Perceptions

I was doing a felt board retelling of Leaf  for a Kindergarten class. Usually kids at that age are very gung ho, excited to be hearing a story, especially to be able to help tell the story, and intrigued by that mysterious retro material that sticks to itself. They’re so used to smart boards and screens of every description that good old felt is something new and exciting.

As the kids settled in, my eye was drawn to one little guy whose face was so creased and puckered that he instantly reminded me of the cranky, old hecklers on the Muppet show. And when I started talking to the group, I knew for sure he was channeling at least one, if not both, of them. Everything I said was met with a frown and a grumble:

“Well, that’s stupid.”

“Hmmmph. That’s a crazy thing.”

“Oh, that’s boring.”

He never spoke loud enough to be disruptive, but I could hear every groan and sigh and see every rolled eye. I chuckled to myself because, in a 5 year old, such grumpiness is cute. I focused instead on the happy, engaged children. By the time, he got to put a leaf on the tree, his grumbling had subsided and I didn’t hear much more from him.

It made for a funny dinnertime story. As I told it, I pondered the whole nature vs nurture thing – how much grumpiness did he come in with and how much was modelled to him? Kids are such sponges in those first six years of life. I wondered what adult in his life was modelling the crankiness.

And then, not even a week later, I was presented with that little boy’s metaphorical grandfather. Different school, different kids, but same grumpy, uninterested, bored demeanor, only this time on an adult. And not just any adult — one of the grade three teachers.

I would put this man in his late fifties — although a lifetime of frowning like that would crease any face prematurely, so he could have been much younger — and he sat smack dab in the middle of the back row of teacher chairs, well above the children sitting on the floor, and right in my line of vision. I tried to focus on the much-more-receptive children in front of me, but he was so . . . in my face. And his face was a mask of boredom, even derision, his body language saying things like, “This is such a waste of time — what drivel — this woman has no idea what she’s talking about.”

Luckily, once I got going, the kids and I were swept into the give-and-take of the presentation and I was able to block him out entirely, other than wondering if that’s the sort of model the previous kindergartener had in his life.

I didn’t have too much time to ponder it. I had to prepare for the most challenging session of the day — an hour and ten minute presentation on writing to 88 grade 5 and 6 students. I was apprehensive about this presentation. It takes a lot of energy to hold the space for a large group of students and I had already spoken to several large groups that day.

It’s also one thing to share my enthusiasm for writing and another thing entirely to teach something and I had a sneaking suspicion that the teachers were expecting something from me that I would not be able to deliver.

But I had committed to this –“Sure, I can do a writing workshop for 88 kids!” Gack! What was I thinking? — so I put a lot of thought and planning into the presentation, endeavouring to give it my best, but I still felt apprehensive as they filed into the library.

It takes a long time for 88 students to settle. By the time I got the nod to begin, we had an hour left.

I plunged right in, but as the minutes ticked by and we moved from one activity to another, it became apparent that we were not going to get through everything I had prepared. The students were getting more and more talkative. It was harder and harder to bring them back after each activity, even with the teachers intervening, calling for quiet and focus. It was a  rowdy group.

I tried to surf with it. At one point, I actually felt part of me detach, rise above the energy of the room, cast an objective eye on everything laid out on the table before me, and decide which things needed to be cut from the presentation in order to wrap everything up in a coherent manner.

When the bell finally went, I was limp with relief. It was over. I spent a few minutes talking with enthusiastic students, answering questions and encouraging them in their writing and then turned to face the librarian, coming my way.

I have an evaluation sheet I ask teachers and librarians to fill out after a presentation, but I needed instant feedback: what went wrong? how could I improve for another time? was anything salvageable or should I just jettison the entire presentation?

I steeled myself for a humbling conversation, determined to learn as much from it as I could. When the librarian arrived in front of me she said,

“That was awesome!”

Thud.

(That was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.)

Awesome?

She started talking about how engaged the students were, how excited, how —  and then she was interrupted by one of the teachers, striding into the room, who chimed in with, “Yes, that was amazing! I have a lot of reluctant writers in my class and they were writing! You had so many good suggestions for capturing ideas. I was trying to keep up,” she gestured at the laptop in her hand, “but I couldn’t.” She turned to the librarian. “Do you think we could get her to come in for a PD day?”

