I want to share with you something extraordinary is unfolding in my life, something I never could've expected, something I could only have dreamed in my wildest imagination. I am excited for you to be a part of it all. There is so much inspiration coming...
I love snowstorms. Especially when they seem out of place, like three days into spring. Last Friday morning after a challenging week, I was particularly looking forward to a run in the forest where I expected to be immersed in solitude after the previous night’s storm left several cm of fresh snow. I thought being alone in nature in the sanctuary of a snowy forest was exactly what I needed. When I arrived in the parking lot I was surprised to see more than 1 or 2 cars.
The snow was powdery, the sky a grey-blue, and the trees were cloaked in softness. I began to run feeling my feet drift over the cold. I loved this forest and it was particularly beautiful under the quiet whisper of snow. A few minutes into my run, my heart was already beginning to feel lighter when I realized not only were there other people on the trail, but there were other people ENJOYING themselves on the trail. People smiling, walking their dog and not minding the snow that blew in early that morning.
After passing by several people who were immersed in the beauty and not complaining “did you hear we are going to get another dump of snow?” the tune I heard many times the days before, I felt a surge of positivity flow through my body.
I was just thinking how wonderful it was to be in the company of such kin - fellow nature lovers who appreciate all conditions when I rounded a corner and saw him. He was sporting a red tank top with a red maple leaf in the middle and black sunglasses, next to him was a golden Labrador with a bright orange ball clasped in his mouth.
“Are you trying to give spring a hint?” I shout to him while running.
“It's a beautiful day.” He shouts back.
“It certainly is.” I smile before stopping to talk with this stranger and share in his enthusiasm.
“You know that is so refreshing to hear. I was just thinking how wonderful it is to see people out enjoying themselves on this snowy day at the beginning of spring. Your positive energy is awesome. Thank you for sharing it. I’m Janelle” I introduce myself.
“I’m Stew. And this is Gracie. Nice to meet you.” He responds.
I approach Gracie, the most adorable and sweet dog and reach my hand to her.
"She is somewhat timid." Stew informs me.
I share with Stew I write a blog about these exact encounters – meeting people who simply go about their day and without even knowing it inspire and uplift another. I mention that I had not been blogging recently as I was moving through some challenging times, but I was inspired by our exchange and would definitely write about it.
“And if you are ok, can I take a photo of you and Gracie?” I ask.
“Sure. What’s your blog” he asks.
“Live Inspired.ca” I respond.
Stew shares some encouraging words before I snap a photo of him and Gracie, thank him once more and turn to the trail, sprinting off in glee. I had what felt like a permanent smile inside when I was running down a hill and could see two women and their dogs stopped at the bottom of the hill. They were setting up to take a selfie, angling the camera uphill and in my exact direction. Without hesitation, riding on this wave of energy, I blast up behind them and shout “photobomb!”
“Oh, you startled us.” they turn around and begin to laugh.
“I am not sure you made the photo though. If you hadn’t shouted you probably would have.” One said almost disappointed that I didn’t.
“Well, you have 2 big dogs I did not want to scare,” I respond in between laughter.
We share some more laughs and feeling lighthearted, I take off once more running uphill as though I was floating. When I was almost out of ear reach, I could hear them chuckling to each other, one of them saying “that was awesome.”
My heart was racing not from the adrenalin, but from pure joy. I felt a rise of energy surge through my body. And I knew this was the reason I came out to run today. Not for solitude. Not to be alone with my own thoughts. Not to ponder all that was difficult and challenging in my life. But rather the exact opposite. To do what I love, to be immersed in the beauty of nature, to connect with others and to laugh.
I finished my run feeling as though I was transported out of my reality and had entered some portal to another dimension - the happy go lucky one, where everyone was smiling and no one was complaining, where there was joy, laughter, and playfulness. Where there was appreciation and gratitude. Where instead of the perception this sucks we are getting another snowstorm, the perception was this is AMAZING and beautiful and it won’t last so I am going to take it in and enjoy it.
Like the weather that can turn any moment from a sunny sky to blizzard-like conditions, Mother nature teaches us our state of mind, our emotions, and our challenges are not permanent. And more importantly how we view our reality will change what we see. We can be sure, just as the sun comes up in the morning and the moon rises at night, spring will arrive in its own timing.
And If we are willing, we can let a bad mood pass us by and once again bask in joyful connection with people and the world around us. I have found many times when I allow difficult emotions to move through me and open myself to another way of being, I have the most amazing connections. (See Random Encounters at Square One).
I jumped into my car, full of gratitude, bliss flowing through my veins like a drug and realized, yes indeed I was transported. I only had to release what was no longer serving me (staying stuck in hurt, anxiety, and sadness) expand my mind, and be my free-spirited self for the portal to open. The portal of joy, positivity, connection, laughter and light-heartedness.
