Happiness of the Heart

by Mary Cook, MA, Psychology 
Addictions Treatment Counselor
(Contributing Writer)

Photo Terrance ChangePhoto: Terence Chang


True happiness comes from the heart, not the mind.

Our mind typically judges, compares, and places conditions on happiness, pointing out what’s wrong or missing even in the best of circumstances. In the midst of a wondrous experience, for example, the mind may remind us that a certain person is not present to share the wonder, and thus happiness is diminished. Yet the mind tells us that when we receive abundant gratification of a desire, we’ll be happy. It might be success, sex, money, power, leisure time, a partner, alcohol, food, or other drugs.

When we’re chasing after happiness, we’re also running away from problems, trauma, shame, loss, and pain. And the mind tells us that these troubles will continue or reoccur at any moment.

So we’d better capture and control the objects of our happiness. Addictions and compulsions are practiced with the intent to distract us from pain and stress and artificially induce euphoria or relief. This keeps the false self dominant rather than the spiritual self. This separation from an active conscious relationship with our Higher Power means that no amount of anything we desire can lead to true happiness, for we have disconnected from the source of pure love, truth, and joy. Only unhappiness comes from this illusion of separation. Fear and attempts to control and possess what we desire, removes the very possibility of happiness.

Real happiness is not dependent upon anything. It is our true nature.

We can see it in young children before we teach them otherwise. They amuse and entertain themselves. They are sensitive and empathic. They love without fear, biases, and prejudices. They experience joy watching a caterpillar, looking at ribbons of light coming through the trees, playing with dad’s fingers, babbling to mom, and jumping up and down. Young children can experience more happiness from a box than the gift within it. A box after all, can be a hat, a boat, a drum, or a house.

Young children can remind us of what we have forgotten.

Happiness is right now, it’s free, it’s within us, it gives and shares, it’s outside of time, space, distance, and conditions. It’s creative, uplifting, and contagious. Having a sense of lightness, playfulness and humor about ourselves and life, contributes to heartfelt happiness and reconnects us to our true selves, others and life. It also gives us resilience, adaptability, hope, courage, and strength in times of trouble.

Happiness arises from relaxing and surrendering mental focus, and allowing our hearts to open and expand for no reason.

In this place we can remember that we were created whole and holy and that we are interconnected with all of life. Correct bowing places the heart higher than the head. Rather than our minds’ aspirations, it is humility and faith that leads us to our highest happiness. Feeling united with a healthy, loving Higher Power allows us to experience the power within our heart. A bedridden patient in pain can forget his suffering when a beloved child visits. All of a sudden we’re not sick when someone needs us. An arthritic man, unable to move, can lose all symptoms of disease when playing the piano because of his happiness in doing so. A petite, frail mother can lift heavy objects off her child to save her in an accident. Spontaneous acts of heroism, altruism, and love spring from the heart, whereas the mind would say this is impossible or problematic.

Allowing our attention to be in the present moment appreciating what exists right now, counting our blessings, being in loving service, enjoying nature, music, art, people, animals, and seeing beauty around us, is happiness.

We can have a daily practice of identifying and surrendering to our Higher Power our small minded selfishness, harmfulness, willfulness and defensiveness, and ask for divine will to work through us. We can hold compassionate space for suffering and painful emotions to be expressed and released. We can begin this process by feeling compassion for ourselves and loved ones. We can accept our ignorance and transgressions, and honor our desire for redemption and transformation. Then we can practice feeling compassion and acceptance for strangers and for those who are harmful in the world, believing that goodness exists in the soul despite human expression. In most situations as adults, safe boundaries, straightforward assertiveness, and healthy behaviors on our part suffice to protect us from those who might harm us. Forgiveness is an emotion of the heart that releases trapped toxic energies within us, creating greater space for serenity, freedom, and joy. This is a rejuvenating practice and additionally helpful in placing more positive energy into the world.

It is vital to demonstrate principles that reinforce our spiritual nature, and to strengthen our faith when we are feeling lost and confused.

We experience an even higher level and depth of happiness when we’re able to identify what goodness and joy exists in difficult circumstances, what opportunities for growth, character development, unselfish demonstrations of love, spiritual evolution and unity with the God of our understanding are present in trials and tribulations.

Long ago I visited a poor village and asked the elder if he was happy with his life. He replied that yes, he was very happy. In some years, he explained, there is abundant food and no children die. And so we sing, dance and rejoice. In other years there is not enough to eat, and sickness and death visit us. In those years our love expands, we become closer and give our hearts to one another, for that is all we have. So, yes, we are very happy all the time. This village elder was abundantly rich with happiness of the heart, and this is a magnificent model for all of us.

 


Mary Cook  is the author of “Grace Lost and Found: From Addictions and Compulsions to Satisfaction and Serenity”  She has a Master’s degree in psychology and is a certified addictions treatment counselor in private practice in Los Angeles, California. She has 42 years of clinical and teaching experience.

Visit Mary Cook’s website for more articles or go to Amazon to purchase her book.

 

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Dream Catching to Love This Life!

by Catherine DeAngelis

 

tap-into-your-gifts

“Only in quietness do we possess our own minds
and discover the resources of the Inner Life.”
Helen Keller
(To Love this Life)

As young as we are that time of our life unfolding when we first jot down words in our diaries that we keep hidden but are open secrets to parents, siblings and friends, Add the pencil sketches, clay sculptures or carpentry projects and that awkward case with the trombone we carry from school to home. Angst and joy from taking piano or ballet lessons and fear of face-off during the weekly play at ice-hockey games.

Childhood motivators are imprints on our minds meant to stand the test of time. A means of self-expression that get transmitted through us to give us the confidence to perform and facilitate what we occasionally catch a glimpse of, in the way we communicate and in the way we do work and play in our adult life today.

Some of us let these early to late teen years easily formulate our ease in self-expression. While for most of us we let those times stay dormant except for occasional friendly chats looking back when we say, wish I could do it all over again or wish I had done that – we think it’s too late now.

Learning to Speak Out Loud 

Leap forward from a decade, two or more or so ago, to here and now. think how the thought of childhood motivators were the very backdrop of what gave us our own method of “speaking out loud” — when words didn’t cut it! And so we moved toward making job and career choices or overall life decisions sometimes asking ourselves how did we get here or why didn’t we give ourselves time to think about what it was we wanted back then.

At any age from where we left off the achievement we longed for and the aspiration we name now as a dream past — what if we were to nudge ourselves awake to that part within us and rewrite the script and found a way to do what we always wanted to do? What would we plot or renew that truly fired us up then?

We know who we are in present day from visiting days when we reflected upon what it was we wanted to do in life. Among our fathers, mothers or for many who didn’t get the support or encouragement – we had our teachers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, or muses who showed us something about ourselves that was unique and we could embellish it.

Past dreams, some might say, heck, who has time to dream. If we were to ask ourselves, albeit, stopping for a moment to say, where are my dreams, how am I visiting them or have I given up truly on ever reaching them?

Bottling Up or Opening Up Emotions 

What is that song we strummed to on the guitar that brought us to a place of tenderness and understanding of seeing the world in a gentler light than what may have been our obstacles during those tumultuous or happy years of our youth.

Our “Emotions Matter” reports Helpguide.org, Our experience of emotional intelligence is a personal connection. We are all born with a capacity to freely experience the full range of human emotions—including joy, anger, sadness, and fear. Yet many people are disconnected from some or all feelings. By trying to avoid pain and discomfort, emotions become distorted, displaced, and stifled. People lose touch with emotions when we attempt to control them, rather than experience them.