“Yes, but . . . ,” I spluttered. “I didn’t plan very well. I had to cut a lot of stuff out. And there was so much talking. I didn’t do a very good job of keeping them focused.”

“I heard a speaker once, “said a second teacher, as she joined us, “who was talking about drama. He said if you’re doing something creative with kids, and they’re all sitting in silence just looking at you, you’ve lost them. If there is a buzz going, it’s because they are excited by the material. And all that talking the kids were doing,” she said, turning to me, “was on topic. They were excited to talk about the ideas they were generating.”

My head swivelled from one person to the next as a third teacher joined the group to give his two cents worth. I’m sure I looked like a stunned goldfish, gaping at them, eyes glazed over as their words sunk in.

There was nothing wrong with my presentation.

I might want to ensure that the groups be smaller in the future and ask that the presentation be at least 90 minutes long so there is time built in for the students to share their discoveries with each other after each activity, but those are minor tweaks. The presentation itself was fine — awesome, even.

Wow. Perception, is such a subjective thing. Here I was ready to perform hari kari after what I perceived as a presentation gone badly awry, while others thought it was amazing.

Which made me think of the grumpy, old teacher I’d seen earlier in the day. Maybe that pained expression on his face had nothing to do with my presentation. Maybe he had been blindsided with bad news just that morning. Maybe he was really worried about someone close to him. Maybe all those bodily positions that reeked boredom to me were really because he was sitting on a painful hernia.

I have no way of knowing.

And, likewise, with the grumpy five year old. Maybe it had nothing to do with nature or nurture, but the fact that he was just having a really, bad morning. And maybe getting to put a leaf on Tree Mother helped to lift that morning into a better afternoon.

We’re talking major Aha Moment here. Big lesson.

Don’t be so quick to judge others (or yourself), especially if it’s a negative judgement. Sometimes, our own senses cannot be trusted because we are seeing and hearing things through our own personal, very subjective filter.

So what’s the take home from these experiences?

I think it’s best summed up in this quote from some ancient Roman sage or general or philosopher. I don’t remember who it was, but his words serve us very well today:

“Be kind to everyone you meet. We are all fighting a tremendous battle.”

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Apple #39

This apple (second in the New Zealand Beach Trio) was fun because it reminded me that we can visualize and imagine and predict and prepare and plan all we want, but we don’t ever know what we’re going to discover, or what our creation will ultimately become, until we dig in.

Ngarunui Beach (Ngarunui means Ocean) is a New Zealand beach, perfect for beginning surfers. We arrived at the beach for our third day of surfing, but the waves weren’t high enough to warrant the cost of board and wetsuit rentals so we went for a walk along the shore instead.

When we reached a driftwood log near the far end of the beach, I chose a nice, flat area, picked up a shell and dug in. My plan was to mound and mould the sand so it looked like the apple was half buried.

Imagine my surprise when the first scrape of the shell revealed that the sand beneath the bleached surface was black!

I had never seen black sand before.

Marvelling at this discovery, I instantly changed course and, instead of moving the sand into a pile, I scraped away a thin top layer to create more of a reverse bas-relief effect. (I don’t know if I’m using that term correctly, but it captures the essence of what I’m trying to convey so I’ll stick with it.)

It’s always so nourishing to create something and those discoveries — those departures from The Plan — are the most nourishing of all. The act of creating and, in particular, following the impulses that rise up while in the process of creating taps into something very rich and elemental and soul-feeding.

Even if it’s ‘just’ a simple apple carved into the sand.

Apple #39

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Title: Ngarunui Beach Apple

Medium: simply black beach sand

PS – This apple was actually attempt #2. The first one got washed away by a renegade wave. (Much to the delight of my perhaps-not-so-patiently waiting sons.)

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Need a Hand to Hold?

I want to introduce you to a wonderful woman I met last summer.

Her name is Sheila.

My first experience with her was a facebook message with an invitation to share her bed-and-breakfast accommodations during a weekend course we would both be attending.

I was struck by her generous offer. She knew nothing about me. I could be the worst shower-hogging, late-night-light-glaring, twenty-decibel snorer on the planet and she opened herself up to the possibility of that discomfort with a smile. But that’s Sheila. She’s like Pigpen from the Snoopy comics, only the cloud trailing her is her vast and generous spirit.