Thank you Stew and Gracie! And to the women whose photo I almost bombed. Your energy and spirit has truly uplifted mine.
Ascending (v): moving, going, or growing upward; moving or progressing toward a higher level or degree.
Everyday life gives us the opportunity to connect with who we really are, to love ourselves and be of service. Some would call this doing "the work." It may be as simple as smiling at the barista at the coffee shop and sharing a hello to comforting your daughter after she is hurt, or it may be giving an inspiring talk or supporting a mom who has lost her child.
When things are going smooth, we are in the flow and business, health, and relationships are all going well, it is easy to connect to our Self and the higher vibrational states of joy, gratitude and unconditional love. In these moments inspiration flows like a spring creek after a winter storm. I have experienced these wonderful states including joy, reverence, and deep peace and let me tell you it is not hard to love ourselves, love life and give to others during those moments.
But what about when things are not going so well? When inspiration is stuck in your throat like a clogged drainpipe and every plumber in town is busy for like the next year. When you're heartbroken at the loss of a relationship? When you're experiencing the effects of chemotherapy and still rattled by a cancer diagnosis? When your MS has flared and you're symptomatic? When your finances are in ruin and you have declared bankruptcy? When you're ending your marriage? Or you are grieving the loss of your child? What then?
In those moments, it can seem as though your world is in a tailspin. That you are falling into unending chaos, heartache, and pain. It can be easy to slip into unhealthy patterns: judging yourself, comparing your worth, asking why is this happening to me? The question playing out like a record skipping over and over. In these challenging moments, we can become entangled in our wounds, our shadow. But here in lies the beauty. This is when we are truly called to do "the work." I mean REALLY do the work.
And what do I mean by "the work?" It is slightly different for everyone but the fundamentals are the same. To let go of judgment and reconnect with yourself, to love yourself and others during the difficult, the challenging and the fearful times. To see your wounded patterns, own them and not throw them into your blind spot. And to give yourself compassion, understanding, and space to grow.
During these times It is important to ask the right questions. To reframe why me to where do I go from here? How do I grow from this? How can I be a better version of myself? And just like a forest after a raging fire sweeps it's floor clean and leaves behind brilliant pink wildflowers, you will transform your life.
After experiencing postpartum depression, the death of my mother when I was a new mother, insomnia, anxiety and the unraveling of my marriage five years ago, I had nowhere to turn but within. It was then I discovered going within is my greatest strength. It is a place of renewal and immense resource. A place where we can move through challenging emotions and create a garden of compassion and forgiveness. It is here we meet who we really are. And discover where love itself resides.
Once again, I find myself - my emotions, my thoughts in a state of unraveling. But this time, it is different. This time I am DIFFERENT. I know who I am. I trust. I believe. I love myself. EVERY aspect of myself. And while things are ending, relationships are transitioning, my life seems in disarray, and I have felt hurt and anxiety and sadness once more, there is only one way to go from here. And well I may not be flying, I am certainly fucking ascending.
While pain and sadness were certainly a part of the year, so too were blessings. They came not just from the challenging moments, but from connection, adventure and love. It was an incredible year of going beyond what I thought my body was capable of, travelling in some of the most stunning mountain destinations of the world, experiencing new adventures and being inspired by connections with old and new friends alike. It was a year where I learned how unconditional love is a superpower that does not end when our bodies leave this world.
The beginning of the year I was depleted, healing from an aggravated old back injury when I made the decision to run my first ultra-marathon that would involve running 50 km over rugged mountain terrain. To some this would seem a crazy notion when depleted and recovering from an injury. But I knew using my tools - yoga, meditation, and shamanism and doing something I love - running through the forest and connecting to nature, would replenish and restore me.
And it not only replenished and restored, through the weeks and months of training I experienced the epitome of the saying “it is not about the destination, it is the journey.” Running through the forest a long run one Saturday morning after the rain, the mist rose from the earth and meditated upon my skin, the vibrant emerald green of the forest enveloped my heart in peace and I felt truly alive and one with my environment. In that moment, I realized it did not matter whether I ran the race or not, I had already won. I pushed my body beyond anything I had done before and I took my healing to a new level while enjoying the moments along the way.
From finishing my first ultra-marathon along the highest mountain in the Rockies, running under the full moon in the mountains where my mom grew up, ski touring from the world-renowned ice fields parkway, rock climbing the Skaha bluffs, stand up paddle boarding for the first time and exploring an area of Vancouver Island, I was blessed with many adventures.
