Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cultivating wisdom

Two weeks ago I put the finishing touches onto a manuscript I’ve been working on in one form or another for over a three years now. Last week I posted it off and now I wait, in six weeks time, to hear from the first two agents I’ve chosen. 

The book is my first non-fiction piece (Most of my writing is young adult fiction) and it was initially inspired by my own experience with anxiety, depression, a mental breakdown and heartbreak. 

In my life thus far I have encountered many people suffering due to the stresses of modern life - scrambling to find happiness as though it were a physical thing we could hold or something we could build or buy. I have also had many experiences in which I was able to feel great compassion for people from entirely different backgrounds because I could recognise our shared human experience of emotion. 

This compassion and the belief I have that growing it will benefit myself and others is why I am so passionate about being a life coach. It’s also why I chose to write this book. I have an insatiable desire to help those around me and I believe that all human beings, everywhere, are capable and deserving of happy, content lives. I also believe that the way to attain this is through the cultivation of wisdom. 

Wisdom is on a deeper level than knowledge, which is something I discuss in my book and something which I invite the reader to explore further. As someone seeking to cultivate wisdom I use a multitude of tools and recognise that each one works for a different reason and that not all tools will work for everyone. 

But I believe that everyone has the ability to grow their wisdom. In doing so we can all offer something to those around us, through our shared understanding of the world as it truly is. 

In the coming weeks I’ll be posting some examples of the artwork I’ll be including in my book to 

Following on from the cultivation of wisdom, I’m soon going to be offering meditation classes! I’m just confirming the dates and times and will be announcing the details in my next Newsletter. If you want to be the first to know (As space on this course will be limited) you can sign up for the Me First Newsletter. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Language is always evolving and the English language is known for being exceptionally complex. This is probably because English has stolen so many words from a multitude of other languages and because it's evolved regionally as well. The classic example being American English vs. UK English (And please be aware that Canadian English is an interesting mix of the two but an entirely different version in its own right) or as it's commonly called 'The Queen's English.'

With so many differing opinions on what a word means or why it's no wonder a lack of clear and effective communication is one of the most common issues out there. First world problem, possibly, but a problem none-the-less.

My last two entries looked at the meaning and interpretation of generosity and I've been inspired to keep going along this thread. I spend a lot of time thinking about communication and how definitions of a word differ depending on who you talk to or what you are reading.

I recently finished reading 'The Psychopath Test' by Jon Ronson, who is probably better known for being the author of 'Men Who Stare At Goats'. In my opinion Jon's writing is conversational and utterly enjoyable and I found myself unable to put down 'The Psychopath Test'. I finished reading it within 24 hours, in fact.

But I did have a difference of opinion with him on the definition of a word based on how he used it. At one point in the book he interviewing a possible psychopath and he asks them about identifying with the experience of another person. To gain clarity the interviewee says, "Like sympathy?" to which Jon replies, "Yes."

To me sympathy is not identifying with the experience of another person. I have always seen sympathy as feeling sorry for someone or feeling bad about their situation. Sympathy is along  the lines of 'there, there.'

Empathy, however, is our ability to recognise and acknowledge our shared human experience of emotions. Empathy is a hearty 'I know how you feel.'

This is not to say that we relate directly to the experience of another person, but that we can acknowledge the emotions going on. 

I once worked for an organisation that supported youth living in or from care. By 'care' I mean the child welfare system. They came from a variety of backgrounds and had many different experiences in group homes, foster care, through adoption, or incarceration depending on the individual.

When I first started working there I was the only employee who had no direct experience of the child welfare system. I'd been hired because of my involvement in a volunteer project that built a website to help educate youth on the criminal justice system. My parents had been married for 30 years, I'd been born and raised in one house and I'd attended a total of four schools. My experience was nothing like that of a youth in care who may not know one or both parents, have been bounced from school to school and placement to placement, and have had to take on responsibilities well above what should be expected for their age.

At first I was really worried and high strung because I didn't think I'd be able to offer anything to the youth I was working with without coming off as sympathetic. I saw how much stigma a youth living in care faced and I didn't want to be adding to that.

I needn't have worried though because I quickly saw how I could identify with the stigma these youth were experiencing. No, I  didn't know what it was like to live in a group home with six other kids my age and rely on the government to 'parent' me. But I knew what it felt like to have people judge me based on a label rather than for the content of my character. I knew what it felt like to be limited by the assumptions of other people.

We all know feeling like frustration, disappointment, and sadness. Empathy is the ability we have to appreciate these feelings in another person because we know the effect they have. We are aware of our own happiness, grief, joy, anxiety, excitement, guilt, passion and anger. Empathy is when we are aware of the shared reality of these emotions.

What do you think? Empathy vs. sympathy and how these words are used? Do you agree? Add your comments below

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Learning to say 'No'

In my last entry I wrote about generosity and how we can practice it in little ways day to day. The more we practice generosity the easier it will become, although we may notice at the beginning just how ungenerous we can be.

