Posts Tagged: personal growth

rounding on fifty and asking questions

I came across a bunch of thought provoking questions, which I thought would be great way to reflect via some blog posts during this week leading up to the aforementioned LANDMARK BIRTHDAY.  Some of the questions are “meaning of life” kinds of things, others get you probing who you are and what makes you do the things you do.  Some are very simple – although I do believe a simple and fast answer to a seemingly simple question can bring sometimes astounding and often deep answers. 

Mostly I just think it will be a fun way to check into who this gal has become as she rounds 50, and maybe (hopefully) illustrate some of the things I’ve actually learned over these 50 years. 

(I’m not going to tag you as one would do in your standard meme; but I would love to hear your answers to any of the questions – whether in the comments or on your own blogs.  If you're so inclined – tag yourself!)

 

What does love feel like?

Peaceful.

 

What made you smile this week?

  • Seeing the face of my niece as she carried my flaming birthday cake while everyone sang.  Nobody loves a birthday cake as much as Elaine and the various pictures of her smiling at her own birthday cakes over the course of her life are a testament to that.  If you saw Elaine’s birthday cake smile, you’d smile too.  (Elaine’s birthday cake smile – beautiful thing number 30.)
  • Seeing my bathroom scale register another notch below last time – even after the excesses of the pre-birthday party.  And I'm not just talkin' cake. 
  • The rapt look on the faces of some tiny kids sitting on the floor of a bookstore next to their dad as he read stories to them.  (A dad taking time out of a shopping trip to plunk himself down on the floor and read to his tiny kids – beautiful thing number 31.)
  • Hearing the voice of my cousin Ian over the telephone receiver.  (The familiar and not-heard-in-a-long-time voice of a loved one – beautiful thing number 32.)
  • Trying on the new nightie I had to buy because I’m sharing a hotel room with some family members this weekend and it wouldn’t do to sleep in the absence of bed clothes as I do at home.  Despite that my use for a nightie is limited to when not sleeping at home, or around the house after I’ve gotten up, I didn’t by the 40% off one as I was first inclined, instead I bought the gorgeously pretty one, the one that feels so soft and natural, and loved the minute I first saw it.  As I laid in bed this morning and admired the thing hanging on its hook, I smiled again, glad that I was able to buy myself this birthday present that was not the least bit practical but made me happy.  (My new nightie – even more beautiful for all its impracticalness – beautiful thing number 33.)

 

What are your favourite simple pleasures?

Hanging laundry on the line.  Clean sheets.  Open windows.  That first sip of coffee.  Walking.  The smell of dirt in spring.  Rainy days.  Lilacs. The smell of the woods.  Barbeques.

 

What is your fondest memory from the past three years?

It has to be this party.

 

What book has had the greatest influence on your life?

If I had to narrow it down to one, I think it would be The Secret Garden.  Certainly the first time I encountered that story I wouldn’t have known of the lessons inherent in it:  that in the natural world one finds healing and true meaning in our existence; and that nurturing things/people outside yourself brings is what brings true happiness and fulfillment; and that beauty invites spiritual awareness and growth. 

But now, having read that story a number of times over my lifetime, it's clear that my perspective and understanding of all these things is a major force in how I view the world, and how take meaning from my life and what’s happened in it.  Occasionally, in my denseness, I need to re-visit these lessons – but they are lessons that I know deep within me.  That story, The Secret Garden, beautiful thing number 34.

 

I'm finding beauty, are you?

contentment wears a secret smile

Yesterday I walked around carrying a secret smile, feeling content and happy as I rode to and from work and contemplating an evening with old friends who are in town from back home, and my girls.  As I rode on the subway to meet everyone at our friends’ hotel, I got thinking about the idea of contentment, and how it relates to “happy.”  Does the presence of the former always result in the latter?  Because goodness knows “content” isn’t a term I’d use to describe myself; I’ve never been particularly content.  But I have been happy for substantial chunks of my life. 

Leaving my hometown and coming to this city was a product of that perpetual discontentment, but leaving behind certain people and certain familiarities was the painful part of that decision.  Leaving was something I had to do in striving for my own happiness, but it didn’t come without consequence, psychologically and financially.  But as I have been reminded each time I return there, the love of my people remains steadfast, and maybe that has, in its gentle way, helped me to find my ground here.  I still get asked if I will come home, but they all understand why I am here.