One hot summer day I woke early and drove four hours to the mountains to run 30km along pristine jade coloured lakes, flowery meadows and lodge pole pine and swam in a backcountry lake before driving home and crawling into bed with utter satisfaction. That day I achieved a goal I set ten years ago when as a new mother I had dreams of being able to run for endless hours in the backcountry, pushing my body while exploring the vast wilderness.
I was also blessed with moments of inspiring and intimate connections. Sharing my passion for mountain adventures on a week-long climbing trip with girlfriends, we laughed, cried and motivated one another. In the fall I reunited with two longtime friends, one I had not seen in over four years and I have been inspired by the friendship with a new tribe member. In this year, I felt the power of forgiveness, I nurtured and healed a broken heart, and I learned to love myself unconditionally. In doing so I have been able to give this love to others. I connected to a love beyond this world and passed on a message and the healing work I have done has allowed me to love my daughters the way they need to be loved with affection and openness and with all of me - healed and whole. My girls being able to safely express their emotions, ask for a hug when they need or curl up in my arms and feel loved is one of the biggest blessings.
Whether we are physically present with the those we love, whether we’ve been hurt by a loved one or whether they are here with us on earth, I have witnessed how love connects, love heals, love inspires and love endures. To know and experience this is a super power - one I plan to use frequently. And so it is. Healing a broken heart, blasting limiting beliefs and connecting to a super power has led to a year of blessings.
“But listen to me. For one moment
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you.” Rumi
While I never participated in throwback Thursdays when they seemed to be a thing, I like the concept. Not just simply posting a picture from the past, but more so to ponder the photo in reflection of who you were and where you came from. It can serve as springboard for exploration into who you are now and how this person you once were is still influencing your present life. Have you moved forward or are you stuck in a certain story? If so, what is your story? And more importantly, do you like it or do you want to change it?
I recently completed another module in my professional shamanism training. And holy smoke, I had some revelatory moments. In this module we learned Past Life Journeys (yes I do believe in past lives). However, it is not necessary to share the same belief for this Journey to be effective. The premise is we all carry a story inside of us. We have since we were children and this story influences us in our present day, mostly non-consciously. After being guided in the Journey I realized I had a story inside of me of loss, sadness and grief. I see now how this has played out in my life, particularly the last 8 years and how sticking to this story would not allow me to live a fulfilling life.
The beauty in recognizing and owning our story is that we can change it. Or perhaps we realize that another one exists we would like to draw out. Reflecting back on who I was, I also see an adventurous free spirit, a girl who disregarded conventional norms, who did her own thing without a care in the world. This, too, is a story within that has also greatly impacted my life.
My earliest memory of striking from the norm was when I was four years old. It was my first day of school and while other little girls were wearing strawberry shortcake shoes, I proudly walked into class in my bright blue and red Spiderman shoes. What I remember more than the shoes themselves is the feeling I had. The feeling of confidence as I strutted into kindergarten knowing I was the only girl wearing Spiderman shoes, other little girls would certainly not make their mom go to the boys department to buy their first pair of school shoes.
The following year my favourite movie, Empire Strikes Back came out. I insisted, to my mother’s dismay I am sure, that I dress up as my favourite character for my first Halloween party. While other grade one girls pranced around in their princess Leia costume with white gowns and braided buns, I happily paraded as Darth Vadar, the dark knight, wearing a sly smile underneath my black mask, feeling the power I owned inside. And at sixteen, unlike my peers who were trying to lose weight or fit into a perfect mold of what a teenage female body should look like, I bench pressed and squatted alongside muscle heads at the local bodybuilding gym pushing heavy weights and trying my hardest to gain muscle mass.
Along with my propensity to sway from the standard, I also had an adventurous spirit. When I was fourteen I spent my summer hanging out with a new friend who was visiting from Cape Breton Island. At the end of her stay in my small town I told her, not knowing how I would make it happen, that I would come visit her next summer. And I did. Over the next several months, I saved all my babysitting money, bought my first plane ticket and was the first one in my family to board a plane and travel across the country.
Although I came from a family who never camped, spent time in nature or traveled, a few years later, I began cycle touring, rock climbing and backpacking. After completing my University degree, I spent as little as time as possible working and the majority of my 20’s exploring the wilderness, travelling the world, moving to a small mountain town and pursuing my dreams to live adventurously.
Whatever our background and experiences, we all have the power to choose our story and create the best possible outcome or ending for our lives. Awareness of the story inside of us, the story that is currently playing out, is the first step. We must look at the themes in our lives and what seems to be the constant. Is it anger, loneliness or loss? Is it love, adventure, or service? What do you tell yourself about this story? What are your beliefs around this story? Is this the only story or theme that has played out in your life? Do you like it or do you want to change it? If so, begin by examining your beliefs and creating new ones that are in alignment with the life you want to live now.
