wondered if the Mothership Adventures Owners and Crew are intentional in this quiet hand, open offer of their mentorship, extending an authentic reverence for each guest …Yes, they offer kayaking trips…and yet they are truly facilitators of growing human environmental stewardship – helping others realize our responsibility to grasping a real individual experience of here-now, of acceptance, of the no-need for titles and who you are in the world beyond this week – but instead here’s an experience of genuine interest in how you are, who you are, and connecting the gift of our life, our lives, within the opportunity to deeply connect to that which gave us life and within that realizing more deeply that our true human and natural world environmental conditions are our ultimately and inescapably individual and therefore collective responsibility.

 

My deepest learning from this week, was my realization that the only sustainable way forward is to move with suffering and not be beholden to it…it is the only way to transform.

 

This trip, this experience, dissolved my anger, my fear; about a condition I developed some years back called cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis). If you had told me even 6 months prior to this trip, that I would paddle a kayak reasonably comfortably again, or play beach games that required accuracy of throwing…or just be able to be in a place of acceptance for what is here, now – for me – without struggling against it…I quite simply would not have believed even God or Buddha combined. If you had told me I would scramble over rocks and have complete blissful solitude on an island in the middle of the ocean – being fully present, where I blessed this dystonic condition for bringing me to my knees, I would have wondered about your sanity. If you had told me I would find a way to share this trip with my daughter and that she would, in her words, say to me as we flew then drove home, “How do we keep this feeling, this real way of being, back in our worlds…I have had a pinnacle experience”, I would not have believed you.

 

We did come back to our ‘usual world’, to discover my beloved Uncle had died. I also came back to recognize I had lost my ability to tolerate some of my family members unkind behaviours. I came front and center with how much pain many carry and then try to distance ourselves from – through expressing judgements, assumptions, and old stories that hold others and ourselves in-stunted-places (a form of living the past and future into the present.) It was impossible for me when in that space, to practice acceptance, to let go and let people have their separate experience of life. It was a difficult and humble moment, then and now, to know that my GBR experience was so new, and like a mother protecting a newborn chick, I lashed out in my protection of my own new, knowingess. Failing to hold onto the peace, the serenity, the honouring of life… in that moment, I failed miserably. The Good Grief that followed was in knowing, that I could choose differently…”just give me time”, I have since thought with a forgiving, peaceful smile, I will get this.

 

Life, at our best, is a noble act. Growth, invokes strangeness, fear, joy and humility, failure and success; embracing growth, being unwilling to stay stuck, is our way forward past the old to the new. Life is meant to be lived here and now, individually separate and whole, holy connected and in an unfolding way. That is our one great act to play, to be noble, humble stewards of the gift of our life and our personal and world environment. To fail and not be caught in the net titled, failure forever more. To know too, that all exists in our experience, and to hold lightly with an open hand, to deeply know that right here, right now, is new and available to us to make anew.

 

 

Sit and Feast on the Here and Now

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

 

A friend and I were recently discussing our Ah-Ha’s of late and she was wondering how we turn Ah-Ha’s into actions…different beliefs…and I not so quietly said that I agree…morning pages or brains full of AH-Ha’s are quite worthless without action. So – here’s just abit of my journey since the GBF trip…

 

Over the past few months, some of us from the trip have shared our experiences. Some of us have lamented about the challenge of ‘re-entry’, holding onto the peace and joy. Some of us were fundamentally changed or awakened through this trip.

 

Since returning, I have taken up Yoga…alot – in a new, committed, real way – i.e.: 2 hours a day – and I continue – to the point of wondering of late, if I was nurturing a future addiction. What I have noticed is that my practice has expanded to engaging and connecting my mind, body and soul…encouraging me to let go of spiritual and physical ‘dog crap bags’ (even if they are biodegradable). Challenging myself to identify that which I no longer need to carry around…encouraging more compassion with myself, working with my physical challenges whilst I look fervently for evidence of my healing and I acknowledge and celebrate the moments of ever increasing physical alignment whilst smiling at my mental chatter that I can now shift to gentle and kind towards the dystonic activity.   And, I’ve lost 28 pounds, because I realize that truly clean eating is an act of self-love, not consuming alcohol is equally a way of reducing inflammation and a living commitment to wanting to be fully present with myself.   I booked a trip to Belize for a month at the end of this year…a long awaited trip to visit an old friend and do more ocean kayaking and snorkelling and lots of outdoor yoga. And, I adopted an orphan 7 month old kitten soon-to-be-cat, appropriately and loving christened Oliver. My daughter, well I will say – (though she may have a differing opinion) – her kaleidoscope view of what is within her sphere of control has become clearer and she’s embracing knowing what contentedness, peace, means to her….plus since the GBR she made happen her own bucket list trip to swim with manatee’s.