They know that in some ways, DIScontentment makes me happy.  I have this fear of becoming stagnant; of living a life of never changing, never growing.  I don’t suppose all the moving around I’ve done is necessarily akin to growth and change – I know many people who have lived in a place all their lives and have evolved and grown in all kinds of beautiful ways.  But there is this constant yearning to “move on” within, and maybe my physical moving around is a misguided manifestation of that.  Happiness is often associated as the end product of the striving – when we all know it’s the striving itself that really causes happiness; the small, sometimes methodical steps; the actions.

Last year, in an attempt to live the notion that ‘happiness is the journey not the destination’ I turfed the quest of finding “home” in this new city and left it up to “home” to find me.  I had some journeying to do in the meantime.  It was the right decision.  I still consider my current home as a “temporary place to hang my hat” but it doesn’t matter anymore.  The discontentment has been sent back to where it belongs – in my mind – no longer directed at the walls and streets around me. 

Maybe my feeling of contentment yesterday was because the “twain met.”  The comfort of the love and history and fellowship from back home lived together in the realm of the discontented soul, gently tugging it back from the journey for a bit of a breather. 

And I was still wearing that secret smile when I walked home at the end of the evening and went to bed.

Mona_Lisa 

This is a Magpie Tale.  To find wonderful weekly visual prompts and links to what they've inspired in many writers and poets, visit here.

setting up home

Saturday morning I had a hard time waking up – it was like my dream state had taken over, and wasn't about to let me achieve wakefulness until the dreaming had carried out its course.  I dreamed that I had a new home – a cavernous place with long winding hallways and secret rooms, some yet undiscovered.  When I was first looking around this place I didn't seem to be aware, or had forgotten it was mine – until I noticed a few of my things (from real life) on the shelves in in the kitchen.  Those who had helped me get there were now gone and I was alone.

"Oh ya! This is my home!" and I danced like a fool around the hallways, finding forgotten corners and undiscovered rooms.

It was one of those emotionally satisfying dreams, that kind that makes you reluctant to wake up.  When I finally did and was moving about to make coffee and get dressed, I hung on to the vividness of the images and emotions for awhile. 

It didn't occur to me until yesterday to look up the symbolism of "home" or "house" in a dream.  It most often represents "the self."

This was really good news in my mind; I'm thinking that some efforts I've been making to make some internal changes – not those traditional "New Years" resolution type changes – but those related to self perception, and self expression, and relating, and welcoming.  Having this dream doesn't necessarily mean I've accomplished these things – but it indicates to me that my subconsciousness is ready for it – is, perhaps, already there and setting up a new house.

it’s 2011 and I’m glad you’re here

The other day my friend Lynn posed the question to her facebook people:  “what one word describes your 2010?”  My experience in expressive arts tells me that the only way to answer such a question is to answer it quickly.  If you respond quickly and think about it later, you can open the door to some unexpected personal insight. 

I answered with “New.”

I think it was a good word.  In 2010 I changed strategies in a number of realms.  Early in the year I re-vamped my blog and moved it to a platform that I think better reflects the spirit behind the writing.  In turn, I started photographing more and began to pull together some shots that have further captured the theme I’m going for.  I spent a good part of last winter documenting my ideas of “beauty” and the sources of it around me in my daily travels.  I was rewarded, again, to find how one step leads to another – and these steps led me straight out of a funk – personal as well as creative. 

Later in the year it occurred to me to stop looking for “home” and just to live in a fun spot and let home come to me.  I get all over my writing students for resorting to clichés, but it’s a lesson I seem to learn over and over again: get out of the past and the future and get living in the moment.  THAT’s when the change happens – not when I'm thinking about it, mourning it, planning it, hoping for it, wishing for it. 

Still later in the year, pretty recently, I decided to revamp me.  I vowed I would try more, trust more, BE more and stay devoted to reflecting the authentic me.  I carried that focus on authenticity around with me as I shopped, in the books I chose, friends I found, and in the ways I approached my jobs and free time endeavours.  I knew that the most important part of this personal revamp was to drop some walls – particularly because it also included the return to the pursuit of romantic love.  I explored the opening of some chakras and worked at smiling at strangers more often and (sorry another cliché) being the change I want to see.  Again with the small steps leading me in directions I never imagined.