Changing our story to match our heart’s desire is healing our lives. I do not have to remain stuck in loss, sadness and grief. Fast forward to today and the girl who lives an adventurous life and writes her own destiny still resides within. This is the story I now choose to create. I only have to look back at this younger free spirited version of myself - the one who marched to the beat of her own drum, who embraced freedom and followed her heart, for she provides the map to where I am going.
She stood behind the till, vivacious, lively and energetic with a captivating smile and an equally captivating spirit. She sang and danced a little dance as if no one was watching, or at least she didn't care if anyone was. Enthusiasm spilled from her as she openly shared her authenticity in a moment’s exchange. To some, this may have gone unnoticed. But as I walked past her, my shoulders slumped, a lingering heaviness in my heart, something in my spirit recognized her song and dance and I took notice.
I awoke Monday following an intense weekend of professional Shamanism training, still carrying the heaviness I had been feeling on the weekend. I went to sleep Saturday night exhausted and Sunday morning I felt the same. I shed tears in my morning meditation (which not so coincidentally was all about releasing difficult emotions from our organs), feeling heavy. And as Sunday progressed I felt as though I was drowning in a thick sludgy oil from which I would not emerge.
What I thought would be an “easier” weekend proved to be one of the hardest. In my Journey to meet an Ancestor (I met my mom who passed 6 years ago) I shared with her how she did not love me the way I needed to be loved, how it has affected me in my life and the choices I non-consciously made to desperately fill this need. In a Past Life Journey (yes I do believe we experience many lifetimes) two points of my life collided where heartbreak, loss, grief and sadness intersected. And these were just two of the emotionally charged experiences I endured in 30 hours of training.
By Monday morning still cloaked in a lingering sadness, I decided I needed to leave my house and buy a poetry book. I went to Chapter's and bought Rupi Kaur’s the sun and her flowers and with no agenda I wandered next door to Camper’s Village. I walked around for a few minutes, not sure why I was there before heading towards the exit. On my way out, I passed the till and caught a glimpse of her, singing and dancing like a rockstar.
Her energy and enthusiasm awoke that part of me - the wild hearted free spirit, and I instantly felt it. I slapped down a you inspired me card on the desk, smiled at her and thanked her for sharing her spirit. I felt the need to share the impact she had on me so walking towards the till, I proceeded to demonstrate the heavy feeling I had been experiencing when I came into the store. Slumping over like a hunchback lugging misery on my shoulders, I completely exaggerated how I felt, bringing to light the stark contrast between her energy and mine in that moment. We both laughed out loud and I felt rejuvenated.
Once again I am reminded that what you see in someone else (see A Boy Named Carl ) also resides in you. Dana's energy sparked something inside, reminding me of that part of myself -the free spirited woman who loves to dance and feel the joy in each moment. And that even in the midst of a heavy emotion there can be lightness. When we are open to that, just sometimes we may unexpectedly meet such people (see Random Encounters at Square One ) who by simply radiating their own spark, lift us out of our internal struggles, even if momentarily. Seeing that aspect in another reminds us that we too are more than our emotions, more than our issues. That we, too, are inspired rockstars.
Thank you Dana, for lifting me back up!!!!!!!!!!!!! You're invited for a dance party at my studio anytime!
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
~ Robert Frost
“Of course I said blue sock because blue is my favourite colour. Duh.” He said mattarfactly, his tone a playful annoyance.
The voice is clear, spoken without hesitation, the emphasis on duh. Although I don’t see it, I can sense his eyes rolling in exasperation. He is shaking his head, the look on his face saying “don’t you get it?” It’s simple. Really that simple.”
July 17th marked one year since my cousin’s son passed away. In celebration of this beautiful nine year old, I took my girls to see Despicable M3 (Despicable Me was his favourite movie). After the movie, we bought three blue balloons and released them from a blue bridge. As we watched them float into the sky along with our prayers and blessings, tears rolled down my cheeks. Thinking of Matteo, how he touched so many and how he could be gone from this world was overwhelming. On our drive home we listened to one of his favourite songs by Lady Gaga.
Earlier in the day I was lacing up my trail shoes and deciding where to run. When I woke that morning I immediately felt I needed to go to Terwillegar Park. However, I only had one hour to run and with the time I would spend driving, it was not practical. Besides, I live steps from the Aspen Forest where amazing trails abound. Without hesitation, I laced up my shoes and grabbed my keys knowing I was to go to Terwillegar.