Something happened to us and we question did we lose hold of who we are – our personality – our sense of understanding our emotions, in the deeper sense, anesthetized ourselves, numb ourselves to it all to avoid the pain of coming of youth, adolescent and adulthood.

Dreams back then could have been a wild fancy a hope for something to work toward in future. We captured images in our minds and had ideas, emotions, and even felt sensations from the things we got excited about that brought us some gratification.  It is unlike the experience of a dream in sleep or a daydream for that matter to conceive or imagine – it is more than passing time idly in a state of reverie.

Reinventing Ourselves

GeniusWe can start using some imagination and creativity and learning to ask questions and retry something that wasn’t turning out to be reliable in the old way by discovering something in a new way. Remember to pull from our vast know-how skills, abilities and creative juices to get to a comfortable plateau. Once getting used to this place, launching off from what we’ve now learned sticks with us and reworking the formula – as we go along – we’ll find we are mastering the reinvention of us.

It takes patience to reinvent one’s self and that compassion we may give so easily to others is a personal must to give to ourselves during this time of transformation and transitioning to a new way of being. It’s okay to feel uneasy – and building e.g. safety networks, community or spirituality are only some things to think about adding to the list for keeping focused, optimistic and going strong.

Rewriting the Script – Using Tools Best for Us

What tools do you use to express yourself or to use your imagination – remembering possibilities are infinite?

  1. pen
  2. pencil
  3. paintbrush
  4. camera
  5. paint
  6. sketching
  7. music
  8. writing
  9. mathematics/mechanics
  10. speaking
  11. dancing
  12. crafting
  13. building
  14. sewing
  15. cooking
  16. metal (all materials)
  17. Other ____________________

Which number related best to you?

Creativity and Imagination

We are surrounded by a world of creative people; finding our imagination to link that prospect of knowing ourselves and the genius waiting to be discovered or not is there for all of us. Our imagination is capable of conjuring a thought-provoking product coming from our own mind’s eye.

Imagination is our ability to form ideas or images in our mind and the ability of our mind to be creative and solve problems. This means then we all have imagination, we use it in our every day life.

Many words are associated with imagination, such as artistry, creativity, fancy, ingenuity, insight, inspiration, inventiveness, informal mind’s eye, originality, enterprise, resourcefulness, sensitivity, thought, and vision.  Other related forms are image, imager, imagery, mental imagery, imaginable, imaginary, imaginative, imaginativeness, imagine, imaginings.

Dreaming Wakefully – Make it An Ideal Day!  

ImaginingAuthor and speaker, Barbara Sher in her book “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want” gives us a reference point to easily move us through to weave dreaming catching into our lives. Sher refers to it “Your Ideal Day.”

Many  people might think winning a lottery would be an ideal day, but Sher brings us to a different kind of personal reservoir. She takes us through the hours of our day and gets us to imagine what, where and who to keep in mind while we think about what a fantasy day would be like for us. Try Sher’s lessons  and create an ideal day.

EXERCISE 9: Your Ideal Day

With pen in hand and as much paper as you need (or a tape recorder if you prefer to dream out loud), take a leisurely walk through a day that would be perfect if it represented your usual days—not a vacation day, not a compromise day, but the very substance of your life as you’d love it to be. Live through that day in the present tense and in detail, from getting up in the morning to going to sleep at night. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? What do you have for breakfast? Do you make it yourself—or is it brought to you in bed, with a single rose and the morning paper? Do you take a long, hot bath? a bracing cold shower? What kinds of clothes do you put on?

How do you spend the morning? The afternoon? At each time of day, are you indoors or outdoors, quiet or active, alone or with people?

As you go through the hours of your fantasy day, there are three helpful categories to keep in mind: what, where, and who.

What are you doing—what kind of work, what kind of play? Imagine yourself at the full stretch of your capacities. If you’d like to sing or sail, and you don’t know how, in this fantasy you do know how.

Where—in what kind of place, space, situation? A London flat, an Oregon farm, a fully equipped workshop, an elegant hotel room, a houseboat?

Who do you work with, eat with, laugh and talk with, sleep with? You will undoubtedly want to write some of your favorite real people into your fantasy; you might also want to include some types of people you’d like to be surrounded by—writers, musicians, children, people your own age, people of all different ages, athletes, Frenchmen, financiers, simple country people, celebrities.

What about you? How do you envision your ideal day? How close are you to achieving it? What is one thing you can do today to get you closer to your ideal life? Maybe you’d like to explore further and look at other Barbara Sher books: I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It.

For the Sake of Our Health 

For most of us, our body is fitted with five amazing senses. How many senses are there? Some say five. Some genetic scientists describe six (touch, hear, balance, see, taste, and smell) or others say 10, 12, even 20 or more senses around sensory systems, like light and motion.

Our senses work together to help us make sense of the world around us. As truly amazing as these are, we also have our emotions and how we respond to things. Awareness is key in all things we care about as human beings.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Imagination is not a talent of some people, but is the health of every person.”  Find time during a lunch break, a Sunday afternoon. Take a brisk walk to a coffee shop nearby, bring along a sketchbook, a journal, a camera. Perhaps you can spend an evening or two, a simple assigned 20 minutes to give yourself some dream catching mind space. There is no cost! The value this gives us is immeasurable. We find our imagination and creativity are limitless.

Of all the various components we can describe think how this maintains a healthy mental and emotional state and personal awareness – giving ourselves permission to rewrite or reinvent our life’s script . Taking a few quiet moments to dream is vital as it is to waking and sleeping or eating and drinking each day we are alive.

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*article revised

 Life Coaching Session

In Curiosity of Grief

by Catherine DeAngelis
InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pueblo Blessing
*Nancy Wood

Hold on to what is good
Even if it is a handful of earth
Hold on to what you believe
Even if it is a tree that stands by itself
Hold on to what you must do
Even if it is a long way from here
Hold on to life
Even if it is easier to let go
Hold on to my hand
Even if I have gone away from you.

Grief is a complex matter bringing us deep sorrow; above all, when caused by the death of someone we know and love. It comes to us suddenly, accidentally, traumatically, tragically and sometimes expectantly or prematurely. We learn as part of our natural life we will undergo grief of different kinds then that related to a physical death. Respectively, a loss is a cause of emotional inner conflict while coming to terms with someone or something we love or attached to taken away from us. The bereavement occurs and we mourn as we begin the getting through toward our healing.

As we age, at some point, we will realize it is inherent we all die. As sharp as this might sound, what a part of life to grasp no matter how much we are aware and vibrantly we live. At this bend, it is where we innately pick up as we go and carry on with grief. It will present itself to us no matter how much we protect ourselves. More, it is here where we do not isolate. We open up, encircled by a community coming together in this time of discord. Now it is at this place, we can believe it is possible our suffering will lessen and we will carry on.

Teenage girl praying outdoors at twilight. Shallow DOF.

Looking for comfort during time of grief is personal for each of us from a child, older youth to adult, seniors and vulnerable seniors. We need the coping skills to endure. We may find ourselves suddenly called upon to serve as a guide or a mentor to the young or old during this time of discomfort.

