How to Make Decisions

November 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

When making big decisions, I’m the kind of person who weighs all my options, thinks about the worst and best possible outcomes, ruminates ad nauseam about what people think about me, who will be mad at me and who will accept me. I consider my future, my past, my reputation. When making big choices I’m up at 3am staring at the ceiling waiting for a sign, turning over tarot cards for an illusive answer, or scribbling my thoughts down into a notebook hoping something clicks.

To give you an idea of how agonizing this is, I’ll tell you a story.  When I was 8 years old my dad agreed to get me new curtains for my bedroom.  We set out in the morning to look for the “perfect material” that my mom could then sew into drapes.  We drove to every single fabric store in Victoria, from the big- box fabric warehouses to the ma-and-pop boutiques on neighbourhood side streets.  By the end of the day, I still hadn’t made up my mind. The next morning, weary and disillusioned, we set out again, revisiting those same stores hoping a sign might come down from the heavens –“Buy this one!” a godly voice might suddenly bellow (and by this time my dad was praying for that) — to indicate the “right choice”.

Finally, I settled on a soft floral fabric, though it wasn’t perfect. I’m not sure what I was really after during those two days, perhaps I was not just struggling with the kinds of curtains I wanted but with the kind of person I was.  “Hey, what the heck kind of person was I anyway!?” was the question I was absorbed in.  Was I a pink floral princess or was I a white linen girl, maybe rather an 80s modernist (I did love Cindy Lauper)? Would I be a punk rocker, should I be buying black? Who I Am was somehow imminently tied up with what curtain fabric I was going to choose.

Maybe an inability to make decisions is also a lack of connection with who we really are and what we actually want, and maybe these times also point to a crossroads.

When we care about the decisions we make it is because we care deeply about life and believe that there is a perfect answer out there in the world that can create some kind of harmony between our inner and outer selves. To this day, I believe this is the truth.

Some choices just feel right and we can’t explain why.  I am writing this from a renovated turkey shed on a 15 acre farm. I am isolated by normal standards and cold. I have to walk in the sleet and through the dark fields to arrive home at night.  I have to pee under the stars and avoid bucks grazing grass in my front yard, but my heart says “yes” (for now). It knows what is right for me, even when my brain doesn’t have any answers.  The times I have lived through logic or obligation  (and believe me there were many) I have been left sadly disappointed.  When I have fought against my inner wisdom this has only ever robbed me of joyous moments.

Last night I had dinner with an 81-year-old woman. This woman had lived through more pain that most would dream of in her life, including having lost not one but two of her children. Last night she held my hands and told me to repeat these words “I am my own best friend.”

I had never said those words out loud before.  She said this was something that I, like her,  had probably never learned in life.  Being a friend to ourselves is not just a cliché it is about living from the centre of ourselves, and staying in integrity with who we are.

Most decisions require a leap of faith, a step into the void.  But perhaps what we’re most after in the choices we make is this: Is what I am doing a decision that brings me into harmony with myself?

If so, we feel it in our bodies.  The “right choice” isn’t always something that happens in our minds, it happens in the alignment of our actions with our higher self.  Suddenly, if we have made the right choice, we notice we are standing taller.  We’ve come into alignment with the Self, we acted from what we believe in and not from fear (which diminishes the self). We’ve been put onto the right path even though we might not know where it leads or what will happen next.

The muscles in the body relax. The heart opens. Possibility awaits.



November 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last winter I was living temporarily on Salt Spring Island, but still had my apartment back in Montreal. I didn’t know where I wanted to live and was flitting back and forth across the country trying to loosen my ties and make a decision one way or another.  A friend who I’d been having Tuesday morning coffees with over the winter finally let me have it:

“You’ve got to drop anchor,” he told me, concerned.  “First of all, you’re going to open a bank account.”

I realised then and there, that if I was going to have a livelihood on Salt Spring, a small island in the Salish Sea, with a rural population that hovers around 10,000, I’d need a place to put my earnings.  I needed a container.  Of course, I had a bank account in Montreal, and even a branch in Victoria where I could do my banking, but not having an account on the island was both a practical and psychological block to “dropping anchor.”

