Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

New Year ‘Focus Areas’

Around this time of year there is a lot of talk about resolutions and goals. To set them or not to set them? To aim high or keep them more achievable? Measurable or general?

I prefer choose some focus areas for the year and then explore both now and then explore, over time, what these areas mean to me and what they look like when put into play.

I find that my focus areas often overlap with the ones of the previous years and are generally based very much around my core values and things that are positive for my own and others’ well-being – physical, mental, spiritual, social.

This year’s focus areas are:

Community: continuing to build, strengthen and develop local community. To help create a local environment that helps to meet my needs for local connection and feelings of belonging, as well as to foster the same for others.

Health: continue to undertake activities that are essential to my health and wellbeing. These include things like playing my music, nourishing my body with good food and moderate and enjoyable exercise, a balance of activity and down time that works with my energy levels and volunteering at a local organisation.

Family: continuing to negotiate and develop relationships with different members of my family so that we all benefit from our interactions and connections.

These are my main three. There will be more, but most of them come back to these core ones. There are strategies for each, but I won’t list them here, and they really do evolve as everything is in life does. Change is one thing that I think we can all rely on, whether it is comfortable or not.

This is just the way that I have found that allows me to move into the new year with both something to aim for but with a gentleness that allows me to be both specific but flexible.

I hope you can find your own way to move forward.

J X

A Worthy Story

“For all the talk of ‘telling your story to inspire people,’ no one wants to hear the story, until you’ve fully transcended your illness and stand there a hero…” (Violinist, quoted in The Broken Musician, H. O’Donnell, 2016)

This particular quote stuck a cord for me, for I feel strongly that it is not just in the realm of music and injury or disability that this rings true. People like stories of overcoming, of success, of beating the odds, of triumph, of happy endings. Thousands of books and blogs are published and interviews given by people who have overcome their struggles and recovered from mental health difficulties. The vast majority of stories presented to us are ones of full recovery – of great triumph and freedom after a very challenging journey. Everyone loves and inspiring story, everyone loves a story of hope. But what does this mean for those of us whose journey continues without a pretty bow and a nice, neat ending?

What happens when the literary form of “beginning, middle, end” is lacking a clear “end”? Can we still tell our stories? Can we still learn from and be inspired by such stories?

I would argue, yes.

For me, living with chronic health challenges that fluctuate, improve, regress and change, but never seem to have an end point, I’ve come to actually find those neat recovery stories irritating at best. I feel happy for the person who has achieved that measure of recovery, and glad that their journeys are able to inspire others, but on a personal level they can trigger feelings of failure, jealousy and resentment; they don’t reflect my own experience and that of many others I know.

I think that one of the problems is that for those of us who continue to struggle so significantly, we find it difficult to believe that our stories are worth telling. Maybe our successes over the years don’t feel big enough? Maybe our lack of a clear ending (or new beginning) has us feeling that our story is incomplete? Despite this, one thing I have learned from my own life and those of others around me is that regardless of what struggles are still had and challenges are still faced, the effort, the energy and the courage of those still struggling is no less of those who have overcome or recovered. It’s easy to feel as though we’ve done something wrong or just not tried hard enough (I mean, if we had, wouldn’t we, too, be telling a story of “triumph over”?) But I sit and reflect on the struggles, the courage, the daily slog, the never-giving-up, the constant falling down and getting up… and these stories without an ending are just as full of courage, triumph and personal success as those that look a little shinier. Merely surviving can be an awesome triumph. Creating a life worth fighting for in the face of such challenges (internal or external) is a feat to behold. Don’t undersell yourself and don’t undersell us.

Our stories may not feel as inspiring or hopeful, but they are definitely worth telling, and for those who can relate in some way, can often feel more inspiring in their “realness” than those that feel so distant. They can help encourage others to keep working to build a life they feel worth living, even when the difficulties, challenges, illness or disability are still present.

I wish for all to be able to completely “overcome” and have that nice neat bow to tie it up with. But more so, I wish everyone a life that is rich and meaningful enough to make enduring the toughest of roughest times worth the fight.

Your story is important. Your story still has the power to inspire. Your story is worth telling. Our story is worth listening to. You may not have a nice neat bow, but I’m sure if you look, you’ll be able to find countless specks of glitter.