After much deliberation (I’m not quite so generous-hearted) I accepted her invitation. I was a bit trepidatious when I arrived at the B&B, but before long we were chatting like old friends. She’s like that — able to put people at their ease.

And she’s funny.

That first night, as we prepared to turn off the lights, she looked over at me and said “So nice to meet you” which struck me as hilarious — here we were sleeping in side-by-side beds after our first visit, not parting ways after a get-to-know-you cup of tea. It sounds kind of lame as I describe it (one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments), but we laughed ourselves to sleep.

And that pretty much set the tone for our relationship.

One of the things that bonded us is the fact that we’re both searching for our way — “What is it, precisely, that we have to offer the world?” When we met, she was further down that breadcrumb trail than I was and, recently, I received an announcement email from her. She is taking action.

I’d like to share that email with you, just in case you or someone you know would benefit from Sheila’s laser presence.

If you’ve been plodding through your life  wondering ‘is this it?’ . . .

If you’ve been ‘looking good’ but dying inside . . .

 If you’d welcome a hand to hold while you transition from surviving to thriving . . .

Sheila’s got a very kind and comforting hand (and heart).

Give her a call.

You can also follow her on facebook here.

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Hello there!

Today is the New Moon and an excellent time for new beginnings! Welcome 🙂

Below is some information about my new line of work which I’ve been training for the past two years or so. I don’t see myself as a perfectionist, however I have been spending too much time attempting to exact my message, my title, my brand. The universe has been telling me to stop fiddling around with the details and JUST GET THE MESSAGE OUT. So, I will close my eyes and click send so this message ends up in your inbox!

The short of it:

I am here to inspire and motivate. Have been since 1967.

The long of it:

I’m here to help women in their 40’s and 50’s who are struggling quietly from within. This internal struggle is based on a desire to go from a life of simply existing to a life that is outright thriving.

This woman has a good life. She is loved by many and she gives her love freely to others. Yet, deep down at her core there is something amiss. It’s a longing of sorts and it’s been calling to her for years. It’s an internal struggle like no other. She feels lost and lonely but here’s the thing. This woman is smart, she gets paid well for her work or is a stay at home mom, has a loving partner and many friends. Everything from the outside seems ideal. At times she feels guilty for not being internally satisfied and quietly thinks ‘what’s wrong with me?’. She has pushed these feelings back for years often putting the needs of others before her own. She is alive yes, but not truly living. Now, the feelings of desperation have ensued and she does not know what to do next in her life. She craves for it to have meaning on a whole new level.

Can you relate?

If so, let’s talk. We can chat on the phone, have a coffee, or meet on Skype. We’ll have a 20 minute starter conversation and see where it takes us. There is no obligation after that. You decide. I’m not here to rope you in. Simply put, I don’t enjoy seeing women struggle with happiness in their precious life. I have tools and knowledge that I know will help! My work is confidential as well as compassionate and respectful. (If you’re curious to know, future calls will be 30 minutes in duration, and at a ridiculously affordable pilot price. I’m not offering “packages” at this time.) I’ll be accepting appointments starting Monday, March 1st, 2015.
If this message does not resonate with you, perhaps you know of someone in which it might? Please forward onto them. Actually, feel free to share this message with anyone because (as my mentor says) ‘you just never know who might need to hear it’.

Thank you so much for your time and your support.
For the love of wisdom, let’s make this world rock! I just wanna, ya ‘know?!

Sheila Webster
Mentor for Inspired Living

healthybranch@gmail.com
(778) 440-5544
To sign-up to the Mentor for Inspired Living mail list please click here http://eepurl.com/beH3K

Oh, one other thing. To define the nature of what a 30 minute call would be like, below are some testimonials from women I’ve had the pleasure of having deep conversations with …

Testimonials:

“Loving, compassionate, enlightening, direct, uplifting, encouraging…” Lynne S.

“You are an easy person to be vulnerable with because you offer that back to me. There is a depth of trust there that I don’t share with too many people in my life. You are a very good listener and I always find you present in the moment and look forward to your reflection and interpretation of what I have shared. You challenge me to consider things in different ways than I would naturally approach them. You choose valuable things that I say and dig deeper into comments that I make. You are intuitive and insightful. You see past some of the surface of what I say.” Monique R.