When Matteo was in hospice last summer, I turned to nature for healing. I walked, meditated and ran through the birch trees in Terwillegar Park. My grief flowed, I questioned life, I cried and when the tears stopped I moved. After my last visit with Matteo, I was walking in the back of the park where I came upon a grove of birch, standing tall and sturdy. I immediately felt embraced in the presence of something powerful.
Moved deeply by the experience I wrote about it in my blog titled “So I Once Myself Was A Swinger of Birches.” As I was writing I stumbled across the poem Birches by Robert Frost. It strongly resonated and I added an excerpt to my blog. I posted it five days before Matteo passed. One year later on the anniversary of his passing, discovering that poem would prove to be more serendipitous than I could ever have imagined.
That morning I drove to Terwillegar not sure why I felt compelled to go there. I was running a favourite section off the main trail descending down single track to the river when I came across sheets of paper sprawled on the forest floor. Rather than being frustrated (I often pick up garbage laying on the ground to discard) I was intrigued. I stopped running and had a closer look.
One particular page, separated from the rest, stood out. Torn on the side, the bottom crumpled, it had words splashed in pencil and typewritten on it was a poem. Drawn to this one page, I curiously studied it, pondered for a moment what it meant - feeling it was a sign, however, not sure what the message was, I filed it in my mind and made a promise to return to pick up the sheets of paper when I had my running pack.
Later that afternoon I realized the significance of what I found on the forest floor. Matteo’s parents were about to start a service in his memory. Holding them in my heart, I sent them a message of blessings and love. Seconds later, I was suddenly hit with the realization the poem I found in the Terwillegar forest that morning was Birches by Robert Frost, the same poem I discovered one year ago when Matteo was dying. Feeling an incredible surge of energy, I sent Matteo’s parents an excerpt of the poem and texted “Ok, I was just given a message.”
Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and silently asked “Matteo, I got your sign. What is it that you want me to know?”
“…I am with them. I am ok.”
“Ok.” I whisper.
“MORE than ok.” he shot back.
There seemed to be no words in the human vocabulary that could come close to describe the space he was in. I stopped for a moment, before I asked one more question.
“Matteo, how do I know it is you? Give me a sign.”
“A blue sock” was his immediate response.
At that point my mind intervened and questions streamed like a movie reel. A blue sock? What do you mean? Blue socks? What kind? Do they have a pattern? Something you gave your dad? And the conversation was over as quickly as it began. My mind could not understand how a blue sock could be a sign. I brushed it off, deeming it irrelevant. I knew finding the poem that day on the forest floor was Matteo’s sign and it was all I needed.
Two days later I shared the story with Matteo’s mom. I recounted every detail, not wanting to forget anything. However, when it came time to share what I received from Matteo and his “sign” I mentioned the blue sock more as an afterthought than something important. I was hopeful she would realize the significance of finding the poem without needing evidence.
Immediately upon telling her about the sock, she gasped. “Janelle, you left a blue sock here last weekend.”
“A blue sock?” “One blue sock?” “A blue sock?” I questioned almost in disbelief.
“Yes. A blue sock. I just washed it, folded and put it in my laundry basket wondering what do with it.” She said her voice cracking.
Silence followed. There were no words for this moment.
“He knew that. Matteo knew that.” I finally responded somewhat incredulous.
We paused again to take in the power of what just occurred. Tears began to flow. We laughed at the miracle of it. And we cried together. She shared the blue sock was the clincher for her. It was the sign she needed.
Up in his World, Matteo knew I would be spending time with his parents the week before. And he knew I left a blue sock. He loved to tease his family, especially his mom, who herself is a jokester. Most likely, Matteo influenced his dog Ramon to grab the sock, knowing full well what was about to occur.
Along with his sense of humour, Matteo drew people together; he easily captivated the attention of others. And on the one year anniversary of his passing into the Spirit World, was no different. As his family and friends were gathering together in celebration of his memory, he not only made sure to be there (he loved family gatherings) but to find a way to let his parents know.
Like the birch that carry such ancient wisdom, yet seem so young, Matteo’s strong, wise and playful spirit was reaching out to tell us and his parents “we’re all around, from root to leaf, from atom to star, we’re here.”
And “I am with you.”
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped it’s top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than a swinger of birches.
~ Robert Frost
“Anyone who genuinely and consistently with both hands looks for something, will find it.” Rumi
The air was misty, the trees alive and green when I ran off the main trail onto single track tucked in the middle of the forest. I was in my element, going off well worn paths into unexplored territory, running among the trees on a trail seemingly hidden from the outside world, where there was no trace of city life, no remnants of other humans. It was just me, the trees and wildlife. Or so I thought until I rounded a corner and to my delight discovered thirty dollars on the dirt path. I laughed and scooped it up, not another person in sight.
