Different kind of 12 step program

Alan Cohen, an author and a psychotherapist, asks in his lectures: “who is dissatisfied with their work?” Seventy-five percent of the audience raise their hands.

Cohen has created a twelve step system to help people rediscover their “purpose”. Here are the steps – without interpretation. I think this is an extremely interesting place to start a practice of deeper self understanding and discovery.

1. Tell yourself the truth
Draw two columns on a sheet of paper and in the left column write down what you would love to do. Then write down on the other side everything you’re doing without any enthusiasm. Write as if nobody were ever going to read what is there, don’t censure or judge your answers.

2. Start slowly, but start
Call your travel agent, look for something that fits your budget; go and see the movie that you’ve been putting off; buy the book that you’ve been wanting to buy. Be generous to yourself and you’ll see that even these small steps will make you feel more alive.

3. Stop slowly, but stop
Some things use up all your energy. Do you really need to go that committee meeting? Do you need to help those who do not want to be helped? Does your boss have the right to demand that in addition to your work you have to go to all the same parties that he goes to? When you stop doing what you’re not interested in doing, you’ll realize that you were making more demands of yourself than others were really asking.

4. Discover your small talents
What do your friends tell you that you do well? What do you do with relish, even if it’s not perfectly well done? These small talents are hidden messages of your large occult talents.

5. Begin to choose
If something gives you pleasure, don’t hesitate. If you’re in doubt, close your eyes, imagine that you’ve made decision A and see all that it will bring you. Now do the same with decision B. The decision that makes you feel more connected to life is the right one – even if it’s not the easiest to make.

6. Don’t base your decisions on financial gain
The gain will come if you really do it with enthusiasm. The same vase, made by a potter who loves what he does and by a man who hates his job, has a soul. It will be quickly sold (in the first case) or will stay on the shelves (in the second case).

7. Follow your intuition
The most interesting work is the one where you allow yourself to be creative. Einstein said: “I did not reach my understanding of the Universe using just mathematics.” Descartes, the father of logic, developed his method based on a dream he had.

8. Don’t be afraid to change your mind
If you put a decision aside and this bothers you, think again about what you chose. Don’t struggle against what gives you pleasure.

9. Learn how to rest
One day a week without thinking about work lets the subconscious help you, and many problems (but not all) are solved without any help from reason.

10. Let things show you a happier path
If you are struggling too much for something, without any results appearing, be more flexible and follow the paths that life offers. This does not mean giving up the struggle, growing lazy or leaving things in the hands of others – it means understanding that work with love brings us strength, never despair.

11. Read the signs
This is an individual language joined to intuition that appears at the right moments. Even if the signs point in the opposite direction from what you planned, follow them. Sometimes you can go wrong, but this is the best way to learn this new language.

12. Finally, take risks!
The men who have changed the world set out on their paths through an act of faith. Believe in the force of your dreams.

Call Your Girlfriend

I’m not sure how I found them, but I’m sure glad I did. The reference is to a podcast, “Call Your Girlfriend“, for long distance besties everywhere. If you are a girlfriend to someone and/or have girlfriends, I don’t need to explain the appeal of this any further. But maybe you are a little out of touch, as I was. So let me fill you in.

A long, long time ago, I was in school and I had some besties. Then, I left school and embarked on my journey in the workforce. What I realize now is, at the moment I started that first job, I kind of left my girlfriend world behind and fully entered into the world of men. Because, let’s face it, that’s how it was then, (arguably still is). And I felt this overwhelming desire to “fit into” this world of men. So I made the switch willingly.

At the same time, I met my husband. So I had a lot to learn about being in a couple. My girlfriend relationships began to morph into couple relationships. And then the moves. My career started to build into something above minimum wage pay and I was offered promotions/moves to another country, etc. My husband went along with all that chaos. And in the midst of all that, we grew extremely close. My very best friend became my husband. But, he was/is a man.

I developed some close friendships along the way, but it was so very difficult with all the moving. People who don’t live that kind of life, do not understand a nomadic spirit. And couples understand it even less. We were a rare breed. Then came our children.

Somehow, we managed to stay put at that point. For the last 13 years we have not left the neighbourhood, we even live in the same house. Our children have known a joy of home and connection to one place. They have been attending the same school for all of the elementary grades. But somehow I’ve held my breath.

And in this time, the world has changed. I’ve discovered there are people just like me. Those travelling sisters. We have a wandering past, we’ve done things. We’ve been places. And we want more. Just because we are middle aged, doesn’t mean we are finished anything. We are just getting going.

So it comes full circle. I’m at the point now where I want to go home to my girl-power. I want to connect to the strong and wonderful women around me. I seek them out. Some of these friends turn into besties and others build an amazing network. I draw strength and courage from them everyday in every way. I’ve arrived at the next phase of my life. And it is wonderful.