So the end of the year arrived, and some wonderful surprises have presented themselves.  For different reasons, I’m not writing about them yet.  But I can say that I have more than one reason to step forward into 2011 anticipating much more NEW.  And I’m filled with optimism and hope that some kind of ball is rolling and that you’ll join me in its path.

It’s day one of a new year.  I don't know what the word will be for 2011 – but it doesn't matter.  I'm sticking in the now and rolling with the rhythms.  I do know that I'm really glad you're here to discover it all along with me. 

Knocked Upside the Head by Beauty

I can find beauty in the seediest parts of any city.  Beauty is easy to find if, if you believe as I do that it has many more layers than that which sits on the surface of a thing or a person.

But then there is the kind of beauty that transforms you, the kind the Romantics explored.  I’ve experienced this kind of transformative beauty a number of times in my life, and it’s always the product of me encountering some work of art or some aspect of the natural world.  I valued beauty even as a kid, and that’s probably why I found such power in studying Romantic literature in university.  When I found these poets writing of sublime experiences in encountering beauty, I got it, because I’d been there. 

I was about sixteen when I sat in an art history lesson and saw slides of Michelangelo’s Pieta.  It was the first seed of an idea that I’m now certain of: that great artists channel a source that moves beyond the confines of human understanding.  I experienced a similar conviction about witnessing the transcendent when I studied John Keats and his achievements during his short stay on this planet. 

Encountering divine splashes in nature has had even more startling impact on my sensibilities.  A northern Ontario forest floor carpeted with trillium; the ancient rocks on the shore of the Manitoulin Island; great masses of bluebells covering the rolling, lusty landscape of mid-Wales; farm fields of yellow mustard radiating a colour you wouldn’t believe existed if you didn’t see it with your own eyes. 

The most arresting encounter with the sublime in nature was in a forest next to a monastery and retreat I visited in Finland over the Orthodox Easter weekend some years ago.  Saturday church services ran all night, and most of the visitors to the retreat had attended.  I awoke with the sun, feeling some regret that I didn’t attend any of the services, feeling shy and out of place in my Presbyterian upbringing and largely secular sensibility.  When I walked outside Sunday morning I felt very alone – everything on the compound was closed up tight; everyone was asleep but me.  So I went for a walk.

I headed into the woods adjacent to the monastery grounds.  Not far in, I was stopped short by the sight ahead of me.  The sun was spilling its pale, shimmering ribbons through the dark contrast of the trees, landing in golds and pinks on the snowy forest floor.  The picture was so stunningly beautiful I cried, knowing for certain I was being presented with a divine gift.  I wondered for a moment if I’d stumbled onto heaven. 

Perhaps some would say it’s simply a way of feeling, of exploring sensibility and one’s ability to pay attention to the experience of encountering magnificence.  I am not a religious person, though I have experienced transformative moments of beauty in churches.  I suppose I find more certainty in the tangible, finding the divine in great artistic accomplishments and the spontaneous magic in nature rather than through any strictures of organized worship or scientific rationalizations. 

For me, these spontaneous experiences and the subsequent emotion and inspiration that result are the most convincing evidence that we are living in a magical world.  Really, you couldn’t convince me otherwise.

 

And he, with many feelings, many thoughts,
Made up a meditative joy, and found
Religious meaning in the forms of Nature!
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Fears in Solitude

 

Story Copyright © Jennifer Morrison 2010

feel the waves

 

“There’s no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves”
~ Frank Herbert

I've had a couple of conversations with people lately about a yearning I'm feeling this summer – that some sort of change is wanting in me.  I'm not exactly sure what that is, I need to get with a journal and paints and do some serious reflection about what the hell it is that I want.

I've been here before – and it was summer then too.  Maybe it's just a desire to hang on to the summer, or to engender in me the feeling of peace and "slowing down" that comes with it.  It's summer, but there's peace missing.

Something's off balance.  It's not a particulary bad feeling – if one weren't up for changing or growing or enhancing, life would seem pretty dead-end, wouldn't it?  Or maybe that's just the ever restless me.  I don't feel balanced unless I'm moving, otherwise some sort of vertigo sets in.