There’s been a lot of talk of late about the Law of Attraction, which posits that what we think about soon becomes reality.  I’m not sure I believe there is a universal law that manifests the quality of our thoughts into a lived experience. I have, at the same time, noticed the consistency between cause and effect. It’s not so much that what we think about becomes reality, but that what we make room for, tends to develop and grow with very little effort.  Build a container, and you will soon fill it.

A good example of what I am talking about is Facebook. Have you noticed that your brain has started to automatically generate status updates?  Whenever something of note happens to me throughout the day, I automatically think of it in terms of a status update. For example, two days ago I was doing my grocery shopping and on the car-ride home came up with this: “You know you are from Salt Spring when you go to the grocery store on a Tuesday afternoon, you hang with Raffi in the cheese isle, you think your gumbboots look hot, and you can’t get out of there without spending $100 — and you can’t even spell gumboots.”

If it weren’t for facebook, would I be thinking in these kinds of sentences? Would I be communicating this way? Would I have even noticed the humour in my shopping experience?  Facebook has come to define what we want to communicate and how, a bid for connection across the cyberspace, a container that shapes our thoughts and even how we make sense of our experiences.

Another example is this blog.  It is the container for my ideas, essays, poetry and prose.  Was I writing this much before I had a blog? Not even close. It’s only because of the container — the format of this blog– that I am spurred on to write, and now I can’t stop. I have a container that needs to be filled, people!

I build a garden and suddenly, six months later, I am eating salads and fruits from it every day.  The garden is my container, it exists and so I’m contributing to it, filling it with what it expects of me, and then, around harvest time, I find that it is full.

This isn’t voodoo or magic, it’s simply the miracle of life itself — that all containers long to be filled, they long to do their job.

Perhaps the most important thing we can ever realise is that people are our containers also. They are our containers — our keepsakes– for how we come to view ourselves and make meaning out of our lives.  Some people are our containers for love and trust. Since they see our beauty, we want to give them more of it, we want to fill them up with the offerings of ourselves.  But other people are a different sort of container, they see our shortcomings, or they ignore us,  and we seem to produce more and more of what we don’t like – invisibility, frustration, and pain.  Sometimes, we even come to believe that we are bad or not good enough, simply because we’ve found there is that pesky container that needs to be filled!

We’re other people’s containers, also.  When a parent’s face lights up when her child enters the room, she has become a container for the child’s light, and the child learns he is a star, he’s found a container of love.

Our containers, eventually, become our identities.

As for me, I’m happy I opened that bank account.  I’ve got more in it now than when I started last year.

Encounters of the Soul

October 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Typically encounters of the soul are felt as defeats of the ego.” – James Hollis

Love People Enough

October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Love people enough to tell them the truth and respect them enough to believe they can handle it.” – Iyanla

True Love

October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

“If you’re afraid to say no to someone for fear of losing their love, then how loved did you actually ever feel at all?”

Now I Am Myself

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

“… I was taking the long road to school […] when suddenly for a single moment I had the overwhelming impression of having just emerged from a dense cloud. I knew all at once; now I am myself! It was as if a wall of mist were at my back, and behind that wall there was not yet an “I.” But at this moment I came upon myself. Previously I had existed too, but everything had merely happened to me. Now I happened to myself. Now I knew: I am myself now, now I exist. Previously I had been willed to do this and that; now I willed.”

-Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (pp 32-33)

The Context of Things

October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you really want a mind bender, you can meditate, as I have been, on the context of your life.  We are all born into a particular context, a set of circumstances that shape our sense of self.  Context, as it turns out, often soon becomes identity.   The circumstances can be as simple as the birth order you were born into, your height, and the shape of your body, or they can be as complex as the words people used when they spoke to you as a child, the decisions that were made on your behalf, or the amount of money your family has.  All of these factors come into play, they are our filters for how we see the world. If you are the shortest boy in your class, you may come to identify as “small” and all the connotations that come into play. Similarly, if your boyfriend left for Mexico one day, never to contact you again, you might conclude that you are simply unimportant or disposable. You might spend your whole life trying to be taller, or trying to be accepted. What a drag!  Then again, if you’re born into a wealthy family, you may identify with abundance, or if you’re often told you are beautiful you might move through the world quite relaxed.