Word of 2015 BRAVE

It is just before 6pm on December 31st and I’ve about finished my goals for next year. My little family of 4 is nicely tucked away in a small town in the Southern Baja. I have purposely kept our reservations, commitments and “have-to’s” down to almost nothing. In fact, other than getting back down to SJD for the flight home, we got nothin’ on our list. That has cleared out the mental space I needed to finish my goals. I started back home, but “my life” did not allow me the mental space I needed.

For the past 3 years, I have been searching for a way to bring the peace and calm I feel on this vacation, back home with me. There is a sense of stillness and focus, which seems to slip through my fingers like sand as I get back in the car for the journey home. But this year, today, I may have a list of actions which will bring me back, centre my soul to this time and this place.

Here is a brief summary of my main ideas for the year. These will pop up in many forms, my goals are quite specific. I think it helps to understand the intent, the feelings associated with the goals. Otherwise they are words on paper. They can easily be overlooked, forgotten and trivialized.

*Margin. I read about this idea sometime in 2014. The idea is to create margin or space in your day. Room to breathe. Time to think. Creativity needs to bubble up.
*Mindfulness. Be where you are. I have rationalized this notion out of my life entirely, blaming my never ending “to-do” list. I’m looking at this as the opposite of multi-tasking. I’m going to plan enough time to do one thing at a time.
*Gratitude. Only by focusing on gratitude do I increase my feelings of happiness. Full stop. The minute I spiral into bad news, my mood goes down accordingly. If current events are consisting largely of bad news, then I am going to be like a stork (my husband corrected me this morning, an ostrich) with my head in the sand.
*Practice. When I threw out the other “P” word, (perfection) I didn’t replace it with anything. This year I will practice all the time. Everything I want in my life is attainable, if I give myself the opportunity to practice. This I am eagerly looking forward to.
*Creativity. When I look back at some of the happiest moments of my life, they involved a healthy measure of creative endeavor. Somewhere along the way, I have lost that part of myself. I realized that I miss her dearly. As it turns out, I’m going to need her in 2015. Much of the heavy lifting on my list of goals will require creative work. Some of it will be “artsy” and some of it will be more “problem solving”. The latter has remained in my life all along, but the former will unleash all kinds of goodness.

Now it is time to play away the last hours of 2014.

Happy New Year or Feliz Año Nuevo!


The lottery

Over the past couple of months, my family has discussed what we would do differently if we won the lottery. This is not passive dreaming, we had purchased tickets.

First one was my Dad. He had a ticket for a grand prize of $50 million. Since we were discussing how to spend his money, we didn’t get too greedy. My sister and I suggested a luxury family vacation. We started with what we knew.

My sister has been to Maui and has no great urge to go anywhere else, so Maui it was. I said it had to be at least a month. We agreed that private accommodations for parents, separate from children was a must. On the beach. Then, I really wanted to fly business class. My Dad busted out a private jet. So generous! It actually felt, for a few minutes, as if we were going to Maui on a private jet!

My Dad did not win that lottery. But my husband got into the spirit and bought a ticket for the BC Children’s Hospital Dream Lottery. The proceeds from this support a great cause and a hospital which we have used several times for our own children. It really feels like a donation, with a possible upside.

The prizes are quite lavish, with the early bird draw yesterday of a brand new Tesla Model S. I have not checked our answering service, so it is not 100% confirmed, but probably we did not win the car. However the final draw is November 5. While the homes and cars and furniture are all nice, we have our eye on the cash. $2 million would allow us to set up our future more quickly and easily than our current path.

As we discussed this lottery it quickly became apparent that we have a pretty great life already. In fact, I would not change a thing for the rest of this year. That is a pretty satisfying thought. Money would not improve the things in my life which I hold with the highest value. My family, our health. Friends and the great relationships they bring. Experiences, learning. These things money can’t buy.

So we sleep soundly knowing that whether we win the lottery or not, we already have the life of our dreams. I know how that sounds and my younger self would have scoffed at hearing me say it. Maybe this kind of perspective comes with age. But I have finally realized, acquiring more stuff, traveling to far off places, these things alone do not bring me true happiness. It is how I feel with the people I cherish most, these are moments of bliss.

Vacation expectations

Turns out, the key to a great vacation is managing expectations. Not for other people, but for myself. The only bit of happiness which is under my control is mine. This little fact may seem second nature to some people, but never has been the case for me.