Grief is a word synonymous with many emotions: anger, sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony, torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, dejection, despair and from mourning, mournfulness to lamentation and more. To help make sense of it, we may describe it as an emotional reaction to the loss, compared to bereavement, which is an emotional event, and mourning is the process toward healing.  During these times, the lead emotion we most feel is anger.

Anger is a legitimate and a normal healthy emotion that comes to alert us we have an inner conflict to manage and decide if we need some backing to help us gain a footing during these days.  Open to Hope Foundation® is a non-profit foundation with its mission for helping people find hope after loss and offer a free webinar on understanding anger.

A death of loved one of the most traumatizing is when someone takes his or her own life. For surviving family members and friends, it is not easy to accept this suicide. A sense of anger and deep shame transpires. Along with this, family members may feel guilt and blame themselves, or covertly made to feel liable for being unaware of the signs that led to the taking of one’s own life. The subject of suicide is taboo in many cultures. Religiously and publicly unacknowledged, honestly making the cause of death of the loved one unknown. Families needing solace instead feel shame during their grieving and bereavement and familial mourning occurs in isolation.

When we have experienced grief, we are better able not to be overcome by it as we allow ourselves to continue with the bereavement and accept the time of mourning. As we become the bereaved, we inevitably face sadness. Sadness is the unhappiness we feel around this time of grief and the emotion in which we express our sorrow over the loss.

InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotionsSadMan

Grief of Another Kind

During our lifetime, we suffer losses that have nothing to do with death as we more commonly know it, and yet find it hard to cope due to situations that challenge us and to give us pain. We are unable to explain what is happening to us, but we are hurting. If it is hard to explain, our emotions are likely reminding us we are upset due to what is going on in our life to create a huge shift from our normal routine.

When no one died, we are alive, but human as we are there are reasons we might have for grief due to losses of another kind:

  • Life-changing or life-threatening illness
  • Loss of a healthy childhood
  • Aging/retirement
  • Children going off to college
  • Move to another country/refugee status
  • Divorce/loss of in-laws, familiar friends and home
  • Friends distancing, breaking up, arguing, or outgrown one another
  • Loss of spiritual connection, life objective or dream that didn’t shape up to what we had hoped
  • Developing a disability
  • Financial loss
  • Job loss/fired/career transitions
  • Loss of a beloved pet-companion

Grief, Bereavement and Mourning

While the terms grief and bereavement are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to loss. Grief is a natural response to loss and with it comes various stages. Whatever time is given to the process of bereavement can vary on how close we are to the person who died, and if the death was an anticipated loss.

Additionally, mourning is by way of how we adapt and cope with the loss. Many cultural customs, rituals, and even society’s rule commands how our mourning is influenced. When a death takes place, we want to express our needs. We accept words of condolences as support at a time when life appears to us confusing and fragmented we feel emotionally numb and out-of-place unknowingly, while we contend with the reality we are grieving a loss.

Vulnerability is an emotion during this time that makes its presence known in us. It is vital we are honest as much as it is possible even if it is not easy to understand. We are struggling with what in unknown to us, about how we feel, our fears, what we need or even how to go about asking for what it is we do need. Instead, we center on barely coping and stave off unhealthy habits we think soothe the unexplainable pain we are feeling. Sudden addictions may arise such as emotional eating or bingeing, added use of prescription medicine, alcohol or gambling. These dependencies are emotional fixes for a while, however to postpone the inevitable, emotional pain may likely appear again in the distant future due to unresolved grief from a past loss. Grief counsellors or support groups or both will benefit us at this time.

Hand ReachingHow can we give all that we have and move through with our basic living?

  • We will cope day-by-day with the belief time will heal – we can accept things will be rough for a while.
  • We will eventually feel better — might not be today, tomorrow, but soon.
  • We reach for backing to aid us with the unfamiliar ground we stand on until we feel it is doable to live through this and accept the personal changes that comes with it.
  • We work hard every day to look after ourselves.
  • We may resist and be unrealistic by doing too much or think we are able to do as much as we used to before the loss.
  • We will find time difficult and need to give ourselves the pause needed from the usual activities so we may gain momentum of living with a another kind of memory.
  • We promise we will not go it alone, we will reach out and seek comfort in the people we know we be there for us.

The Stages and Phases 

Many grief theorists who have studied grief presented either similar, comparative or opposing views on the stages and phases of what we may go through during our grieving.  Erich Lindemann is a psychiatrist who in the late 40s developed his grief theory developing a grief work model. From the model he surmises the bereaved has to accept grief as an adaptive response and to take to heart, we are not the person who has died, but our beloved who has died. He also agrees death will change the bereaved from the point of death forward. The pain of this initially hurts terribly. Yet his belief is to adapt and see grief as not the adapting to a loss, but the emotion or the emotions around the loss we are getting through.

We never know as a family member, friend, or acquaintance, when the right time is to approach the knowing of what to do to show support. Intentions are to help ease the pain of the loss during mourning.  However careful we tread, we want to make sure to place an offering of care and present ourselves with astuteness and higher sensitivity than usual. MP900227519

The bereaved will experience cognitive confusion and their ability to concentrate is lessened. Many may experience anxiety, disorganization, or pre-occupation about something. The behaviors we witness from the bereaved are sadness, withdrawal, a crying or constant weepiness. Sometimes hostility surfaces and usually erupts in anger rejecting thoughts a loved one has died.

Grief theorist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross known for the 5-stages and phases of grief and David Kessler, grief expert, explain denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are part of healing phase. They remind us at times, people in grief and bereavement will often show more stages, justly showing us, our grief is as individual as we are. Though our emotions are unexplainable at times, we are vulnerable. The stages represent the responses to the loss. There are many tools available to aid in these stages that block us in our healing and may need to seek counselling or group therapy to guide us forward.

Having compassion is the best way to go. We start by asking permission and genuine concern for the bereaved suffering. We can try in our way to relieve the hurt, however try as we may, it must come with the bereaved having openness to this. If such as, you recommend a book or a piece of healing music as a kind gesture— should I go ahead and ask.  Of course, do this by making sure it is with heartfelt consideration. We may offer can we meet to chat about the book or the piece of music when it is more proper. Awareness and attention to the receptiveness of our actions negative response maybe minimized as we go about this with careful intention and timing.

Getting Through and Healing

InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotionsMan2

The healing process is not linear and more than a simple “getting over a loss.” To say to the bereaved, getting over it will sound dismissive to them, and their process of healing in their loss is unimportant. It can pose meaningless stressors, as if simply asking to step over a bucket of water in their way and get on with it.

Taking care of ourselves is the best option no matter how uncomfortable grief feels.

If the grief becomes too difficult and suicidal thoughts start to surface in our mind, tell someone, and immediately go to hospital emergency – opting out of life is not an option.  Getting through a loss, we need to go through and get out on the other side and continue walking no matter how messy it feels along the way.  Imagine surgical sutures or stitches when removed. What remains is a scar. We are not the same person we were before the loss and will be reminded often how much has changed. We can only move toward acceptance and healing is allowed to take its own course. In tow during this journey we go with loving compassion to our bereaved and ourselves.

The Harvard Medical School reports, “If prayer hearten or sustains you, set aside time for it. Read spiritual texts that you find comforting, attend services, and share your circumstances with a religious leader who can help place the death in the context of your faith. Gardening or communing with nature, which offers many opportunities to observe the rhythms of life and death in the natural world, is also soothing to some people. So, too, is meditation or yoga.”