 

It is not possible to put this Genie in a bottle…because this Genie is in me, is in each of us…I am thinking today, that life is actually about freeing this Genie. Facing ourselves, our limitations; reaching for compassion, worthy conversations and accepting that we are truly responsible for our selves, our part.

 

Our natural world is a reflection of the tumultuous human condition we have for all time been a part of using and abusing, creating and destroying.   It is up to each of us, to create the personal environment inside of ourselves, in our most seemingly minute of interactions within ourselves and with others, within our families, our communities, our work worlds, to be ever more kind and considerate of our thoughts and our actions.

 

I have searched for a long time for a core question that will help me, guide me. I have found my question. Will this thought, this action, this behaviour I am engaged in or contemplating…. generate more life or bring death closer to the door of my life, our world?

 

There is no past, only this step. All the relapses, all the failures, all the troubles … these now exist only in our heads.

 

Be Here, Now. Present. Give the gift of your life, your best shot. I am.

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My Lesson to Learn – A Beautiful Mess

Painting Michelle (1)

When she stopped rushing through life she was amazed at how much more life she had time for.

Someone else said this/wrote this (and I forget who) – and I believe it true:  We all come into this world with a core lesson to learn and a gift to give.

I know that my core lesson to learn and for me to claim, is that I am valuable, regardless of the work I do, the grades I get, the education I have, the positions I hold, my marital status, who I am related to, what I do for others, the people I love, the people who like me – even love me;

My being = I am Valuable.

The crux of my lesson is that, I do not have to Prove my Value.

My central life lesson,  is to figure out how to live with the grace of knowing,  that my Value is unequivocally true. My Value is a stand alone truth.

Now I see this,  I can not unsee it and that presumes I now have choice, where before, none existed. And, yet, seeing does not necessarily equate to doing.  There’s a change journey ahead.Yesterday

My realization of late, of the way in which I have subligated myself (been bound to that which lies ‘underneath’), is: “I’ll prove my worthiness to be your daughter, sister, friend, lover, wife, parent, employee, First;  then there’s a chance you’ll be interested and maybe (slight chance though that may be), you’ll want to be my friend, my client, my husband, my lover…”  And in fact, if you try that with me – reach out to me first, show an interest in me first, ask to work with me, want to play with me first, seem to care about me first, I’ll run away – because I’ll deem you unworthy (because my value is in what I can do for you and I haven’t done anything for you yet).

Brene Brown would be cheering me on here, as at its’ core, my lesson to learn is that no one has ‘worthiness’ to prove.  We are, therefore we are worthy. And yet…it has been my way in the world – prove my value first…then, maybe I’ll be seen, heard, understood and cared for.  That is the core mis-message I have had resident in me:  That to be seen, heard, understood and cared for, must come from outside of me, and I must earn it. That is my u-haul of shame, that I abandoned myself and believed that I am unworthy.  That is now my lesson to learn, my gift to give myself and in so doing, my gift to the world, to love myself wholely holy.daringgreatlybadge

I recently disclosed to someone who professed to love me, that I had had this realization:  Everything I have done, is grounded in the belief that I must prove my value to you first, so that you will love me.  Their response was swift and harsh:  “That’s HORRIBLE.  If that’s the case I don’t even want to be pen pals with you.”  Wow! Bam! There it is…the truth of this relationship is that I can’t be open, vulnerable with you, share my growth and learning, I’m not loved or worthy of your friendship or love.  And a 5 year friendship died on the vine.