Face forward, that's my strategy.  If you're always looking down you might miss the signs.

Bike ride 10
Bike ride 10
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Bike ride 10
Bike ride 10
Bike ride 10 

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."
 ~Albert Einstein

crazy wild and steady

I’ve had a remarkable week.  I’m not new to these expressive arts classes.  But I am new to the level and intensity my “expressions” have reached this time out. 

Expressive arts is a practice or activity whereby one uses artistic materials and tools from the entire spectrum of the arts, such as words, images, sculpture, dance, song, music, poetry or drama to express ideas.  Expressive arts can simply be fun, sometimes personally illuminating activities for people; or with a trained expert such as a therapist, they can be used to promote growth or healing.  In this program I’m in, we approach it from the recreational level, but that doesn’t mean some real big things don’t happen.  Art is, without a doubt, a powerful explorative tool. 

In the classes I’ve taken, people have come to all sorts of emotional and cognitive awareness.  Me – I’m in it for a way to enhance my creative writing teaching skills, to come to a greater personal awareness and understanding and to grow, to become freer in my expression, and to simply have fun exercising some creative inclinations.

Usually in these classes, I’m a steady one.  That’s because I’m generally pretty steady.  I have my demons and skeletons, but I’m really don’t have a need to exercise them in a class like this.  I do lots of internal work when I’m here, but I tend to take it, and the ideas I’ve generated and uncovered, home with me to process and work out privately or with people I’m close to.
 
And that’s okay – it doesn’t make the experience any less meaningful if you don’t have earth shattering revelations.  On the other hand, it would do me loads of good, I think, to live more of this stuff out loud, but I think if there’s going to be a giant regurgitation and letting go every piece-of-crap-and-burdensome-weight-and screwedupness – it should probably happen in a therapist’s office.  And that, frankly, scares the shit out of me.
 
This year though – I have become aware of some real changes in me.  I can dance and move with pure abandon.  I can grab an instrument and play it loud to my own music.  And the other day, I became totally and completely engulfed in a poster-sized drawing.  The strong, dark strokes energised me and moved me forward.  I stood at a table and went after the drawing as if it were the only thing that existed in that moment.  I was determined to finish it and yet I still have no idea what it is that will complete it.  It's still calling me to finish it.

I rarely draw.  I often make dolls, or mandalas.  Often I collage.  I have not made a drawing as a form of expressive art in years, and even then, they were the least meaningful to me. 

Don’t ask me what it means.  I don’t know.  I need some time alone with it. 

But I can say, that to be so lost within a work, so focused on an image creating itself under my hand, was pretty bloody astonishing.  And to think I always thought I knew what was up there in my head.

2010_0729June2-20100033

a magpie question: what’s your story?

This is a response to Willow's latest Magpie Tales visual creative writing prompt.  Visit Magpie Tales and find all kinds of wonderful writers and poets and their takes on the prompt and giving hearty support to each others' creative efforts.  Give it a try! A creative challenge is good for you!

 Magpiepencils 
"Some may think that to affirm dialogue–the encounter of women and men in the world in order to transform the world–is naively and subjectively idealistic. There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans."  ~Paulo Freire

Once, when I was a teenager, I was away from home for a weekend with my family, and my [now former] stepfather kept repeating statements like “Jen is always so grouchy when she wakes up, ”or “ good MORNING grumpy!”  It was when he started to mock my “miserable” face I thought, how do you EXPECT me to feel?  I didn’t recall ever being grumpy or monstrous when I woke up in mornings, except, maybe, when my sister was hogging the shower and I was late for school.  What made me grumpy and irritated was being told over and over again that I was miserable.  And if I was miserable, I can assure you, it had nothing to do with the process of waking up; it was about someone else creating what I felt was an unfair and inaccurate picture of me and me feeling helpless to change it.

We understand our world through stories.  Family stories, history books, religious parables, pop songs, news reports, art, employee manuals, report cards, mathematical theories, police reports, gossip, family photo albums, fashions, magazine ads… a mosaic of stories creates the backdrop to our perceptions and helps to form the way we see things.  It’s up to you to decide if these things represent the reality of your experience.  And if they don’t – it’s up to you to tell your story in a way that does. 