I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, which is not really a good thing when it comes to relaxing. Vacation is a time when things will not go as planned. People will not behave as you think they should. Arrangements, so meticulously thought through will go astray. Intellectually, I know all these things, yet when they happen I have often become a little sad. One thing piles on the next and then I’m wondering why we left home at all?

I can’t seem to step back and analyze how most of the vacation was quite nice and was happening just as I hoped it would. I fixate on what is not working or on the small details that should not be bothered with. Makes me think of this quote, which I love:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” -George Eliot
On recent vacations I have dedicated myself to planning a whole bunch of things I could do in the weather that is being forecasted. My list is long and varied. I read a bunch of different materials, history, food reviews, travel books, etc. I study maps, trying to get a lay of the land. I pack a bunch of things to do on long plane or car trips.
Then I kick back and let it all happen as it will. I live in the moment and embrace everything good about it.
As I think about this visit to Mexico as the sun starts to set, I am happy. I’m not sad to leave, although I could easily create a life here. But that is for another day. Tomorrow, I dive back into my current life with a renewed sense of purpose.


North of Calgary - July 2013

North of Calgary – July 2013

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”   ~Albert Einstein

“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”   ~Mahatma Gandhi

I came of age in the 1980’s, the decade of conspicuous consumption, a time when the movie “Wall Street” and everything it embodied was highly revered. The philosophy that “Greed is Good” was king.

Those were heady times. The allure of money and everything it can buy seemed a sure-fire route to eternal happiness.

However, a storm was gathering. Super high interest rates and a confidence in the ever-increasing stock market left many a family in ruin. It became a new reality to owe more money on your mortgage than your house was worth….a lot more, in fact.

While the decade started out so promising, it went out leaving behind a terrible wake of destruction. But for those not directly affected, the party went on, (or so it seemed).

What many people started to realize by the mid 1990’s was – money could not buy happiness. That fact became a house of cards. What was left after all those dreams came crashing down? It was time to get back to basics.

Some of the simplest things are free AND make us happy. For example, numerous studies show that connecting with nature is very beneficial to health and well-being.

Here are some of the facts:

  • Taking a walk in a shopping mall is not the same as being outside in nature.
  • Getting on a treadmill in a gym will not replace having the wind blowing through your hair, outside.
  • Seaside, forests or mountains – the exact type of nature doesn’t matter.
  • Your age does not affect how great the benefit will be.
  • The intensity of activity, does not matter, you can sit still and enjoy the natural surroundings.

Fast forward to present day and my journey to finding a greater level of peace and happiness. If my 20-year-old self was sitting beside me now, watching me write these words, she wouldn’t believe it. She would probably think I had become my Mother. Luckily, I am now wise enough to realize that is a compliment in many ways. If love of nature and being outside were her greatest accomplishment with me, I think she did a great job.

Find a happy place

It has been one of those weeks.

Over the past year, this blog has been my refuge, my happy place. The thoughts that I record here are (for the most part), good, happy, uplifting and generally meant to generate good feelings. But I couldn’t scrape together anything over the past 5 days. More often my mind was racing, desperately trying to avoid crying in public over whatever challenge was being thrown my way.

There was the grocery list, frantically put together whilst watching my son play ball hockey. Then the list was not retrievable from my iPad at the store and I had to try to recall everything on it, like a twisted memory game. I really had to resist screaming at the moment I realized the list was gone. In fairness to me, I had been home less than a full day and was suffering pretty bad jet lag, no wonder sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique. And I was running zone defence. My wing man in this game of raising kids was AWOL and our usual play of man-to-man was not happening.

My daughter whom already has a general aversion to most food and is extremely thin, got a dental appliance that makes chewing painful and unpleasant. So we are trying to balance the need to get proper nutrition in the form of soups that she generally hates, with letting her eat yogurt and drink smoothies for the next 6 weeks. This twist makes an already tricky task, (getting her to eat), even more difficult. I am pinning my hopes on a new book I have picked up, called – “French Kids Eat Everything“.

It would have been helpful to remember the famous words of Frank Costanza as he yelled, “Serenity Now!” What made that so funny was that he was yelling a mantra that was meant to be spoken in a quiet soothing tone in an effort to lower his blood pressure. It is always comforting to think, at least I am not as bad as that.

But my favourite calming thought is from the sea star in the movie, “Finding Nemo”. When Darla is banging on the outside of the aquarium and the sea star is starting to be knocked off the glass, she says, “Find a happy place”, over and over again.

Whatever works.

Happy food in a pretty bowl

Happy foods?

Are there foods that can improve our mood, or even cure depression? What a wonderful thought, pick foods that will make you happier. But as with anything in life, moderation is the key.

Happy food in a pretty bowlThis week, I came across a tidbit of information about cashews. Just 1/2 cup of cashews, (and many other tree nuts), give you 30% DV of tryptophan.