“Therapeutic, because I got what was inside out, and I said it to someone who was listening and who didn’t dismiss, mock or change the subject until all was said and done.” Carol J.
“You help me get to the heart (definitely a play on words) of the issue or stuckness. We talk till I use my heart to resolve things (and I don’t mean from a place of weakness) but to come from a place of compassion and non-attack mode… You help me understand what it is I really want to say …” Lori T.

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Apple #38

I don’t know what it is about beaches that makes me think about apples.

I can go for months with nary a thought about my 100 Apples Project and then I find myself on a beach somewhere and voila — I’ve got apples on my mind.

Maybe it’s the huge expanse of sand itching to be my canvas. Although, not all beaches are sandy. Maybe it’s the sound of the huge, uncluttered expanse of water lapping onto the shore that wakes up the artist in me (at least the part that likes apples!)

Whatever the reason, it happened every time I found myself on a New Zealand beach. I only acted on the thought a few times, but enough to give me a ‘New Zealand series.’

Apple #38

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Title: Wanaka Apple

Medium: New Zealand twigs and driftwood and rocks on Wanaka Beach, NZ

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A Memory for a Lifetime

I’m surprised by how difficult it’s been to re-enter the ‘normal’ world.

We had an amazing trip. New Zealand is a beautiful country and it was beyond wonderful to spend time with Gabriel — to have our little family together again. Here’s a photo from our very first day in Christchurch:

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So great to see my guys together again — and Gabriel smiling back at me.

The ocean backdrop’s not bad either!

We took so many photos that we blasted through three cameras! The nifty little camera I bought at the Christmas Concert silent auction ran out of juice at the end of week two. I had forgotten to pack the charging cord so I started using Stephen’s camera which wore out with four days to go (honest, it did! even charging the battery didn’t help) so we got Jacob to take photos for us using his phone and he ran out of space!

There were so many wonderful things to see and do and it’s nice to have the photos to take us back to particular moments, but my best memory is recorded nowhere but in my heart.

We had arrived at our last destination — a beach house in Raglan, which is a surfing town on the west coast of the north island. For 2 and 1/2 weeks we had kept moving, spending one night, occasionally two, in places along the way. We ended our trip with four nights in the beach house.

It couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to our adventure. Amazing ocean views out of almost every window. A wall of windows leading to the patio that could be removed altogether to let the ocean breezes pass through. Surfing lessons and playing in the ocean, walking the beach, soaking up Raglan’s hippy vibe, staring out to sea. The house wasn’t what high-rolling people would consider luxurious, but to us, it was heaven. Not only to be in such a beautiful space, but to have four days to luxuriate in it.

The very first night, after the oohing and ahhhing had worn off, I made supper, we ate, and the guys started to do clean-up. Gabriel hooked up his i-pod to the sound system and started taking requests. And we danced. It was magical. Even now, when I close my eyes and return to that memory, I feel my bare feet on the wooden floor . . . the breeze from the patio . . . see the breath-taking views . . . the joy of having my family together to share this space and time . . . I feel my hands clasped by first one son and then the other as they dance me around the room . . . their exchanged looks of glee as Gabriel brings up the one song they know is guaranteed to send their mother dancing like a wild woman.

I was filled — OVERFLOWING — with such sweet well-being. It saturated every part of me — body, mind, and soul. The most precious moment of my holiday, captured forever in my heart.

Success mentors suggest visualizing what you want, imagining it in miniscule detail, feeling grateful ahead of time for its presence in your life. I’ve always had a hard time visualizing things I might want — although now that I’ve experienced that beach house, I have a clearer picture of a possible location. In truth, there’s not a whole lot of things I want — other than that elusive piece of land I’ve always dreamed of living on one day.

Now I know I don’t need to imagine owning material things — even that land. I have had the priceless gift of experiencing top-to-bottom, inside-out well-being. And I have the ability to return to that feeling instantaneously, just by closing my eyes and reliving every detail of that magical evening.

I’m going to return to that moment again and again and again until it has expanded to fill every crevice of my current life . . . until that sweet, wild feeling is not one fleeting memory, but a constant in my world.

