Ask in order to receive

I am learning the importance of asking for what you want – not just what you can justify needing – but the things that you truly desire in your heart. This has been fundamental for me in planning my upcoming exploratory trip out West, but I’ve been working on it in my everyday life too and hope I can encourage others to do the same.

I was in a park recently, immersed in the joyful bliss of hand-feeding birds, when a man and his dog stopped nearby, watching and asking questions. I spoke to him, but it was only when he went on his way that I realized that perhaps he was hoping I would offer to let him have a go. I didn’t want to presume or be rejected by his dismissal of my offer, but when I caught up with him later on in the park, he concurred that ‘it would have been cool’. If only he had asked.

We don’t hesitate to ask others for help when we’re in dire straits, as our intensity of need overrides our feelings of caution or inhibition. For instance, I met a woman yesterday from Vietnam, who was utterly lost in the transit system and running late for her first day of work. She didn’t hesitate to approach a variety of transit users to help her in her plight, eventually finding her way to me. Fortunately, I was able to accompany her to the right station and eventually (as I am directionally challenged myself) get her safely on the right bus, while forging a lovely connection as we chatted along the way.

In our post-Covid world of being leery of one another, it’s important to remember that it’s completely okay to ask for help and that we don’t have to know everything to help one another either. It’s enough if we can acknowledge our vulnerability, have an open heart and try. We are all so afraid of rejection or feeling foolish, that it can make us clam up and stay within our own walls, afraid to take the risks needed to see what’s on the other side.

The sad truth though, is that so many of us are lonely and seeking connection, but our fear keeps us from attempting to fulfill our emotional needs. This is why it’s so important to reach out – not to assume other people will figure out what we need, but to initiate contact ourselves and be open to receive. Maybe that person is feeling lonely too and together you can build a healing and impactful relationship.

We are naturally social animals and meant to interact with one another in meaningful ways. And it’s actually a sign of strength – not weakness – to reach out and ask for what you need. Being together and united in purpose is effectively what makes us stronger.

Learning to be happy

Today is International Happiness Day, established in recognition of the importance of happiness as a goal and aspiration in people’s lives.

I fully believe that joy is always the best way to go forward, and while I don’t want to minimize many people’s struggles to be happy amidst a sea of challenges, what I’ve been exploring is that happiness is a state of being that can actually be learned, primarily through changing one’s outlook and reframing of negative thinking. Our minds are predisposed to criticize and make us feel anxious. What if we decided to start from a place of peace – even if we have to construct and work at it?

Of course, this is easier said than done, and like most big changes we want to make in our lives, it takes regular practice. For me, this has been through daily affirmations, positive thinking and actively asking the universe – and people – for what I want. I’ve also learned the value and power of deep breathing and mindfulness, while also feeling gratitude and hope and expressing kindness in action.

 There are always going to be obstacles and setbacks, but just by choosing to be happy – to view experiences with the prospect of a positive outcome – has helped me to try new ventures and has given me more energy and determination to succeed at them.

Most of all, I would say, give yourself time. Our feelings can change by the hour and fluctuate with the seasons, but what better way to start anew on the first day of Spring, also today. By chance (?) this afternoon, I saw my first snowdrops of the year, and after a prolonged, wintry darkness, I feel life is stirring all around, and for the first time in a long time, within me too. Take faith in the return of light and choose a path of happiness and let it lead you to a burgeoning future.

Transformative femininity

Today is International Women’s Day, a time to appreciate and celebrate the women in our lives, past and present, along with the achievements of women in our community and over time. There are so many unsung champions – what a blessing to have such kind, caring, bold, smart, adventurous and innovative women in our midst.

For me personally, I would like to acknowledge the devoted team of personal support workers and caregivers who’ve looked after my elderly mom with dementia over the past number of years. They’ve done so with admirable gentleness, reliability, skill and grace, and I’ve been touched by their continued patience and kindness towards my mother. For your work and steadfast presence in my life, I applaud and thank you.

As a society, we continue to progress towards reducing stereotypes and bias and embracing equity, diversity and gender parity. There is always more work to be done, but for me, one of the biggest steps is simply to treat one another humanely, regardless of gender. Showing respect and compassion to one another is one of the best ways we can demonstrate a commitment towards equality and inclusivity.