Some suggested teachings follow by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, author, educator, and grief counsellor, known for his inspirational messages for people who are grieving, taken from Grieving Person’s Bill of Rights by Wolfelt:

  • No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do.
  • You have the right to talk about your grief.
  • You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
  • You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
  • You have the right to experience grief “attacks.”
  • You have the right to make use of ritual.
  • You have the right to search for meaning.
  • You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
  • You have the right to treasure your memories.
  • You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Hope and Resiliency

Dedicated belief and a stronger tDSC_7463 (1)han usual support system in place, will bring us hope and emotional reconciliation to the inevitable – we are resilient!

Resiliency comes to us not only by way of healing from the love of a beloved we’ve lost to death, but as well loss can happen too for the family, who have left their country upon escaping war, persecution, or natural disaster, as well moving beyond hope and toward resilience.  Here is where being able to adjust in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or tremendous stressors can exist.

If we feel we must bounce back from pain quicker than we think, opening up our mind and heart and showing kinder than usual personal and community care, the road to healing is less isolating, painful and a sense of belongingness exists for all of us

Pueblo Blessing previously published in Many Winters: Poetry and Prose of the Pueblos by Nancy C. Wood, Doubleday, 1974

Recommended Reading (HelpGuide)

See recommended reading by Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph. D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. (Last updated December 2018):

Reprinted with permission — Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: December 2018.

 

 

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A Canadian Christmas Eh!

Stephen A. Nelson in JasperGuest writer Stephen A. Nelson is a freelance journalist who grew up in Toronto back when, as he says “they still had a Santa Claus at the Eaton’s and Simpson’s department stores, where magical window displays with expensive moving toys gave joy to many.”  Here Stephen shares a true, right from the  heart, childhood Christmas Story, and  adds some of his  own favourite media Christmas Stories.


THE MANY FACES OF FATHER CHRISTMAS

A Real Christmas Story from the Kid Who Lived It!

by Stephen A. Nelson (reprinted)

KettleDriveThe Salvation Army has been in the news; especially one Christmas, when it was discovered that a Grinch – masquerading as Santa Claus – stole more than $2 million worth of donated toys that were meant to go to needy kids in the Toronto area. The stolen toys were recovered and Mean Mr. Grinch was arrested and charged with stealing Christmas. It’s sad and shocking, but at the same time a reminder that – while Scrooges and Grinches may be real – so is Someone Else. The Salvation Army proceeds this year with the 128th annual Christmas Kettle Campaign, a mission to aid millions of people living in poverty.

My Christmas Story

 

My Christmas story takes place not in the 1940s, but in the 1960s, shortly after we’d arrived in Canada from England. The Beatles were more popular than Jesus and it was a very good time to be English in Canada. Especially if Canadians thought you sounded “just like The Beatles.”

We moved into a neighbourhood in West Toronto. Our family of six was living in a small two-bedroom flat above a restaurant on Dundas Street West now known as The Junction. We did not have much, in fact, we had very little. But we had the two most valuable things in the world: family and friends.

“Family” included my Uncle Terry, my mother’s beloved brother. The Nelson family had arrived in Canada on the unforgettable night of the Great Northeast Blackout in November of that year — that night everything from Niagara Falls to New York plunged into complete darkness. That was the night Uncle Terry had driven all night to get us from Montreal to our new home in Toronto.

“Family” also included the people at the Salvation Army in West Toronto. That was the great thing about the Sally Ann then. We had travelled to the other side of the world, but the Salvation Army still felt like home. It was more than a church, more than a charity. It was family.

Foremost among that Salvation Army family was a man we called Uncle Harry. He virtually had adopted my dad when my dad first arrived in Canada. And for as long as he lived, Uncle Harry was like a father and a big brother to my Dad. And until his dying day, Uncle Harry was a real uncle and a granddad to us kids.

When we arrived in Toronto, winter was already upon us. More snow than we had ever seen turned Toronto into a Winter Wonderland. And before we knew it, it was Christmas. It was a beautiful glorious Christmas, around which the entire year of being a kid revolved. Christmas, time for Christmas carols and Father Christmas — or as Canadians called him, “Santa Claus.”

I was a true believer in Father Christmas. So although there were many department-store Santas, I knew there was only one true Father Christmas. He was at the North Pole now, making his toys. But I had met him at the Salvation Army Christmas party and I knew he was real. I knew because he knew me and he knew me by name.

Father Christmas

But I was worried: Even though I’d seen Father Christmas, I hadn’t told him what I really wanted. And with all the excitement of moving to a new country, I hadn’t had time to write to him! “How will Father Christmas know where we are? How will he know what I want?” I wondered.

Mum, another true believer, assured me that Father Christmas would know and that he would find us.

“But we don’t have a chimney in our flat! How will Father Christmas get into our house on Christmas Eve?”

Mum assured me that Father Christmas had a magic chimney he could use to get into houses that had no chimney.

Well if Mum says so, it’s got to be true.

But I was still worried.

I was like Ralphie from the  character who played in A Christmas Story.  A movie favorite of mine that centres around a young, nine-year-old, blue-eyed, blond-haired boy name Ralph “Ralphie” Parker (Peter Billingsley). The first time I saw the film, I immediately turned to my friend, pointed at the kid on the screen with big glasses and said, “That’s me!”

But Ralphie is an Everyman, and the film is the tale of his quest to realize his heart’s desire and secure his holy grail of Christmas presents — a Daisy, Red Ryder, Carbine-Action , 200-shot Range Model BB Rifle.  He was trying to relay the message to the world that there was one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. This was my heart’s desire. This was my holy grail.

a-christmas-story-movie-01

It wasn’t a Red Ryder BB Gun. No, in 1965 it was a Johnny Seven O.M.A. (One Man Army) — a toy gun that was seven guns in one.

In these cyber-days of Halo, WarCraft and Assassin, such toy weapons are either politically incorrect or passé.  Forbidden or forgotten.  But in 1965, the Johnny Seven was “the bomb.”

It was a Red Ryder BB Rifle on steroids.  Ralphie’s Red Ryder was a steel-blue beauty that fired BBs and had “a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” It was everything cowboy hero Red Ryder would need to fend off the evil Black Bart, rustlers, and other Bad Guys.  But a Johnny Seven One Man Army was a plastic mini-arsenal that fired an anti-tank rocket; shot an armour-piercing shell; launched an anti-bunker missile; shot 10 bullets as a rifle; made a rat-a-tat-tat sound as a Tommy gun; and had a pistol that detached and worked as a cap gun with a very loud  “bang!”  In short, it was everything that G. I. Joe would ever need to fight the Viet Cong.  And since it was three-feet long, it was literally the yardstick against which all other boys’ toys were measured. It was the talking Malibu Barbie of boys’ toys. It was the perfect present.

JohnnySeven7inOneLike Ralphie, I knew exactly what I wanted. And like Ralphie, I was worried that I wasn’t going to get it. After all, if Father Christmas couldn’t find me, how could he give one to me? And if Father Christmas couldn’t deliver, who could?

On Christmas Eve, there were no signs of any Christmas presents in our small flat. I don’t even remember seeing a Christmas tree.

Still, milk and cookies were placed out in a dish with care, in hopes that Father Christmas soon would be there. There were no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I was dreaming of a Johnny Seven. I went to bed hoping and praying that Father Christmas would indeed find us. But I feared he would not.

On Christmas morning, I woke up to find a sign of hope. A red Christmas stocking had been hung up with care, a sign Father Christmas had really been there.