That's O.K. This is an opportunity for you to practice compassion for yourself. Acknowledge that you are ungenerous sometimes but don't beat yourself up about it. That's like hitting a dog to teach it how to sit. The dog will become confused, scared and possibly will sit but not for the right reasons. The motivation to be generous will come from seeing how it benefits you and the world around you. 

But we must be careful not to give too much. Being generous doesn't just mean giving change to a busker or offering your seat to someone on the bus. Being generous can also mean giving your time or energy to another. We can do this in many ways but it's important not to be taken advantage of. 

I was reading a forum the other day and someone had asked what they could do to help a friend of theirs who was always stuck in a rut. They said they'd spent a lot of time talking to them. They'd offered multiple solutions. They'd even accompanied their friend on several occasions to carry out a plan they'd discussed. But their friend continued to be depressed, downtrodden and generally miserable about things.

There were many responses on the forum but I felt the ones which were the most helpful were the ones which told them to walk away. When we are being generous we are offering help to another, through our kindness, our time, our ability to listen. But we can only help someone as much as they are willing to help themselves and at a certain point we must learn to say, "No." 

It is not selfish or wrong to say "No" to someone or something that drains us. If we feel morally, physically and emotionally drained by a job or a person, we owe it to ourselves to walk away. We do this because we, as much as anyone else, deserve our own love and compassion. We cannot be expected to practice compassion for those around us if we don't practice it for ourselves. We cannot be generous to those around us if we do not understand how to be generous to ourselves. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Be Generous

There's a misconception that if you have a lot of money or stuff, then you must be greedy. You don't have to be rich to be greedy. I've met some really greedy people who lived paycheque to paycheque, barely able to survive on their income.

The opposite of greed isn't poverty. The opposite of greed is generosity. 

Greed is fuelled by the belief that if we only have more of something - more money, more time, more stuff - then we will be happy. When we act out of greed we act our of a belief that happiness is finite and that, if we don't get our slice, we will miss out.

To be generous is to recognise that happiness is an infinite thing. There is as much love, compassion and kindness in the world as we are willing to make. A generous person doesn't cling because a generous person appreciates the impermanence of all things anyway. Everything will change, everything will rise and grow and fade and die, and thus everything is cyclical. A circle has no beginning and no end.

To practice generosity is to understand that there is enough. To practice generosity is to let go of 'me' and 'mine' and embrace 'us' and 'we'.

We can practice generosity in so many ways. By pausing to hold a door for a mother with a stroller, or helping an elderly gentleman carry his shopping, or offering our seat on the train or bus to someone who looks obviously fatigued, we are acknowledging that our time is no more valuable than anyone elses. We are all equally deserving of compassion and kindness.

There are opportunities to be generous everywhere, every day. All we have to do is look for them.

Monday, September 3, 2012

You can find it

No one lacks confidence. Confidence is the inherent belief that you can rely on something. We can have confidence in others, confidence in a task, and confidence in ourselves. It's an internal thing based on an unwavering belief.

The reason I say that no one lacks it is because we all have confidence in some capacity. We do, really. It's just that we don't always realise it. 

Imagine if you will, meeting a person at a social gathering. You get talking and this person tells you that in their life they have accomplished many things. They have a great list of 'positives'- things of which they can be proud - but in their negative column they put a lack of confidence. They tell you that it is the one thing they just don't have and that they are at a loss because, despite being skilled in so many ways, this feels like the greatest failure.

Confidence comes in many forms. In this person's case they are referring to a lack of social confidence. What they mean when they say they don't have confidence is that they don't feel sure enough of themselves in social situations to approach strangers and strike up a conversation.

A lack of confidence when it comes to approaching strangers is not an inherent lack of any confidence at all. For example, suppose this person has a successful career in which they have performed extremely well. They studied for a long time and have worked in many different roles in their industry, gaining success and rising to a place where they are respected for their talents. They were confident in the skills they gained from their education. They were confident in the knowledge they have of their chosen field. They were confident in their abilities as a professional to build a successful career.

It's simply because of a belief that confidence is confined to a specific situation that this individual feels they lack it.

Often times we are not aware of these sorts of limiting beliefs. Because we are told that confidence has something to do with bravery or with social performance, we are not aware of the great level of self belief we have in other areas.

A great way to let go of this limitation is to sit down and write a list of the things which you know you are good at. Anything at all, be it cooking, drawing, gardening, pet care, reading, athletics, teaching, listening - you get the idea. Belief in your ability to do something is confidence.

We can't be confident in all things. For example, I don't believe I'd ever be good at treating traumatic injury. Beyond being able to budget, I have very little faith in my math skills. I don't feel very assured in my ability to learn new languages. There are so many other examples, but I don't have to be confident in everything and nor does anyone else. When we encounter something where we feel we just don't believe in ourselves, it helps to remember our list of the things we are confident in.

Remember, confidence is something that comes from within. It's our capacity to recognise our own strengths without need of external approval. When we recognise where we are strongest, where we have unwavering faith in our ability to do something, we are reminded that oftentimes these things were things we learned over time. When we encounter a time where we don't feel so sure, we can use our confidence in a different area to remind us of our ability to grow.