Our world needs more collaboration over competition. Let’s bring each other up instead of putting each other down. Let’s cultivate aspects our own feminine energies – people of all genders – and be proud to express them to one another. And let’s expand further and apply the transformative power of femininity to find solutions for each other and for our planet.

Feeling the love

Valentine’s Day is upon us, and whatever your views on it, it’s a time that gets us considering love in its various forms of expression. If you have a particular people in your life who are special, it’s a wonderful blessing worth cherishing every day. And while love is something you can have, it’s also something you can be, through living in your heart and embodying a love that radiates outwards.

This love develops through our ability to honour and cherish ourselves as we really are. Many of us are conditioned not to love ourselves – to find faults in our appearance or personalities and to constantly berate our imperfect actions. It can be such a tough undertaking to love, honour and respect ourselves. But when you consider that we are the one person we must live with our whole lives, what a kinder, happier place it would be if we could make peace within our hearts and finally accept who and what we truly are.

For me, the healing path of self-acceptance has been through learning to follow my heart. We often quash our heart’s desires through rationalizing, or by immersing ourselves in distractions, activities and commitments. But the heart’s needs are still there, quietly pulsating underneath all of the layers we heap on top of it. When you finally break through all the suppression and denial, you may find a tiny voice crying for attention and yearning to be expressed.

This year, I have decided to try a new approach by following the maxim: ‘What the heart wants, the heart gets.’ It’s been a bumpy ride so far, to say the least, as my mind is a powerful task master and doesn’t like being overruled by the seemingly flighty whims of the heart, but I’m persisting with it.

I have the most success when I’m out in nature, which is my passion, while my mind grumbles as I drag my bike over ice and mud to reach a special place, but the outcome never disappoints. This week alone, following my heart, I happened once upon a beaver and another time, a snowy owl – two rarer sightings in a big city. The joy and abundance of being in the presence of such creatures makes the battle to follow my heart its own reward.

Following your heart and loving yourself are undertakings that take time, patience and practice, and can often involve a lot of pain, confusion, doubt, anxiety as well as conflict that seems hard to resolve. Sometimes living authentically may feel like a very lonely path. But I strongly believe that the more you can honour yourself and your heart’s desires, the more you can build a purer world around you, and bring more love, beauty and joy into your life.

We are all capable of embodying love, which in turn, can only attract more love and a more sustaining peace, with the capacity to carry you through February fourteenth and each and every day beyond.

A new year has vegan

The other day I was out walking in my one of my local parklands. I don’t see too many creatures here in winter, so I mainly go to visit an animal I’ve dubbed ‘Squirrel Grumpy’ who, unlike most of the friendlier red squirrels I hang out with, regularly shuns my company. Undaunted, I always seek him out in the tree where he lives. This particular day, he was nowhere to be seen, but I sensed he was around, so I left out some peanuts and told him I’d be back. When I returned, I spotted him up on a branch and said ‘hello’. He whipped his head round, looked me straight in the eyes and scampered into a hole in the trunk. Love you too, Squirrel Grumpy. It makes me laugh every time.

Further on, along the other side of the river, I spotted what looked like an ownerless dog scurrying along the snowy slope, which I realized must have been a coyote. I don’t see them very often and they get a bad rap in this city for their potential danger to off-leash dogs, but to me, it’s always a privilege to see a wild animal, free from human intervention.

What strengthens my relationship with animals is that I don’t want to use them in any way or believe that they exist for my benefit. As a vegan for nearly 30 years now, I see animals as fellow creatures sharing this planet, deserving of kindness and respect.

To me, this speaks to the real essence of Veganuary – not just choosing plant-based meals, which is an excellent start, as focusing on our health in this way also improves the health of the planet.

But beyond this lies a capacity for us to reestablish a deeper connection with the natural world and all who live within it. To be able to look at an animal without calculating its use, but instead with a sense of wonder and joy, with a freedom to enjoy its beauty and splendor. This is the real gift of Veganuary and beyond – to love animals in a spirit of kinship and peace – even the grumpy ones. 😊

New year, new humanity

The New Year has entered more with a splash than a bang, where I am, as wet, winter weather cascades around me. It doesn’t feel like the most inspiring time to make resolutions or feel that things will change for the better, but it is also a good time to take stock and plan for the future in the best way that we can.