Until recently, I never struggled financially. I had to work for it and it did not always come easily, but I always had money when I needed it. Having grown up in single parent working household of six, I knew money did not “grow on trees.” My parents instilled this belief that money was not always overflowing, but there was enough to get by.
At twenty two I chose a rewarding career in the non-profit sector, however it did not pay much. But I did not let money or the lack of it impact my ability to dream and pursue my dreams. After graduating from University I wanted to travel the world. A large student loan and minimal salary did not deter me. In a period of six years I not only paid off my loan, I saved enough to travel the world while taking nearly two years off work.
In that time I made choices that supported my decision to travel. I drove a 1978 car I inherited rather than having car payments and I rarely ate out. However, it was knowing this dream was a possibility and never feeling lack that enabled me to make it a reality.
In the 17 years since I first explored the world, I became a mother and chose to leave my professional life to stay home with my girls. When my youngest entered school three years ago, I was drawn to a new career path. I took several trainings and launched a new business. That along with changes in my husband’s business left us feeling tight financially.
It was during this time a girlfriend moved to Paris. I wanted to visit her but we did not have the money. I returned to work with an old employer in hopes to save money. The interesting thing is although our household income increased, we were no further ahead financially than when I was not working. In fact, we just managed to pay the bills.
I have since learned that continually worrying about finances and focusing on lack does not allow you to receive. Paying bills and feeding your family is required, however it is important to look at the reason you are taking that extra job or not allowing yourself to pursue your dreams. The intention behind what we choose is sometimes more important than what we do. I returned to work in hopes to have money for Paris, but mostly out of fear and feeling lack. And the trip did not happen.
Three years later I am recognizing, as I once did, we live in an abundant universe. In the spring, still feeling financial strain, I booked a climbing trip to BC with my girlfriends. This trip was necessary for many reasons, not least to inspire me after a very challenging year. I really did not know how I was going to pay for it, but despite not having a cent saved, I knew wholeheartedly this experience would support my path.
Not coincidentally then, in just 2 months the entire trip form airfare, accommodation and expenses, was completely paid for. A West Jet voucher for $200 that my husband transferred to me and was in fact expired (this was overlooked by West Jet) bought my plane ticket, a $200 master card bought on points paid for dinners and wineries and miscellaneous items from children’s puzzles to a birthing pool I sold on a swap page covered more than the remainder of my expenses. Rather than focusing on what we didn't have, I trusted and believed I was meant to go on this trip and the money would come. And it did.
I have also learned to be grateful for what I do have and the experiences I have had. Although I have felt the financial pinch at various times in my life, I completed a University degree, travelled the world, spent months in the wilderness doing what I love, taken numerous trainings and I've spent the majority of my time at home with my girls. Focusing on gratitude allows us to appreciate the things we are blessed with and more importantly, it prepares us to receive.
A few days before my trail run, I met a fellow shaman student for an exchange. We worked on healing my issues around finances and receiving abundance. And so it came as no surprise when I ran in the misty forest I discovered money delicately placed on the secluded trail.
When I need a reminder that both abundance and lack are a part of consciousness and that I have the choice to choose one or the other, I am shown. I know money may not grow on trees, but with the right belief, perhaps it can be found resting on the forest floor.
My cultivation integration (fancy word for homework) after a Ceremony in my Professional Shaman training was to donate my bottles to a good cause. Integration typically happens over 7-10 days once the Ceremony has been done. It was a couple of days after my training and I was mulling over where I should donate my bottles. I contemplated throwing them in the trunk of my car in anticipation I would come across someone digging for bottles. However, this is not something I often see in my neighbourhood nor the ones I frequent. I believed the opportunity would present itself and decided to be patient. I thought maybe I was meant to drive to an area of town where I would cross paths with the exact person who needed my bottles.
Meanwhile I got busy with end of school year functions, preparing for a new session of restorative yoga, planning my daughter’s birthday and training for an upcoming trail race. A week passed and I did not put the bottles in the trunk of my car. Then ten days came and went and I started feeling anxious. I had not done my homework. ( I've always done my homework.) When I was assigned this task I immediately turned to my fellow student with tears in my eyes and said “this is perfect."
I had the strong sense it would unfold exactly as it was meant to. And so it happened the next morning, eleven days after my Ceremony, I opened up my fb page and the first thing I saw was this post: “anyone wanting to donate bottles please message me today I have a vehicle avail for the day & am running around to pick up Thanks.” It was from a mother of eight who recently had a baby and her dog was very ill.
Being a single income family with a new baby, they did not currently have the funds to pay for the expensive veterinary bill. They questioned whether they should put the dog down. But that was not an option for this mom. See Topo was her “chemotherapy dog.” She got Topo 4 years ago when she was undergoing chemotherapy to bring a sense of calm during this difficult time. He was by her side during every session and next to her in bed at night to help with the anxiety. He has been a significant part of her healing journey she shared with me when she picked up the bottles.