Just the other day, I discovered through a grapevine conversation, that a friend had had a commitment ceremony this past spring with her partner…and I wasn’t invited/didn’t know.  Despite her frequent expressed appreciation for our ‘real’ friendship and me, and the support I have offered over the years.  Wham! Bam! There it is.  If I’m not present for you, serving you, I am not valuable enough to be chosen to witness the beauty in your world.

Last year, I was accused of siding with my friend’s (of 10 years) husband – by providing, at his request, a referral to a collaborative lawyer for their divorce.  I was dumped, dropped. Wham! Bam!  With rabid accusations of having been a leech on her all these years, untrustworthy, never supporting her.  Wow.

I have moved many times in my life, due to work mostly, and it’s rare that friendships are maintained.  Whenever I leave people who I won’t see for awhile, I feel teary eyed and at times devastated.  I’ve never understood my emotional hijack with ‘goodbyes and see you laters.’  I used to think it was the geography that was the issue, but I realize now, that it’s the deep knowingness of the difficulty I will have ‘proving’ my value at a distance, and some part of me knew that any good-bye was really Good Bye. So though I would initially turn myself upside down and try to retain relationships, I would eventually let go and move on to other/new friends, who are present, so I could get busy proving my value.

I see clearly now;  my ability to be present in the world, to experience feeling valued and worthy,  has been inextricably linked to, and dependent on how you (others) see me, experience me, and view my value.  And your value of me is suspect.  The truth is that I have not been truthful; I act as a caring for others first person, and yet its’ all too frequently really been an unconscious manipulation of care.  So, of course, when I finally let you in and disclose who I really believe I am…a beautiful mess of unworthiness…of course you would leave.  It’s the ultimate deliverance of my belief I lived into.  It’s a no-win, lose-lose way of being. The very thing I had hoped I would ‘earn’ is impossible, because I offered from a belief of unworthiness..

Wher943482_285711354899779_2117760518_ne to from here; my older sister told me once ‘you have always needed to know why’…and yes, I do. I’m curious.  I like to understand.  If I understand then I may be able to move forward…I’m just curious…its how I am wired.

I don’t have any blame to hand out or further shame to delve into, I just have the black and white reality of loss.  Loss of what could have been and has been,  is a result of my belief and my behaviours.  Where that belief was rooted, I know – its just my Lesson I came here to learn. 1017475_599855506713136_1375392931_n

Loss is not just losing the way things were, or losing objects, a job, a person, loss is also losing, letting go and setting down a belief, and it’s a transition process.  William Bridges model of change and transition, has three stages:  let go of what was, enter the fog of the neutral zone (uncertainty) and then step into the new: for me this model helps me  – it lets me be okay with the feeling of foggy confusion; I know it will pass, and I will slowly start to live into this new belief and create new behaviours, where different results are more than possible and in fact probable.

It means stretching  – changing.

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The cost of being governed by a fear belief.

In 2008, I  moved for a few years from the land of the West to the East –  a land where the language, the culture, the beliefs, the social norms are distinctly different from what I had experienced in my til-then 48 years.

I had had to go; at the time leaving felt like a divine gift;  to make a significant break with what was my then-messed-up-of-my-own-choices-world.  My decision to try something completely different, had not been because of a spiritual awakening, but more of an ego crisis.  It’s what I now know I have done most of my life; create a mess and feel unhappy = go do something completely different. I have spent my life, so far, unconsciously seeking internal peace through changing my outside environment.

This Go-East possibility came by way of a colleague/friend (sick of listening to me whine about my discontent) suggestion as a great teaching opportunity with the added benefit of creating ‘adjusting space’ (better known as run away from my problems space) between myself and the harsh changes going on in my personal life.

My Grand Eastern Adventure, was constantly punctuated with unnerving uncertainty.  I experienced a version of the Wizard of Oz; smoke and mirrors; and lack of personal accountability (all around me and me too) as the gold bricks of the Ex-Pat road.   The heat of the still air was subduing, intoxicating, sweet; clinging to my skin and my clothes, seeping into my behaviours. It was not long before I became viscerally concerned that though I could adjust to the climate, I feared I would become”like’ in my beliefs.    And, it was not long before I wondered if all the challenging people in the world and their behaviours had followed me East.  I thought I had escaped ‘them’.  Little did I know the truth life was about to offer me.