When I was in university, I analysed lots of media.  I intensively read papers and watched news shows and movies and deconstructed and compared and scrutinized and examined and questioned, and to my naturally critical and questioning mind I was in my glory.  But more and more I was shocked to find the stories that were being used to define my community, my gender, my nation and my own role in my family were not how I was experiencing them myself. 

During that time a new provincial government came in that lowered taxes by way of reducing welfare benefits and education funding and punching other holes in the social safety net. 

This government knew the power of a story.  Suddenly, there were attacks on certain groups in the media, such as, coincidentally, teachers and single mothers.  I can tell you, this single mother did not enjoy being stereotyped as a lazy, beer swilling, cigarette smoking couch potato on welfare who fed her kids pancakes for dinner every night because didn’t know how to manage her grocery dollar.  One notorious politician of the day graciously gave welfare mothers tips on how to stretch their reduced budget by buying dented cans of tuna and day old bread.  Lots of people bought the stories these politicians were telling.  Lots of us didn’t. 

Whenever I speak with someone who is considering telling a personal story of any kind, I feel like something important is happening.  Because I believe that when a person tells her own story, she is taking ownership of it – she is claiming her history.  I believe that when someone tells his story, he is empowered to think critically about his place within his family, community, society, world.  And when a person is empowered, opportunities for change arise, both personally and socially.

Maybe a group can alter the history represented in a text book, or a politician can take advantage of stereotypes to create a new community understanding, or a family member can try to paint a picture of you.  But not one of them can change your story if you tell it.  It’s up to you to determine how you fit into the grand march of history.  

“Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen”. 
~From Pretty Boy Floyd, Woody Guthrie

everything flows, nothing stands still*

So I made peace with his landlordship.  No, we didn’t discuss the Matter of the Windows or his Jacking Up the Furnace Policy.  Let’s just say we both know it’s an issue that would remain unresolved for as long as I chose to live there.  He did say he’s thinking of building a deck for the upper apartment, so perhaps that’s his acknowledgement of most peoples’ need for fresh air and an enjoyment of summer.  He probably thinks that the next tenant’s utilisation of a deck space will eliminate any need to open windows – but that’s a discussion I’m not going to need to have ever again.

At any rate, the exchange was friendly and generous on both sides, and I’m glad to be leaving him on good terms.  He expressed sadness that I’m going, and I understand that.  It’s not about the money for him; it’s about the comfort of having another body moving about in the big house.  And it’s hard to find a good tenant, particularly when one is inclined to make much ado over small things.  I’m glad to be leaving his control issues and mind games.  I’m sad to be leaving behind the friendly, slightly cheeky man who gave me some prints of his bird paintings, which I’ll hang in my new home in honour of his good qualities, and because they’re lovely.  

I get possession of my new digs tomorrow and the official move is Monday.  I hope to use the weekend to get the cupboard and closet stuff in place, and thus ease SOME of the unpacking pain.

But then I never find moving painful.  Well, leaving Windsor and the place I lived my entire life was painful.  More bittersweet:  moving closer to my family, but leaving my friends; becoming a homeless empty nester, but embarking on a month-long adventure to find love across the ocean in a country I’d never been to before.  I couldn’t have known then that it would take years to overcome that shock to my system, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’ve always loved change – I crave it sometimes.  I suspect that now I’m that empty-nester I’m a little too free to run after change any time the whim takes me.  I won’t even begin to discuss my thoughts on where this has left me in the love and relationship department.  Maybe I should be like my favourite bloggers – refreshingly honest and personally forthright – and lay that out on the table.  Maybe in doing that I could affect some internal change in an area that could really stand some improvement. 

But not today.  I’m too jazzed about the move.  It’ll be the fourth neighbourhood I’ve tried in Toronto since 2006.  It’ll be different than any type of home or neighbourhood I’ve ever lived.  Because in making this decision, I thought that it was time to let go of some ideas about re-creating that kind of neighbourhood and HOME that I had when my girls were growing up.  After all, everything’s different now.  I AM alone and I CAN follow these yearnings and go where the wind takes me.  I truly believe in following the rhythms of the universe, and I’m looking forward to discovering where the path takes me.

As of Monday, everything will be new again.  With wide open windows.

Change is the only constant. *~Heraclitus