Having worked in retail over the holiday season, I saw all forms of human life at work – quite literally. I interacted with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. There’s nothing like the craziness of holiday shopping to bring out the vast array of human emotions – anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, but thankfully, elements of patience and kindness too.

It’s these last two that I want to carry over to the new year. Let’s learn to be more patient with one another and more forgiving of imperfections. People will make mistakes – it’s a natural part of being human. And while computers are potentially quicker and more efficient, they won’t greet you with a smile or a personal conversation. As computers continue to replace humans at an alarming rate, let’s savour our myriad of individual interactions while they last.

And what a difference a little bit of kindness can make to someone who may be having a bad day or is lonely and in need of contact. It’s easy and costs nothing to smile and show a bit of empathy to another. There are times you may need it too.

Everyone is talking about a buzz word for 2023. I think the one we most need in this world is ‘share’. We need to learn how to share more with each other, and with all the creatures of this world, to mete our resources more equitably, more fairly, and with more generosity and compassion.

This planet is home to more of us now than ever – human, plant and animal species. Let’s work on improving the way we live together and to be more mindful, respectful and more compassionate to one another. Perhaps then we will be inspired to focus on turning the Earth’s problems around and maybe, just maybe, this year will be the start of a brighter and healthier future for us all.

Tis the season

Many of us are gearing up to spend a bit more time than usual with various family members over the holidays. While some people are looking forward to the extra time together, for many, the prospect fills them with dread and anxiety. I don’t celebrate the holidays, but for me, get togethers with my family can often make me feel like I’ve missed the boat or was on an entirely different journey altogether.

Amidst all the angst over getting the right presents and the right food, perhaps the most valuable thing you can bring to a family gathering is your best self.  In other words, to be patient, kind, compassionate and understanding. Most importantly is the ability to reduce, if not eliminate your expectations altogether. It’s having high or unmet expectations that often causes the most grief at family gatherings. Individuals may act out their well established roles, but if you reduce your expectations and have the ability let go, you’re less likely to rise to the bait.

Of course, no one should tolerate poor or abusive behaviour, and calling it out, as well as an apology is perfectly acceptable. But if you lower your expectations and stay open and unfazed, it creates pathways for family members to respond in a positive manner.

It may be a challenging ask, but what a difference to be able to come away from familial interactions without having said things your regret, and maybe even you’ll have bridged a gap that you didn’t think was possible. Never underestimate the power of active listening, without judgement or qualification. I think if you can listen in the silence, you will intuitively know what to say or do that can make things better. And by far, listening is the biggest gift you can give your family members this holiday season.

The Three Mouseketeers

I often go to a monthly pub quiz, as I enjoy trivia and the chance to chat with people around my own age, which is the main focus of this particular Meetup group. Although the ethos of these aptly named groups is, in fact, to meet new people, there are many who want to be with the same team members each time. On this occasion, when I arrived, there were only two five-player teams with space, yet both contained people who, for whatever reason, didn’t want me to play with them.

So, I ended up joining with one other straggler and the event host, making up a diminished team of three, which I readily dubbed the ‘Mouseketeers’. There was none of the one-upmanship or cattiness (being mice?) that I’d experienced on previous teams and my two teammates couldn’t have been nicer. One of them was a repository of obscure bits of information, most notably curiously about military matters. So we worked together, discussed things, had a good laugh and a lot of fun. And, despite there only being three of us and our having made a few mistakes, on the strength of the tie-breaking question – we won the quiz! True karma indeed, David vs Goliath style. Even with the cold shoulder I got from several people on their way out, I still left the place on a high. I’d a lovely evening with two kind individuals, while absorbing lots of random factoids and surprising myself with the tid bits I pulled out of the recesses of my mind.

Trivia matters aside, the biggest question of the night is – how hard is it to be nice to people? It’s not necessary to love everyone, but some basic courtesy and respect go a long way. You don’t have to live with these people, but you do have to live with yourself and your actions towards others. Being mean to other people has the effect of rebounding onto your consciousness and eating away at your spirit, so you literally lose, as was the case on this night. Conversely, showing kindness to people enables our hearts to broaden and our worlds to expand into new experiences, and at times we visibly reap the rewards – a $25 gift certificate in this case. 😊

Cat caper

The other day, I was cycling in a park by the river. It was a mild, beautiful day, full of rich autumnal colours shimmering in the sunlight. I stopped to sit at a picnic bench – not somewhere I ever sit – usually favouring a spot further down the river, but as this bench was bathed in sunlight, I decided to sit there for a short while. When I got up to leave, I looked behind me and was amazed to see a cat carrier – with a fully grown cat sitting quietly inside. The door was partly open, but the cat wasn’t making any moves to get out.