When out from the living room there was such a clatter, I sprang down hallway and said “What’s the matter?”

I turned into the living room and beheld a sight more wonderful than anything I had ever seen before or since. Where there had been darkness before, there was now the most wondrous light. Where there had been emptiness, there was now a cornucopia of Christmas presence. An Aladdin’s cave of magical things that I had never seen before in my life, including something called a “toboggan.” I had no idea what it was for, but I thought it was amazing.

In a room full of children’s treasures, I almost missed the Holy Grail itself. But there it was, in the middle of the living room floor, set like a jewel in the crown: my Johnny Seven. It was perfect.

I promptly fired off all seven guns in rapid order and managed to do it without shooting anybody’s eye out!

I was overwhelmed with joy at getting my Johnny Seven. But I was even more happy that Father Christmas had found us and he had delivered. For years to come, this was proof to me that Father Christmas was real. And later, when my non-believing school friends said, “There’s no such thing as Santa; it’s just your parents,” I knew they were wrong.

Over the years in Canada, we would spend many Christmases at my Uncle Terry’s and we would learn many things about Father Christmas. We learned that, here in Canada, Father Christmas went by many other names: Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Sinter Klaas, Santa Claus, Santa, Kris Kringle, or even Père Noël.

Years later, I found out that, in our home, Father Christmas had two other names: Sometimes we called him “Dad”: other times we called him “Uncle Terry.”

But at our other home, the Salvation Army, we learned that the most important person at Christmas was not Father Christmas, but that other person who also comes at Christmas and who is also known by many names.

And at the Salvation Army, we learned that the real Father Christmas had yet another name. There we called him “Uncle Harry.”

Welcome Christmas, while we stand
heart to heart and hand in hand…
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we

My Favourite Media Christmas Stories
Stephen A. Nelson

Everybody has a favourite TV holiday special at this time of the year.

For me, there are two classic Christmas programs that are especially powerful, even after more than 40 years of repeated viewing.

Merry ChristmasThe first and still the best is A Charlie Brown Christmas, featuring the Peanuts gangand the coolest of all Christmas soundtracks by Vince Guaraldi. A very close second is How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Boris (The Grinch) Karloff and the coolest of all Christmas songs, You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch .

And when it comes to Christmas movies on TV, you still can’t beat the 1951 black-and-white classic A Christmas Carolstarring Alistair (Scrooge) Sim and three very spooky Christmas spirits. Mind you, Jim Carrey. The Muppets, and even Doctor Who have all done a great job of bringing this story to life.

What these all have in common is the theme of redemption. That and the radical, almost heretical message expressed by the Grinch: the idea that “Maybe Christmas… doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

So maybe it’s odd that my other holiday favourite is the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. Odd because, at first glance, the movie seems to say that Christmas does come from a store — and that happiness is a new gun.

A Christmas Story starring Darren (Kolchalk: The Night Stalker) McGavin is a classic based on the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd. A sleeper hit when it was first released, the film has become a perennial favourite on TV. One American cable station shows it all day on Christmas Day.

The film, narrated by the author himself, takes place in a mythical mid-western US town. But a lot of it was shot in Toronto. In fact, in a part of Toronto that looks a lot like the Toronto I grew up in. It even has the classic red-and-yellow TTC streetcars that Mike Filey loves.

It also has all the elements of my first Christmas in Canada: the Salvation Army band playing Christmas carols in the frosty air; the Santa Claus parades, the department store Santas. And most magical of all, the Christmas windows displays at stores like downtown Toronto’s Eaton’s and Simpson’s, where half-frozen kids press their noses up against the frosty glass to get a closer look of at the electronic panoramas of mechanized magic.

Perhaps that’s why this film stays with me, because it feels like my city and my childhood. I feel I could have easily run into the characters in this film. In fact, I think I did.

But more than that, I think it stays with me because — in many ways — A Christmas Story is my story: “except for the name and a few other changes, when you talk about me, the story’s the same one.”

A Christmas Story

Ralphie, for most of the film,  is scheming to get his mitts on one of these beautiful, steel-blue pieces of pre-adolescent weaponry- a Daisy, Red Ryder, Carbine-Action , 200-shot Range Model BB Rifle… For him, it is not only the Holy Grail; in his hands it will become Excalibur.

So our hero does everything he can to persuade every adult he knows — his teacher, his parents, even Santa — that a firearm is the perfect present. The response is always discouraging and always the same: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” And once even Santa Claus rains on his parade, Ralphie knows the game is over and he’ll probably end up with a football (“not a very good present”) for Christmas.

Needless to say, our hero is more than a little discouraged come Christmas Eve. By Christmas morning, when all the presents have already been opened, he has despaired of ever achieving the Holy Grail.

But wait! Somehow Santa delivers a last-minute Christmas miracle and Ralphie gets his BB gun — his faith in Santa and in Christmas is fully restored. That night he goes to sleep with his holy grail in his hands and all is right with the world. It is a very merry Christmas.

Holy GrailDonations to the 2018 Christmas Campaign can also be made at SalvationArmy.ca, by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769), via mail to The Salvation Army, 2 Overlea Blvd, Toronto, ON M4H 1P4.

Donors can also text HOPE to 45678 from most mobile carriers in Canada. A $5 donation will be added to their monthly mobile bill.

 

stephen nelsonStephen A. Nelson has  a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Lutheran Theological Seminary at the University of Saskatchewan. In his spare time, he plays old rock ‘n’ roll at the local jam nights, sings in church, and enjoys his Jasper mountain paradise.  Write Stephen Nelson at  http://ca.linkedin.com/in/stephenanelson  or stephena.nelson@gmail.com or
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Self-Compassion to Improve Emotional Health

by Gemma Charles
Freelance Writer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developing Self-Compassion to Improve Emotional Health

Many of us are raised to analyse our flaws, to compare ourselves to others, and to constantly find ourselves lacking. We are taught that we should feel ashamed of our failings and that being as good as you can be isn’t always good enough. Unfortunately, developing this kind of self-criticism during childhood can have a dramatic impact on self-esteem in adulthood and can also have a negative impact on levels of emotional health and well-being. However, the good news is that it is possible to overcome these kinds of negative mental attitudes and to develop self-compassion: to be kinder to yourself, and stop judging yourself so negatively.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is a relatively new concept that is often presented together with mindfulness but, in reality, it is an incredibly simple one: show the same compassion that you do to others to yourself.

Dr. Kristin Neff, the founder of selfcompassion.org, has written several books on the topic, defines self-compassion as “acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

Self-compassion is a learnable skill. If you find that you are being overly critical of yourself then you can stop and instead show yourself some kindness. Effectively, self-compassion is about cutting yourself some slack and relying on yourself for comfort when you need it.

Boost Your Levels of Self-Compassion

If you’ve experienced a setback, made a mistake, or are simply finding everyday life a challenge right now then there are plenty of ways that you can boost your levels of self-compassion to maintain your levels of emotional health. Individuals with high levels of self-compassion have been shown to have a much lower prevalence of depression and anxiety: being kind to yourself can help to protect your mental health. It is possible to make small physical changes to your daily routine that may help you to boost your levels of self-compassion: nourish your body by taking time out to make a healthy snack or meal, revitalise your body by laying down to have a rest, and physically stimulate your body by enjoying a massage. You could even massage your own hands or neck, if you don’t enjoy physical contact with others at moments of stress. All of these techniques will improve how you feel physically, which in turn can help to give your self-compassion a huge boost.