As long as we rely on the outside world to define our sense of self, we are at the mercy of circumstances that, I can’t help but think, are somewhat random. This then becomes an ontological question.  What is the nature of my existence? Am I the sum of my circumstances, or am I something more?

The philosopher Thomas Aquinas believed that one way to prove the existence of a God was to meditate on the idea that God, unlike the many other particulars of our lives, cannot be thought not to exist.  In other words, God is not something that is contingent upon the existence of something else.  Other philosophers called this Being the “unmoved mover.”

Each of us have characteristics and traits that we can be sure would exist regardless of whether or not we were born blond or a brunette, in Beijing or Bombay.  Isn’t there something you would do or be, whether or not you were told you were beautiful or ugly, whether or not you were ditched or cherished?

This is actually a really profound and liberating idea!  Could it be that we exist both 100% in relationship to our life circumstances, and 100% regardless of them?

Perhaps our destiny, and therefore our happiness,  is found in the parts of ourselves that cannot be thought not to exist, the parts of us that are necessary regardless of circumstance, the parts that exist always and already….

Depression Is The Reward

October 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

‎”My theory is that we get depressed because we’re not getting what we want, and we’re not getting what we want because we haven’t ever been taught to get what we want. Instead, we’ve been taught to be good little boys and girls and good mothers and fathers. If we’re going to be one of those good things, better get used to being depressed. Depression is the reward we get for being ‘good'”. -Marshall B. Rosenberg

I Come With a Lot of Baggage

September 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

For the first time in my life, all of my “baggage” is in one place, a tiny red cabin I call home.

All my photos,  letters and memorabilia — from the love notes I wrote in grade 2 to the contracts I wrote in my 30s — are all here in one place.  I sleep next to them and wake up beside them.  This baggage is the meat of my past. It’s heavy and loaded, and now its tangible.    Reading through all of it over the last three months, I’ve gotten to experience the consistency of who I have been, and it’s quite revealing.  Scribbling poetry about the cosmos into a tiny notebook in grade eight wasn’t just a phase I was going through, the writing is very much the same, the approach is consistent. I tallied up my babysitting money when I was 12 years old, in the same way that I now keep track of my bank balances, at 33.   The dreams have more or less stayed the same, the disappointments also.  Yet, some qualities got buried along the way: I was a great public speaker and the valedictorian of my grade seven graduation class. I was the chosen member of my grade six class to ask a public question at a province-wide science conference.  But by the time I got to McGill University, at 23, I was too insecure to raise my hand in class, and so I didn’t — not once.  I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and other people encouraged it too. But I lacked confidence in my talents, prefacing my letters to friends with: “I’m a bad speller.” And there were many many letters I simply never sent for this reason. I started holding back, as I’m sure most of us did, at a very young age.  Looking back on these weathered scraps of my history makes me feel as though for the first time I’m seeing a consistent thread of a personality that is called me.   It’s kind of like waking up as in the movie Groundhog day. Life, thoughts, circumstances, character, repeats itself over and over again, until we can finally see it clearly and transcend it.

As one of my teachers has said about all people: “You have talents that the world has never seen before and may never see again.”  There is no need to be humble about this, every one of us is unique in her way and is essential to the world.  We all come with baggage.  Embrace yourself, the one whose always been there.  What’s stopping you?

“Nothing Fails Like Success” -Harry Manx

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Having success in any endeavour does not necessarily mean you are a good person.

Marianne Williamson writes in Return to Love: “For years we have worked for power, money, and prestige. Now all of a sudden we’ve learned that those are just the values of a dying world.”

Whether it be art or business or environmental causes, the first question you need to ask is:  How am I treating the people in my life, my family and friends?  How am I treating animals, and how am I treating the natural world?   Are you abandoning your children in the name of your job, or flying around the planet in the name of environmental causes? What are the contradictions (we all have them), in your career and in your life?

May all of our successes start and end from a place of consciousness, honesty, and a desire to heal the world.  Heal your heart first, look at your real motives, and then find your career.

As an artist, writes Williamson, “The highest prize we can receive for creative work is the joy of being creative.”  There is no better compensation for creativity than the joy of being wholly in touch with the source of life, when it is flowing through you. It’s better than money; this feeling is what money was made for.

“I just wanted to do a good job and do no harm” – Oprah Winfrey, Last Show, 2011

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