What on earth was a cat doing here – had she been abandoned? The signs looked like it – a broken carrier, the door left ajar. A better question was, what was I going to do about it? I didn’t feel I could just leave her there to her unrequested fate. I immediately thought of calling cat shelters, but while I had my cell phone with me, I had no means of looking anything up.

I decided to call a friend who used to have a cat, to see if she or her partner could source some numbers of shelters for me to call. It was lucky I caught them, as I only had their home number, and they were on their way out. Every shelter I called greeted me with an answering machine. I called back my friend, and though they lived the other side of town, they decided to hop over and fetch the cat.

I guarded the cat over the next hour as I waited for them, while the sun retreated behind the hills, bringing a cold chill to the air. When my friends arrived, they duly coaxed the cat into their sturdier cat carrier and cared for her at home until they could take her to a vet – a visit which yielded a healthy cat but with no microchip to establish ownership. I went back to the area where I’d found her and neighbouring streets, but could see no trace of any ‘lost cat’ signs or any indication that she had been there.

So, through a series of ‘happenstance’, my friends – who were apparently considering getting another cat (when the time was right) , now have a beautiful feline who, having recently visited her, seems content and to be settling in well to her new home.

While there are so many questions about how and why this cat had been left by the river, in some ways, the bigger question is, had I not come along, what would have happened to her? Would others have stopped to help or just left her to her fate? It raises the question of what our responsibility is to one another, including animals. Is it possible to care about such creatures, without having a vested interest?

Maybe this cat wasn’t directly a part of my world, but I feel that I’m a part of hers, in that we’re all living and breathing and sharing this earth together. To abandon a creature in need – especially when it is possible to help – is to abandon a part of ourselves and our humanity. And next time, we may be the creature in need of help and hoping a passerby will help us too.

Creating the space for magic

It’s a while since I’ve written an entry. I had a difficult transition back to Canada and only now, following an exhausting stint working at an international film festival, I once again have time to write and to be out in nature once more.

I’ve been feeling particularly sad, having left all of my animal friends in England and have been trying to visit my local beauty spots, to be amongst all the splendorous local birds and the cheeky red squirrels. The other day, I went to one of my favourite places along a river, especially a quiet stretch in the woods, with the sound of the gushing water downstream usually my sole companion. But not this time.

Apparently, there was a charity school run going on, and there were lots and LOTS of kids huffing and puffing through the woods and cheering each other on. While I appreciated their enthusiasm, I berated myself for my bad timing, and cycled on, struggling to find some peace and to connect with some animals. But there was very little of such activity, even at a usually busy set of bird feeders,.

Finally, on my way home, prepared to leave without making much of a connection, I went past the feeders again, just to leave out some seeds and peanuts. While I was taking them out of my bag, all of a sudden a load of chickadees appeared, hopping on my bike and trying to come to my hand. So I duly put some seeds in my palm and the chickadees (and one emboldened nuthatch) flew to and from my hand.

When I grabbed a moment to fill up the feeders, scores of other birds came – woodpeckers, cardinals, mourning doves, ducks and blue jays, along with a chipmunk and a scrappy red squirrel, and to top it all, a very naughty racoon, who proceeded to scoop up everything he could get with his dexterous hands. My heart filled up once again, immersed in the magic.

But how do we bring this magic into our lives? You need to ask for it, sure, but we can’t necessarily produce the exact circumstances for it to occur. It’s not so much being in the right place at the right time, but being in the right space within ourselves. We don’t so much create magic as create the space for magic to enter. If we demand magic, instead, we are projecting and filling up the space with our anxieties, leaving nowhere for the magic to find its way in.

It can be hard to step back and let go of our overwhelming desires. But in my situation, it’s only when I ‘let go and let God,’ as the saying goes, that there was space for these beloved creatures to find their way to me. Or, for the racoon, to find and fill everyone else’s space too. 🐺