Compassion and Mindfulness

Other techniques that have been shown to boost individual levels of self-compassion include practicing mindfulness (there is a strong and proven link between compassion and mindfulness), and regularly taking time out of your day to give yourself some encouragement. We are often much kinder and more supportive of others than we are of ourselves. Think about what you would say to a good friend or family member who was having a bad day, had made a mistake, or was struggling with their self-esteem: frame that same message to yourself and give yourself a compassionate and nurturing pep talk and accept that nobody is perfect and that it is a mistake to aim for perfection or to compare yourself to others. Simply being you is enough.

The Science Behind Self-Compassion

Skeptical about how simply being kinder to yourself can improve your emotional health? Self-compassion has been proven to be beneficial to physical well-being . In fact, a study in the Psychoneuroendocrinology journal revealed that regularly demonstrating self-compassion lead to a reduction in the body’s cortisol levels: Cortisol is more commonly known as the “stress hormone.” As well as reducing your stress levels, practicing self-compassion was also shown to promote both the production and release of Oxytocin, a chemical that is widely known to increase happiness levels and decrease anxiety. Being self-compassionate doesn’t mean accepting mediocrity or not striving to be the best you can be. However, we all make mistakes and we all have failures: self-compassion encourages us to accept this and then let those failures go, so that we can move on with our life and continue to build positive mental health.

 

About Gemma Charles. Previous to starting a career as a freelance writer, Gemma worked for many years in business and finance. When she became a mother, she turned to writing to support her life, and now she pens articles on diverse topics from news and current affairs to pieces on money matters and emotional well-being. 

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Stop Self-Bullying

Catherine DeAngelis

Belongingness is the quality or state of being, an essential or important part of something – we all need to have a sense of belonging.

 

That intense need for belonging in family, with friends, at work, school, in cultural communities, can bellow out like an emotional titanic in our brain. This need brings a sinking feeling we are drowning because somehow, we got it in our head, we are nerdsdifferent or just don’t fit in. We become isolated.

We malign ourselves with words like “I am weird,” “I am born under a bad sign,” or “black sheep of the family.”  It doesn’t end there. It gets worse for many of us. That deep-seated pain is buried yet we have recall of the time that kid hollered “hey spider face.” What we used to be called during school recess in grade 5 by an all-pervading cliché bully does not have to be a recurring self-punishment.

Some of us take the “fight or flight response ” when these emotions arise in us – at holiday time, birthdays, family or other social gatherings. Anxiety permeates our flesh.  Those undealt with emotions surface to remind us the pain hasn’t gone away.

Emotional Pain

Emotional pain can create a kind of electric surge in us that we apply a self-criticism that we are not good enough. We have given ourselves the same treatment we may have been exposed to and continue the pitter-patter of thoughts in the mind. A take-over happens and the same thoughts repeat giving us the same lie handed down to us – over and over.

When do we become responsible for these feelings or emotions that arise from this all mighty thing we call name-calling, whether it came at us from the past or still present today?

We know who the name-caller is most of the times, but when it comes to ourselves, who can we blame?

How many of us have this bully-self that is a name-caller often creating havoc in our thoughts doing the same kind of personal damage that psychologists claim do to a bullied child?

We attach personal name-calling of another nature to ourselves, no different from what we battled in our school yard or for some, our parents, siblings, teachers who may have intentionally or unintentionally thrown stones, at our already fragmented self.

Sense of Belonging

We could be at any age range. Our desperate yet silent need for belongingness steals our right to trust we are who we are right here right now. We belong inside and out of our skin; we feel betrayed by a lie given to us somewhere, at sometime, in our lives.

Just as there is zero-tolerance for behavioral disturbances for bullying, victimization and standing by during bullying – this approach can be given the same respect to our internal messaging. How long do we stand and continue to bully ourselves without doing a darn thing about it? It strips self-esteem and tears at our confidence to create a concrete barrier to our success.

What was the lie is something we can ask ourselves? It is the lie that can fester and remind us we are supposed to be somebody more than what we are, because somewhere we were told we didn’t measure up. So what!

Simple it seems that the truth is a matter of consequence for we judge ourselves too harshly when we are unable to uncover the monster that looms underneath these trapped emotions — we plainly feel we are “damaged goods.”

On Being Human

Jean Vanier’s vision of belonging is described best in his book, Becoming Human,My vision is that belonging should be at the heart of a fundamental discovery: that we all belong to a common humanity, the human race. We may be rooted in a specific family and culture but we come to this earth to open up to others, to serve them and receive the gifts they bring to us, as well as to all of humanity.”

We can stop our self-bullying by reminding ourselves, those negative self-deprecating words in our head are a lie, and thoughts, they lie to us. Isn’t it time to stop belittling and devaluing ourselves?

More important than the need to be loved is the need to belong – for some of us it is an affirmation we need, over and over again, to kick out the old messages and replace the messages with new ones.

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”  ― Jean VanierCommunity And Growth.

Resources

Click here for a helpful resource on how to switch from negative to positive self-talk

 

 

 

 

Some SELF Affirmations

  • Fall in love at first sight with you every day – replace self-bullying, hurtful words with positive ones – weave them into a personal mantra like “I am energetic, healthy, physically and emotionally fit.”
  • Be mindful – let your eyes meet you in the morning and make it an instant attraction of SELF. Do this every day until it is natural part of you. Loving self is not bad, it is number one to bringing others to loving us more.
  • Allow love to happen – anywhere, anytime!
  • Find help – getting stuck in negative thought patterns can hinder you in your life in many aspects – don’t go it alone — ask for help – all kinds of talk therapies and support services are available – explore solutions.
  • Giving up is not an option – call 911 or visit closest hospital emergency in your area if ever self-talk takes you to a hopeless state.

No matter what, give a shout out “I am not damaged goods, and I too belong here.” Make you matter – affirm the positives, find ways to reverse belittling self-talk. When you get stuck in the negative thought streams, be accountable – know that we are all part of a common humanity – the human race.

Editor’s Note: this post was originally published August 23, 2013 and has been updated.

 

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Mind Body Health

 

Good emotional health is being aware of our emotions, thoughts, feelings and behaviors, all part of working at keeping our level of stress under check.  

Click on the image to check out this Interactive Tool presented by the American Psychological Association.  Take some time to browse the Tool  to see how mental health effects the physical parts of our body.

 

 

moodgym

moodgym is an interactive self-help book which helps us to learn and practise skills which can help to prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.  moodgym consists of interactive modules which are delivered in a specific order. This on-line program was developed in Australia, since its launch in 2004, moodgym received several IT and health awards, and had staggering registrations worldwide. For many years moodgym was complimentary however, a new version is available for a low cost. Check-out moodgym’s frequently asked questions.

More On-line Self Help Tools

Alqonquin College Web-Based Self-Help Tools

Extensive list of free websites (free or indicated as other); include modules, apps, and tools for people wanting to improve mental health and well-being.

 

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This post is presented for information only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. If serious mental health or well-being concerns, immediately visit your closest hospital emergency department. 

 

Finding Resiliency…

”Children with dogs” 1932 by Tadeusz Makowski

The following are the four basic attachment styles.  Please keep in mind that these descriptions are very general; not everyone will have all these characteristics. Attachment styles are relatively fluid and can change slightly depending on your partner’s own attachment style.