Inequities of wealth and poverty, social rank, violence, were the norm. I was gripped and muzzled with Culture shock – for the first time I knew in my cells the experience of Culture shock.  I squirmed and slept, finally cajoling myself into joining a gym, found a reliable driver, went to work, warily socialized with Ex-Pats…and frequently Skyped lies-of-joy…and shocked people in my Western World with what I was told were ‘glib, off-hand remarks’ like… ‘What? Oh that’s just people shooting at each other…don’t worry, its the norm.”  Or, “No, you can’t make a dent, violence is a way of life, beating servants, burning wives…its just how it is here.”

One day, I found myself at an International Arms Conference…sitting in an army Jeep, ‘trying out’ a machine gun…then curiously meandering through the conference full of ‘buy this here’ war-fare and spy equipment, just as if I was wandering through a local spice market.  Another day, I was walking on a beach and looking across the ocean I could hear the noise of aircraft and bombs being dropped while parts of a grenade brushed the side of my bare left foot.  It was real, and yet my reaction was as if it were unreal, or not of ‘this world’.  Time went on, the lull of money and invisibility, the lack of real life accountability – it became a way of life; like being in a suspended insular space.  I was of the world, but oddly, not in the world.  I was in an ‘in-between’ place.

Eventually I became dissatisfied with my work, it was boring to be paid for doing nothing. So, I went to work in another middle east country, to work with a USA consulting company full of ex-pat military men.  It turned into my soul take-down.

As I went about my world, in a constant unsettling state – trying to fit in, to be a part of, yet I was a woman of a ‘certain age’ and alone, working primarily with Western Ex-Pat men, in a land where the national language is unknown to me, with eastern and western men treating me secondarily…I was constantly ‘armed’…and I slowly slipped into deep aloneness…asking myself…What was I contributing?  What’s my part?  What is this life I have…its not a life…its an existence?  How did this happen?  When had I stopped noticing how much it bothered me that my feet were walking on embedded gold bricks in a shopping mall? When did staying in a seven star hotel become a preferred norm? When did I visually block out seeing jam-packed dilapidated buses of workers in blue overalls with blank looks on their faces? When did I stop hearing gun shots? When did I stop noticing the security screening in every place I went to? When did I stop verbally acknowledging those who serve? When did I start participating in ‘negatively-othering’ conversations? When did I stop standing for creating awareness or differences with stopping person-violence…environment violence? When did I accept it was not worth even talking about the Camels dying in the desert from guts full of plastic trash bags because the dumps are insecure? When did I become a commentator and stop being a ‘doer’?  When did I disconnect from my own deep values of honouring people no matter their circumstances, stand up for what I believe, treat people with respect…earn your wage with work that matters…have integrity with your word…? When did I become more like than unlike? When did I say Yes to this and No to my beliefs and values? When did lying about the quality of my life become my norm?”

Early into my Grand Eastern Adventure, after a holiday break in the West; another Ex-Pat remarked that all ex-pats have a place over the ocean, during the flight – where we drop our West Life and pick up our East Life.  Even in 42degree weather, I was suddenly, terrifyingly cold.  Wondering to myself:  ‘Did I do that?  Do I have a life, a set of beliefs here in the East, relationships here…that when I go West I drop them and they me, and I pick up my ‘other life’ – and vice-versa…was I living a double-life…does the Ex-Pat life allow for people to run away from hard things at ‘home’ and create a life that is fresh and new – does this Ex-Pat life actually create the illusion of ‘starting over’ or is it that – this land of the East is so truly foreign to my cells that its like I am becoming two different people?”  Even my body seemed to be experiencing foreignness.

Do people arrive in distinctly different worlds and choose a vagabond life, saying it’s what they want – adventures – but in reality it’s simply just a way of avoiding accountability and integrity with what one has created and been a part of ‘before’?