Copyright, JohansenWords.com, 2016

It’s just an experiment

When so many things seem so scary

and fear has you paralyzed

in the world of “I can’t”,

how about an experiment?

Start with a table, four columns (nice and neat):

  1. Date (that’s easy)
  2. The thing you’re scared of doing (naming it is okay)
  3. Rating the fear of the task out of 10 (that can be tricky)
  4. Reflecting on how doing the scary thing actually went (eh?)

That’s right, four columns, but five points…

Pity you can’t just sit at your laptop and columnize the missing task (that would be too easy).

Nope, the missing task you have to choose to do so that you can come back and fill our column four.

With column four already made and waiting for you, you have a reason to do the missing task.

You are a researcher;

you are setting out to discover the reality of column two

(glasses and note pad at the ready!)

Some times something will end up being as scary or as difficult as you imagined.

Some times it will start off scary but then end up being fun or worthwhile.

Some times it will be scary and then fun or relaxing and then scary again.

Some times you will wonder why you were scared at all.

Whatever the outcome, if you make it back to fill out column four,

then you have real life evidence that you survived and maybe even evidence that it is something worth going through the hard stuff to do again.

May you conduct many experiments and discover more things worth being scared for than not. If anyone asks you what you do for a living, just tell them you’re a researcher.

 

Copyright, Johansenwords.com, 2016

 

Faith VS Hope

When you can’t find hope, choose to have faith.

Faith is belief in things not seen.

Hope may come later.

The Rubble

Where once a life stood

she sits among the rubble

scared to place one stone upon another

for fear they’ll fall (again).

She spots a daisy

that has worked its way through

and she marvels.

In her depleted state

she believes the stones will be too heavy;

that she wont be able to lift them,

to place them,

to risk their fall.

The sun radiates down,

casting a golden warmth

and she marvels.

Memories of great shelters

that once shaded.

Recollections of walls walked upon

that lifted her up high,

that let her see so far.

Laneways once skipped down,

the cobble stones still in place.

“Breathe,” she thinks.

“Believe,” she tells herself;

“I can create something new here.”

Small stones to build her strength,

daisies in her hair to remind her to have faith,

and the sun illuminating her efforts,

she picks up her first pebble.

 

Copyright, JohansenWords.com, 2016

 

 

 

 

Finding Meaning, Creating Meaning

I think it is part of the human experience to seek meaning in our existence. I think it is also a common experience for most of us to at some time in our lives question whether there is meaning in our existence and common also to  feel the overwhelming pain of the feeling of “meaninglessness.” Why seek meaning if you perceive none? Because it makes life a heck of a lot more livable.

People find their meanings in so many different places. For some, it comes packaged as part of religion or belief in something greater than the self and humanity. For others it comes from the contentedness of humanity itself. For some in the experience of pleasure, for some in work or parenting or in a commitment to serve others. For some meaning can be found in the blossoming of a flower at yet for others it is a constant a struggle to find a sense of it at all. Where we find out meaning can change from year to year or even day to day.

Meaning can be found or discovered and just as easily, it can be shattered or lost.

I also believe that meaning can be created.

At a time when I was in the the depths of darkness and struggling to find a reason to continue, a wise friend put to me that asking “why live?” (as sincerely seeking a reason as I was) was a moot question that would get me nowhere and suggested that instead I ask myself the question “what would a meaningful like look life?” There was no overnight miracle escape from the darkness but what did occur was a profound and positive shift in my attention. When I stopped asking “why live?” and focused my energy on asking “what would a meaningful life look like?” I started experimenting. I also started playing with the idea that if I couldn’t find meaning, then maybe I could create meaning.

I feel a bit like an investigator at the moment. I live my days the best I can, juggling struggles and joys, and all the while, I take notes. In years past, I used to write more about what was wrong, which is fine if it works as a constructive outlet, but for me became a cycle of negativity. Now I write notes and pieces about “what worked?”, “what made living a little easier today?”, “what helped me feel more connected?”, “what did I do that brought about that joy?”, “what was it I did that made riding out that rough wave possible?”