Secure – These individuals usually grew up in a supportive environment where parents were consistently responsive to their needs. People who are securely attached are generally comfortable with being open about themselves, asking for help, and allowing others to lean on them at an emotional level. They have a positive outlook on life, are comfortable with closeness, and seek physical and/or emotional intimacy with minimal fear of being rejected or overwhelmed. Securely attached individuals are generally consistent and reliable in their behaviors toward their partner. They tend to include their partner in decisions that could affect their relationship.

Dismissive-avoidant – Also referred to as “insecure-avoidant,” children usually develop this attachment style when their primary caregivers are not responsive to or are even rejecting of their needs. Children learn to pull away emotionally as a way to avoid feelings of rejection. As adults, they become uncomfortable with emotional openness and may even deny to themselves their need for intimate relationships. They place high value on independence and autonomy and develop techniques to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and defend themselves from a perceived threat to their “independence.” These techniques include, but are not limited to: shutting down; not saying “I love you” even though their behaviors indicate that they do (i.e., mixed messages); keeping secrets to maintain some semblance of independence. These coping techniques end up becoming detrimental to their adult relationships.

Fearful-avoidant – Also referred to as “disorganized-disoriented” in some literature, children who have developed this style may have been exposed to prolonged abuse and/or neglect. Primary caregivers are the people children often turn to as a source of comfort and support. In a situation involving abuse, these primary caregivers are also a source of hurt. These children grow up to become adults who fear intimacy within their relationships but also fear not having close relationships in their lives. They recognize the value of relationships and have a strong desire for them, but often have a difficult time trusting others. As a result, they avoid being emotionally open with others for fear of being hurt and rejected.

Anxious-preoccupied – Sometimes referred to as “insecure-ambivalent,” children develop this form of attachment usually when their parents have been inconsistent with their responses to them. At times, these parents exhibit nurturing, caring, and attentive behaviors. Other times they can be cold, rejecting, or emotionally detached. As a result, the children don’t know what to expect. They become adults who desire a lot of connection within their relationships, sometimes to the point of being “clingy.” They are highly aware of any slight changes in the relationship. These changes, however minute, can significantly increase this individual’s anxiety. As a result, he or she will focus energy on increasing connection with that partner. Individuals who have this attachment style needs more validation and approval than the other attachment styles.

Neural pathways developed from childhood traumatic experiences help shape how we respond to others and adults often find themselves repeating the same behaviors and patterns throughout their lives. This is not meant to place blame on parents for the types of relationships you have as adults. Although parents play an important role in setting that foundation, you as an adult have the ability to create changes for yourself and your behaviors within any relationship.

Steps Toward Change

Increased awareness can help you take those first steps towards change. By developing a better understanding of how your early childhood experiences have helped shape your attachment style and its connection to your present style of interactions, you can improve your relationships as an adult. This awareness can then help you move towards developing a more securely attached relationship with those around you. 

References:

McLeod, S. (2008). Mary Ainsworth. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/mary-ainsworth.html

Ogden, P., & Fisher, J. (2015). Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Van Der Kolk, B.A. (1989). The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma: Re-Enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 389-411.

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Lone Wolf…

Trances With Wolves
A New Hope for a Lone Wolf

Walking On Water   

by Stephen A. Nelson
(republished)
walk on water

 

 

 

 

 

 

A musical friend of mine, Mackenzie Brown, sings a song about her close encounter of the third kind…the song is called Walking On Water:

And I’ll be walking on water baby
I’ll be walking on water with you
I’m Walking on water ’cause I’m with Great Manitou

1. Saviour, you’re my saviour 
You are everywhere I want to be
Come save me great sky leader I need
Your guidance today

2. Let you spirit surround me
Let me feel your presence
I want to be part of you
I need your guidance today

To the spiritually minded, Mackenzie’s lyrics written and sung by her, are resplendent with Christian imagery: a baby and the Great Manitou. A Saviour who leads and guides. A “spirit in the sky” whose presence surrounds.

These lyrics would have resonated with Father Jean de Brébeuf, author of The “Huron Carol” (or “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime“), a Christmas hymn he wrote in the native language of the Huron-Wendat people. He had given the song to them as a gift and referred to it during his teachings and missionary work.

But Mackenzie says she was not conscious of such metaphors when she wrote the song. She actually composed the ode after she saw a wolf pack making its way across the partially frozen Jasper Lake. To her, it looked like the wolves were walking on water. It was a profound spiritual experience.

I thought of Mackenzie’s song – the story behind it– when I saw two photos that recently went viral on Facebook and Twitter.

The first was an image of the Northern Lights in which the Aurora Borealis took the form of a wolf; a Spirit in the Sky. It was like “the heavenly dancers” meets Dances With Wolves. It was so spooky, so unreal, that some people refused to believe it was real.

AA Sky Wolf Marja-Terttu Karlsson left her home in Pajala boost

The second photo was picture of a wolf pack trekking through the winter wilderness of Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park: One of the stronger wolves leads the way; breaking trail and making a path through the snow for the others to follow. Everyone has a place. Everyone has a role. No wolf left behind. It had people thinking, “We humans can learn a lot from wolves.”

Except, of course, we humans don’t learn from “brother–sister wolf.” Instead, our society is waging a war on wolves.

aa wolf pack lomo

For example, in Alberta and British Columbia, wolves are protected and revered inside the national parks such as Wood Buffalo, Jasper, Yoho and Pacific Rim. But outside the parks, the wolf is hunted, slaughtered and poisoned ruthlessly – ostensibly to protect the even more rare and endangered caribou. But the real reason is the deep antipathy, even hatred that some people have towards wolves. Grownups are still afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.

And if the wild wolf is despised, the so-called “War on Terror” has demonised the human “Lone Wolf” among us. These days, it seems that every misfit is automatically suspect and every loner is a de facto terrorist in training. A Lone Wolf is no more a deviant or a devil than a woman in a niqab is a barbarian or a threat to Canadian values.

The Lone Wolf among us is someone who feels the strong need for independence, autonomy and solitude.

Some Things I’ve Learned


For the past few years, I’ve been part of a small group at a church in Jasper National Park.

AA Akela The Lone Wolf - The Two Jungle Books editRunning with such a pack already marks you as “odd.” Jasper’s earthly paradise is a place where people worship the Creation but have little use for the Creator. They may want “spirituality” but not “religion.” Yoga and Sunday brunch have long-since replaced liturgy and Communion.

And if you talk about “Alpha and Omega” here – people won’t immediately make the connection with the God who is “the Beginning and the End.” They will probably think you’re talking about an animated film starring “an unlikely pair of wolves.”

Paradise Lost


Living in a national park, I’ve learned some things about the wild wolves that live “outside the circle.”

All lone wolves were once part of a pack.  The lone wolves in the wilds are usually male, some are older males who been driven out from their pack – ostracized – by the younger males. Some are younger males who challenged for the leadership but failed – and were then cast out.  Some left in search of new territory, new opportunities. Some were part of a pack that disbanded as members moved on or passed away. Many of them long to return to the pack from which they were shunned, excommunicated.

The lone wolves who survive best are those that maintain a relationship with the pack; even if it’s a distant relationship. They follow the pack wherever it roams – sometimes even participating in the pack’s hunts and feeding on the leftovers from the kill. Such relationships benefit both the lone wolf and the pack.