That feeling is what is important.

Everything else will fall into place around it.

Funny, it’s the same feeling I experienced in the moments immediately after the birth of these two amazing young men.

That was a whole other kind of sweet, wild dance.

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Post bungee-jump smiles.

(How is it possible for one heart to accommodate a love this vast?)

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of Fear

I recently had a grocery-store conversation with a young woman who graduated with my son last June. She didn’t get into the program she had applied for so decided to work for a year and upgrade the pesky class that thwarted her post-secondary plans.

Me: How are things going with your math?

Her: I don’t have to do it! I’ve been accepted into my program for next fall without having to upgrade my mark.

Me: That’s great!

Her: Yeah, but I think I might post-pone school for another year.

Me (confused): Why?

Her: When I got the letter, I was really excited. And then I got scared. I think I’ll just stay home for another year and work and save more money. I don’t think I’m ready yet.

Me (dismayed, but suddenly tongue-tied and brain dead): Oh. Well . . . um . . . sometimes we don’t really know if we’re ready or not until we plunge in.

Her: Yeah . . .

And then we parted ways, me kicking myself for all the things I didn’t have the presence of mind to say in that moment.

Oh, to be able to push the rewind button. There’s so much I’d tell her:

Sweetheart, there is nothing worth doing in life that won’t be prefaced by fear.

Nothing.

If we wait until we’re ‘ready’ for the things that scare us, we’ll be waiting forever. Especially if we think that readiness is signalled by a lack of fear.

Life will always present us with things that will set our hearts to pounding. And they should. The things that scare us are initiations into a new way of being.

Remember what it was like to climb into the vehicle for your driver’s license test? Or maybe your moment of terror was the first time you drove the car with your learner’s license. An adult was with you, but it did little to mitigate the fear of finally doing what you had only been reading about. Consider the difference between those fear-filled moments and the first time you drove alone after you had achieved what had scared you so much.

And that’s just the beginning of life’s initiations. There are so many! In any given lifetime there will be moments when you may feel the call to:

* proclaim your love,

* commit to a partnership,

* become a parent,

* embark on a business venture,

* share your artistic creations with a wider audience,

* leave home and make your own way in the world.

These are some of the more common initiations that most people will face at some point in their life. This list doesn’t even include the deeply held desires that are peculiar to an individual’s life path — the ones unique to you — the really, really scary ones.

Here’s the thing — our most deeply held desires will generate our biggest fears because they matter. We wouldn’t feel such fear if they weren’t important to us.

Here’s the other thing — if you let fear stop you now, it will do nothing but grow so, when the next call comes, that fear will have expanded in weight and heft and scariness and make it that much harder to move forward.

I’ve heard fear described as False Expectations Appearing Real. Chances are very good that the things we imagine (in heart-stopping detail) will go wrong when we step forward will never actually materialize. And, if they do, the fact that you’ve taken action anyway proves that you are capable of taking action and gives you the confidence to handle any glitches that may come your way. The momentum generated by taking that first step makes it easier to keep moving forward, despite the fear.

Or, rather, with the fear.

Because fear also has generative power, if we harness it rather than run from it.

My favorite definition is ‘fear is excitement without the breath.’ This perfectly captures what happened for this young woman.

She received news of her acceptance. She got excited. And then she stopped breathing and fear muscled its way in and sucked up all remaining oxygen.

The result?

“Gasp! I better not do this.”

Please don’t let that happen.

Please.

We — the world — life–is waiting for you.

You are waiting for you.

Take a deep breath. And another. And one more. And keep breathing, deeply, into the center of that fear. Let yourself feel the excitement at its core.

And let that lead you forward.

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Short version? Embrace that prickly little bugger and move on.

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We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to announce that,

 I’M GOING TO SEE MY BOY!

We leave today for 3 wonderful weeks exploring the New Zealand countryside with our globe-trotting son and globe-trotting son-in-training.

I will be incommunicado for the entire trip, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories to tell on my return.

Until then, hold your loved ones close, tell them in no uncertain terms how much you love them and dispense hugs and kisses freely.

I know I’ll be doing a lot of that in the next few weeks – I have a lot of catching up to do with one particular son!

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