I write because in times of darkness or times of overwhelm, I forget. I forget that it is possible to ride out rough waves, I forget that joy is possible, I forget what I care about and I even forget who cares about me. I forget all of those things that make my life meaningful. Writing these notes for me doesn’t simply record moments of joy or techniques that aid in tough times, but also re-enforce the existence of them by providing tangible evidence; evidence that there are things that help in tough times and evidence that there are things in my life that are important to me. The evidence or tips contained in that journal serve to strengthen the knowledge at the time and also provides something that I can refer back to when I lose my way. It’s also one reason I’ve started writing here again.

The other day I lost my way. All I could see was the darkness and I felt terrified –  I couldn’t for the life of me remember how I found the light the last time, what I cared about or why or how I’d occupied myself in the easier weeks that had just passed. I knew that I’d done something though and something intentional because I’d been taking mental and physical notes. First I remembered that it was difficult and felt counter intuitive at the time. Second, I remembered it involved connecting with others and getting out of the house / changing my environment. Something inside told me that walking helped, too. I remembered walking. Eventually I remembered that going to the library at some point had been helpful (and free!). In the end I went against everything I felt like doing and left my house to walk o the library, calling a close friend to chat to on the way. Each of these things meant something to me: connection or community or friendship or health. Later that day, after the fact, a little light found its way in. Then, when other things became illuminated I took more tried and true steps and the darkness eased that little more; I could remember more of what I cared about. It was still a rough day but there were some easier moments and some brighter moments. Even more importantly, instead of taking action that would have increased the darkness, I moved just a little toward the light and toward a day that, for me, held meaning. The more the darkness eased, the more I was able to remember what helped previously and to act on that knowledge. The knowledge I have now isn’t the end of it though and the tools I use today might not be the tools I use tomorrow. The things that make one day feel meaningful to me at that time may be the same or different the next, but there are themes. Constantly, constantly, I try new things, search for more tools, find different ways to cope and grow and build things that are meaningful into my day to day existence… and when something helps or something works, I document it.

For me, my daily meaning is very tied in with my values. I do have a broader, overarching meaning in preventing undue suffering, which for those who care about me means my choosing to stick around on this planet. That, however, it is not enough to help me live each day well. To live each day well I need to be doing things that line up with my core vales: community, family, connectedness, sustainable living,  health, integrity, service.

Today the darkness was a little closer again and things felt a little precarious, so I wrote in reflection a few points of things that had already generated slivers of light and helped me make it as far as I had – things that I care about:

  • handwriting a postcard to my two year old niece (family, connectedness, communication),
  • feeling more energized (after) doing yoga (health),
  • the small feeling of accomplishment in experiencing progress in my flute playing (achievement),
  • looking forward to seeing a friend in the afternoon (inter-connectedness, friendship, community),
  • riding my bike to my friend’s place instead of driving (sustainable living, health).

Writing them helped me see them, remember them, feel them, and tuck them away for future reference. Writing them helped me acknowledge their existence.

Meaning doesn’t always come from the places we expect, or even the places we look. Some times, meaning comes from those things we don’t feel like doing at the time (the same with motivation). Some times the meaning and the meaningful life simply comes from the search itself.

Wherever it comes from for you, embrace it and remember it.

Whenever you are without it, remember that it can return, maybe from a different place than last time.

Whenever you are feeling without hope, know that the search (or better yet, creation) is worth it. When your mind asks you “why bother?” remind it that with meaning, wherever it comes from, life is SO much more do-able (even enjoyable).

Wherever you eventually find it, don’t forget to take notes – it may make it so much easier the next time.

And may peace be with you…

Johansen

 

 

 

 

Groundlessness

Rome has fallen,
nothing to grasp to.
Grow wings?
Scavenge for materials to build a platform?
There is nothing.
You fall.
Perpetually.
You just fall.
But if you are falling perpetually and
there is no ground,
is it falling?
To fall, you must be in a direction,
headed toward something.
If there is nothing to fall toward
then where are you?
What are you?
You are in a state of groundlessness.
THE most scary, frightening state
available. You cannot grasp.
There is nothing to hold to.
All anchors are illusions
and in this state… You see them for that.

So what does that leave you?

Only this moment.
Only. This. Moment.

Copyright, Johansenwords.com, 2016