Even a lone wolf needs others. A wolf can survive (for a time) on his own by scavenging and hunting small game. But his best chance for long-term survival is to rejoin the pack – or to find a female lone wolf for a mate and start a new pack.

Every pack needs a leader. Every leader needs a pack. Sometimes the Lone Wolf becomes the leader. And lone wolves can make the best leaders.

The Law of the Wolf Cub Pack

Wolf Cubs Centennial Crest
When I was a boy in Wolf Cubs (what they now call Cub Scouts), an adult leader was called an “Old Wolf.” The Leader of the Pack – just like in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book – was called Akela.  The name means “Solitary; Alone.” That’s right; the leader of the pack was the Lone Wolf.

In Kipling’s stories (and in the re-tellings by scouting’s founder, Lord Baden-Powell) Akela is not only the leader of the pack. His is also the close friend and mentor of Mowgli, the orphaned “man cub” that is adopted into the wolf pack. Even when Mowgli is no longer a “man cub” but a full-grown adult, Akela remains a “Yoda” to Mowgli’s “Young Skywalker.”

Here in the enchanted forests of Alberta, often talked with my “Akela” about people who want “spirituality” but not “religion.” They want to belong, to feel connected – but not if it means someone telling them what to do and how to live.
AA Wolf Cub Handbook boost

My Akela, like Baden-Powell, sees no dichotomy between “spirituality” and “religion.”  For them, God – however you understand Him – is always a fundamental part of life.

Life in the pack means living by the law of the pack: doing your duty, respecting elders, putting others first and helping them – no matter what.

Even as a Lone Wolf (or “the Lone Wolf of the group”), I sometimes think that I learned “everything I needed to know” in Wolf Cubs; from Kipling, Baden-Powell and the elders of the pack:

Be Prepared. Do Your Best!

Always help others… and accept help from others. Mowgli – the Man Cub – was an orphan. He was different from the rest. But he lived and learned with the help of his adoptive parents as well as his teachers and guardians. They always had his back and helped him to find his place.

It’s a jungle out there. There will always be adversaries and foes. But courage, loyalty and love are stronger than any enemy.

You can’t be a cub forever. Eventually, the cub must grow up to be the Old Wolf.  There are even times when the Lone Wolf becomes the leader of the pack. And guess what? Sometimes lone wolves make the best leaders.

A leader gives his or her life to the pack. And the pack gives its life to the leader. They thrive and survive because they are part of each other.

Father Christmas wolf Jody Bergsma

The Christmas season is ended. Another year over. A new one just begun.

For many, now is when the darkness sets in, people may feel the impacts of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and – to quote Canadian musician and songwriter Bruce Cockburn – we’re “trying to keep the latent depression from crystallizing.”

This is the time of year when we need an Epiphany. Light in the Darkness.  A New Hope.

Long ago, in a land far, far away, there was a teacher who people said it was “The Light of The World.” He, in turn, said that his followers were the light of the world.

See the light.  Be the light.  To the spiritually minded, that Spirit Wolf in the Sky can be our Northern light in the darkness.

To survive, learn from the wolves.  

If you can, stay with the pack.

Even if you can’t live with them all the time, work with them.

If you’re not in a pack, BE the pack. Start your own pack by being with people you want to be with.

If you don’t have an Akela, BE Akela. Be a leader.

Who knows?  You could end up walking on water.

 

Journalist_Traveller_Writer_Photographer_Editor_Public Speaker_Bard_Troubador

Stephen is a freelance writer, public speaker and “lone wolf of the group” living on the edge of wilderness in Jasper National Park. He has worked in media for more than 25 years – including 8 years as an editor, producer and broadcaster in Taiwan. We invited Stephen to share his thoughts about this holiday time and the importance of belongingness and our search for acceptance. (This article first appeared December 31 2015 and updated January 6, 2016).

 

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‘It’s Coming on Christmas’

by Catherine DeAngelis
(Reprinted 2018)

“I never wanted to be a star. I didn’t like entering a room with all eyes on me. I still don’t like the attention of a birthday party. I prefer Christmas, which is everybody’s holiday.”            Joni Mitchell

A  favorite time of year is when we have radio play that gives us the elegant, melodic and familiar voice of Canada’s Joni Mitchell as she sings “River” over the air waves.  This song, written and originally performed by Joni Mitchell, captivates listeners as we hear the song by other various performances by Sarah McLachlan and Robert Downey Jr.

The song beckons sentiments of being at home in the heart or maybe some of the absurdity wrapped up in our trying to be something other than human.

The lyrics may have different interpretations e.g. – a song about missing home, lost love, a need for belongingness or an escape from whatever pains us. Even if we knew, is it a mood too sullen by  triggering memories, a feeling or emotion? For some we over extend ourselves, reach out more than usual, turn up the love meter a couple notches. We are compassionate and more forgiving. And, so we become kinder to family, friends, our neighbors.

SongsofaPrairieGirlCoverRiver comes from Mitchell’s famous Blue album recording, released June 1971, and added  to the  Songs of a Prairie Girl known as her last series of compilations.

In a Canada CBC TV Life and Times documentary about Joni Mitchell, we learn about her life and her music, and her artwork.  Joni Mitchell, Woman of Heart and Mind (2)written and directed by Susan Lacy. Canadian-Born Joni Mitchell is one of the foremost singer/songwriters and poets of our time.  Her eclectic and unique body of work still touches us today as much as it did more than three decades ago. She has also led an equally fascinating and inspiring personal life.

Mitchell has come full circle from the days back when the Mariposa Folk Festival evolved Mitchell to a magnificent songwriter with a creative career that stemmed from her earlier childhood interests in painting, poetry, and music. She performed in Toronto’s downtown Yorkville coffeehouses such as the Penny Farthing and up to this day her songs and lyrics resonate with the same precision as ever before. Some of her very first songs like ‘Day After Day‘ are as inviting today as they were back then – Canadian Encyclopedia of Music.

Quotes by Joni Mitchell

“At the point where I’m trying to force something and it’s not happening, and I’m getting frustrated with, say, writing a poem, I can go and pick up the brushes and start painting. At the point where the painting seems to not be going anywhere, I go and pick up the guitar.

Back then, I didn’t have a big organization around me. I was just a kid with a guitar, traveling around. My responsibility basically was to the art, and I had extra time on my hands. There is no extra time now. There isn’t enough time.

  • I can’t remember anything I ever wrote.
  • I learned a woman is never an old woman.
  • No one likes to have less than they had before. That’s the nature of the human animal.
  • Not to dismiss Gershwin, but Gershwin is the chip; Ellington was the block.
  • Sorrow is so easy to express and yet so hard to tell.”  

For any Joni Mitchell fan of beautiful melodies, we’ve posted lyrics and a video below – browse and explore your response to the song and lyrics.

River

by Joni Mitchell   

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

But it don’t snow here
It stays pretty green
I’m going to make a lot of money
Then I’m going to quit this crazy scene
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I made my baby cry

He tried hard to help me
You know, he put me at ease
And he loved me so naughty
Made me weak in the knees
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I’m so hard to handle
I’m selfish and I’m sad
Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on

Oh, I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby say goodbye

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river I could skate away on

© 1970; Joni Mitchell

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpFudDAYqxY


Read and learn more about Christmas:

 

A Canadian Christmas Eh!

…No Such Thing as Santa?

Kicking at the Darkness

Lone Wolf

Britannica Encyclopedia

Christmas Day

 

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