And so it is. The healing I received from the Ceremony, The Awakened Heart and it’s intuitively assigned homework by a fellow classmate went beyond the Ceremony, beyond the realms of my life and impacted another within this wide and vast Universe. And the message is clear. Sometimes we get busy. Sometimes life gets hard. And we don’t see it. But underlying the human trials is one thing I am certain; the perfection of the Universe and it’s flawless design.
My hand searches desperately for a sliver of rock to grasp. I find nothing. I have to trust my feet and step up. Barely holding on, I move through the crux of the climb as the wind picks up. Heart pounding, sweaty hands reach for a draw, clip into the bolt, grab the rope, feed it through and secure myself on the sheer rock wall before shouting “take!” Finally a moment of rest. My heart is still pounding. I do not want to look up at the next move. “Breathe Janelle.” I say to myself after realizing I was holding my breath.
I recently returned from a rock climbing trip in the Skaha bluffs outside of Penticton, BC. I had not climbed outdoors in 3 years and had forgotten how different it was from the indoor climbing on plastic multicoloured holds precisely aligned in “obvious” routes up the wall. Outside on the rock among the elements it became more real. The risk of taking a big lead fall and doubt in my ability overtook my mind. I was definitely out of my comfort zone.
Experiencing difficulty with what climbers call “head space” for leading, I continually had to push myself. I wanted to lead a route I could not complete the last time I was there 3 years earlier. It was our last day of climbing. As I scouted the route I noticed it was wet from the previous night's rain which made me more apprehensive. However, despite the slick rock, I knew I simply did not have it in me to lead it that day. Equally as important as knowing our limits and pushing beyond, is knowing when to accept them. I was ecstatic I was in nature doing something I loved and had already lead some amazing routes .
I must admit I have a healthy dose of fear when it comes to doing certain things. My nervous system is rather sensitive to the jolts I seem to give it regularly (hence meditation, nature walks and restorative yoga are a necessary balancing practice for me). And it is not just doing outdoor adventures that fires my fight or flight response. I have had a fear of public speaking and lately I have wanted to avoid my professional shamanism training.
With another intensive training about to begin next week, I already feel my heart palpitate. I find myself wishing it was still another month away or that I was done the program. (I still have over a year remaining). I remember my teacher stating on the first class at some point we would go through a period of wanting to quit the program and question our reason for being there. I laugh at that now. A “period” of time? Months of moving through intense emotions, experiencing challenging life lessons that seem to continuously arrive on my doorstep (the Universe saying oh you want this, really? Just how bad do you want it?), to exposing the hurt so that I can heal has caused me to want to run to the woods and escape many times.
What I have come to learn, however, is when we go beyond our limits we gain insight into our nature; we come to know who we really are. In this place we discover our true limit, not a perceived one our mind likes to set for us. If we do not push beyond these perceived limitations, we would always wonder: could I have done that. And in challenging ourselves we experience things we wouldn’t have otherwise. If I let my fear of public speaking overcome, I would not have heard the inspiring stories and inspired others at a highly successful event I created, which required speaking to a large audience for the past 4 years.
I have learned taking risks and moving beyond our fears stimulates growth. It builds strength and resolve. Having done the things I was afraid of, I am stronger and more confidant. And a wonderful side effect of setting goals outside of our comfort zone that we perceive as challenging and achieving them dumps dopamine, a feel good neurotransmitter into the brain (I love dopamine, in fact I have a bit of an addiction to this wondrous natural chemical).
Had I never pushed past my limits climbing, I would not have experienced the flow of my body moving higher on a sheer rock face. I would not have experienced my body, mind and breath merge in a complete surrender to the moment. I would not have felt the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes after leading a climb. And had I not pushed myself to continue my Shaman training when I really did not want to, I would not have ever known the immense courage I embody, the wisdom I have gained through meeting my challenges, the love and acceptance I have or the person I am willing to become.
In the not so distant future, I will return to Skaha bluffs. And I will climb “What’s Right”, the route I have yet to finish. I will tame my anxieties and breathe in the moment, I will feel my body move under an expansive sky and as I reach for the last bolt, clip into the anchor and shout secure, I will blissfully bask in a fresh wave of dopamine. And in that moment where fear and fierce determination collide with grace; I will greet my true nature, one that is capable of anything I set my heart to do.
The last few days I have been hit with a spring cold. Not feeling well, I put my training for trail running on hold and returned to simply walking through the forest. And this week, something was calling me to Mactaggart Sanctuary. A place of healing and a source of joy, it is where I did my first “official” Medicine Walk and where I’ve received powerful messages.