Then one day our new project was revealed (highly secret) – ‘food security’.  Essentially working to buy up multiple farms in less wealthy countries and design secure shipping lines to ensure the wealthy country’s citizens would always have access to food. I was also asked to work on a training plan for fourteen new nuclear plants, in which the employees were all ex-pats from poor countries, paid minimally, and would live in ‘camps’.  I used the intentions of these projects, as my way to let myself off the hook, and go home.

I went to the East to distance myself from pain, pain of my choices and decisions that negatively impacted myself and my family. I have now been home 4.5 years. I have since sold my house in the community I lived in with the family I made, I couldn’t settle back into the ‘old’.  I have moved three times, and just now, in the past month or so, I can finally say I feel settled.  I have a small home, a Hobbit House I call it, in a new community to me.

I have slowly, painfully, let go of all my Eastern relationships. It has taken me the better part of this past 4.5 years to recognize the impact on me, of being an ex-pat, of my time in the East, of the origins of the choice I made to ‘leave’ the West.  It has taken me 4+ years to forgive myself for running away and abandoning my self. People often hear I have lived and worked in the middle east and it’s treated with a reverence that it is not due.  I am spoken of as having courage and being an adventurer, a risk taker.  I’m not and it was not the adventure I anticipated at all.

What I have learned about myself is huge, and it seems never ending.  My decision to quit a great job, leave my family and community, and go to the middle east, has had huge impact on my life and in turn, others lives.  I sometimes think I was ‘not of my right mind’ for this past 7 or 8 years.  (I think others think that way too.) One of my big takeaways is this:  When people ask me questions that make me want to bang the phone down, or never ever ever talk to them again, or it brings instant tears or a yukky flip in my gut, I need to STOP and get more curious with myself.

A very wise counselor I engaged with shortly after arriving in the East, said to me (when I was bemoaning the fact that my troubles seemed to have followed me to the East), “you cannot outrun yourself and maybe, this choice you made to move to the middle east, will give you the opportunity to step into the fire of your own growth.”  She also, regularly encouraged me to walk through my tears. 

Burn I did.  Grow I have.  Not in nearly the ways in which I had any foresight about. Walking and tears have been my companions.

When I was wrestling with the decision to go or not to go; on that Grand Eastern Adventure, a friend I trust and love, asked me “Are you running towards something or away from something?” I was instantly enraged at the question:  In retrospect, I suppose I felt my grey roots were exposed for all to see.   There are no do-overs in life:  That said, I do wish I had had the wisdom of a loving companion to soothe my fears and help me see that in that time of my life, I was in deep pain and loss, and I was embarrassed and estranged from my self. I needed others to shine the light for me, to keep me warm and safe, and help me make decisions and changes based in love, not fear.  And, my pain at that time, precluded me from asking or accepting love from others.  My middle east adventure, and my long way home; did give me the opportunity to understand that I have predominately lived my life from the ground of fear.

Maya Angelou said that when we know better we do better.  What she didn’t go on to say, is that the knowing road can be brutally painful.

Awhile back I learned that beliefs lead to behaviours that lead to results. So if we want different results, we have to unearth the beliefs that are driving the behaviours.  When I think about that ‘model’ in the context of my decision to go on the aforementioned Grand Eastern Adventure; I knew then and I know now that I was caught in the belief that if I shared the truth of my behaviours with the powers that be in my life at that time, I would be abandoned/left/discounted/fired. So, I chose to not share and lie about my behaviours,  and in so doing I abandoned my self.  I will never know if I had shared the truth of my behaviour in my world back then, how my current world would be different.  I do know though that, the gift in the Grand Easterm Experience, has been the opportunity to meet my fear of abandonment head on.

Exposing our beliefs is a scary, critical growth edge. At least for me this one has been.  I’m grateful, for the exposure to a radically different culture, the eastern world, the military world, the ex-pat world; it has brought me to my knees and I’m forever different.  A wiser, human I hope.

I am sad for the losses in my life.  Regret has been my steady companion for years. Though I own that I didn’t know this belief source of my behaviours of the past, I do own the damage and the loss, to myself and others who matter to me.

I want to move forward, this past 4.5 years has been a time of tilling and turning the soil of my soul.  A time of quiet acceptance, forgiveness, is resident within me now, and I’m believing that it is from there that I will move on.

With Love,

Michelle

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