Trypto…what? I was always led to believe that turkey had a lot of tryptophan in it and that makes you sleepy. Years later, I now think it is the huge quantity of food consumed at a typical turkey dinner that causes us to lumber over to the sofa.

Put in a simple way, tryptophan is an essential amino acid. This means we cannot manufacture it and therefore we must eat it. Amino acids perform many complicated, yet essential functions in our bodies. In addition, tryptophan functions as a biochemical precursor for serotonin, niacin and auxin. The bottom line is that when we don’t get enough tryptophan making its way into our blood, many things can go wrong, including depression.

Some super smart people like to create solutions to make us happy again. So they invented yet another pill, meant to target one part of our complex human biology. But I have to wonder, why not try to let the body work its own magic to heal itself?

And for those of us that seek to be just a little happier, why not let our diet be our guide?

Turns out that cashews don’t even top the list of foods high in tryptophan. So it depends more on what kind of life you want to lead and which foods you choose to help it be a happier one.  The World’s Healthiest Foods website gives us a chart listing foods high in tryptophan among many other nuggets of great information.

The morning routine

Every house has a different one. We all know about how important it is. Some enjoy it, way more than others. One person’s enjoyment almost adds to the misery of another.

We have a variety of personalities in our house. No surprise that the day starts with everyone at a different speed.

My Mom tried, I think, to get everyone up in a good mood. “Good Morning Sunshine!” she would sing to us in the early days. Later on, my Dad would make it crystal clear before we went to bed on the weekend that we would be up by 9am, or suffer the consequences.

As my husband and I created our own routine, it became apparent quite quickly that he did not grow up in my parents house. He is in a terrible mood in the morning and will sleep as late as possible on the weekend. Lucky for us, he has a million projects on the go and wants to get up early. I don’t think it would have been so easy to adjust to a man who would sleep until noon.

We have settled into something that seems to work for everyone, for now. When the kids become teenagers, I’m sure some adjustments will be required from all of us.

I make breakfast and lunches. I can’t stand the idea of what they would eat, left to their own devices. Today it was maple chicken sausages, (tolerable levels of sodium and fat) and leftover blueberry pancakes that had a square of chocolate in the middle. Grapefruit with brown sugar.

My husband has decided that, while he is clearly not a morning person, he would rather fight the traffic en route to work than organize anyone at home. Probably a wise decision. This is the benefit of age, I think. Back in the early days or our marriage, there was not so much harmony in the morning.

The main idea behind our relative success today is that we have remained flexible to change. When something isn’t working we revise, adjust make it easier in some small way. I am the most optimistic about the effect of small changes. And when something gets better, my husband glows with compliments.

TED: Ideas worth spreading

One of my favourite apps on my iPad is called TED. It is an acronym for the words technology, education, design. I have learned about so many interesting topics and people who I would not have otherwise been exposed to.

What I like about listening to these speakers is that you really have to listen. You will completely miss the point of the more serious topics if you passively listen and don’t think. It is similar to reading a well researched piece of non-fiction versus an easy breezy beach book. TED offers a good selection of both, but I like the fact that the data base is full of serious thinkers. If you only watch popular television feeds you are completely missing out. Popular media channels would have the public think that the world has not produced a smart person since Einstein.

Benjamin Wallace gave a great talk called “The Price of Happiness”. With the backing of a magazine he writes for, he set out to experience some of the most expensive things money can buy and commented on what kind of happiness they brought him. He started with Kobe beef from Wolfgang Puck’s Restaurant in LA. (I’ve had Kobe beef at a Japanese Restaurant in Hong Kong). Then he went on to various other categories – really a great talk as Mr. Wallace has a super dry sense of humour.

Another favourite is Isabel Allende telling “Tales of passion”. I just finished another of her books and feel like I know her. Like she is a friend of mine and that I have somehow shared in her stories. Feels like I have sat in her house, eating the authentic meals from Chile that come from her kitchen and spent lazy summer days by her pool with all our kids running around in the backyard playing.

The Acorn House – London, UK

And then there are several from the food world. Obviously Jamie Oliver has a talk, but there are many more, from people who don’t have their own TV shows and are not authors of so many books. Arthur Potts Dawson gave a talk called “A vision for sustainable restaurants”. In this talk there is basically a road map showing how a person can greatly reduce the amount of waste that comes from our kitchens. The examples in the talk are from restaurants, but it would be so easy to apply these techniques to our everyday lives. Things like:

  • a worm compost
  • regular compost
  • water filtration
  • re-purposing different containers for planters
  • recycled furniture
  • wind and solar power

There are so many more, and they cover just about every topic you can think of. Enjoy!