I’ve spent countless hours there wandering through the forest, sitting in meditation and watching the sunrise. I’ve guided women with cancer on meditative hikes, danced in the middle of the forest with the moon in the morning, ran freely on the trails, shed tears and kissed expectations goodbye.
As I walked the memories of these experiences flooded in. With each step on the windy, rooty trail I felt lighter and lighter and the symptoms of my "head cold" subsided. I approached a favourite meditation spot overlooking the creek and came across a young women sitting on the slope.
“A beautiful spot to meditate.” I stated.
“Yes it is.” she responded.
We both looked down at the water.
“Do you meditate here often?”
“Yes. I like the quietness. And I love the creek.” she said with a glint of passion in her eyes.
Like water flowing freely in springtime an inspired conversation ensued. We talked about meditation, nature, walking aimlessly for hours in the forest, Shamanism and yoga. She shared with me that she had been thinking about moving to Alaska and recently had a dream about Alaska. And that she had been making connections and had just met someone from there. However, she was hesitant about following these “signs.”
“Why does the mind always get in the way.” She sighed.
I laughed, knowing this all too well.
"You are connected and you will know exactly what you need to do.” I nodded assuringly.
I reached into my pocket to hand her a you inspired me card, but realizing I didn’t have any with me, instead I shared with her how she had inspired me and pulled out the birch bark I collected on my walk.
“I picked this from a dead birch tree. I’m planning to use it for art.” I said showing her my bundle of peeled bark.
“I do art with birch bark too. I put them in frames.” She smiled.
“Have you ever written on it?” I asked.
“Yes I have.”
“I just bought my first fountain pen and I plan to put some poetry and prose on some birch.” I shared excitedly.
“I’ve done that too, if you can call it poetry.”
We smiled at each other, our spirits in sync. Staring down at the trees, the water, the earth, I felt the beauty of this moment.
She looked at the creek whimsically.
“It’s like I am married to the creek.” She says.
An overwhelming joy spreads throughout. I know this feeling well. The feeling of wedded bliss, of connection, of oneness you can only get when in nature. And when meeting a kindred spirit.
Thank you “D” for the talk and for sharing your vision. I am grateful our paths crossed. You are an inspiring soul.
Pale peach skin smooth as freshly peeled birch
eyes like dew
hair cascading into a pool of golden sun
lips soft as moonlight
she floats above the forest floor
subtle as morning mist.
oh how my winter heart
with Your light
out of the darkness
into emerald limbs
I am learning to ask the questions and be open to receiving the guidance. If we don’t ask the questions and we don’t listen, how will we know what serves us, what harms, what heals, what direction to grow? The connection was made many years ago, but I now know the depth of beauty and power that exists within. And I have learned this is the most important relationship I will ever have. One that is with me head to heart, heart to head, and walks with me through the darkness, the pain, the challenges and leads me along the twisting windy path to the light. To the understanding.
“But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts. The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates revolutions in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or of youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a household, or style of living, and allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character. It permits or constrains the formation of new acquaintances, and the reception of new influences that prove of the first importance to the next years; and the man or woman who would have remained a sunny garden-flower, with no room for its roots and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and the neglect of the gardener, is made the banian of the forest, yielding shade and fruit to wide neighbourhoods of men.” ~ Compensation, Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Everything in life balances itself out. Remedial forces ever present, the Universe is the great equalizer. From pain to power, mistrust to trust, fear to love, betrayal to compassion to building the most beautiful garden sprouting from the wounds of the broken hearted. We will create from this place and we will change the world.” ~ Personal Journal, Welcome from your Spirit guide
What am I going to grow?
Love. Compassion. Belief. Faith. Knowing. Connection to the earth. Love of the One and the Self. Understanding. Fun. Adventure.
How am I going to grow it?
Trust. Patience. Connection. Listen. Keep your guard and instincts on hand. Move. Smile. Laugh. Play. Believe. Cherish. Love your life. See the beauty.
What is my first step?
Get out of your way.
(big laugh)….Don’t take it all so personally. It’s only life after all.
Yes I am learning. Learning to ask the right questions. Learning to trust what comes. I have planted the seeds. I have nurtured the flower. I have been burned and bruised and cut down. I have weathered the storms. And I am growing. Growing my garden of Compassion and Love, Belief and Faith. And like the Banyan, the garden will be wide spreading and fruitful to all who pass through.
All love begins in relationship. First in our relationship to our mother and father or our parental figure, and then with ourself. The love from parent to child teaches us to know and feel love. Unless trauma is present, a young child easily expresses love for herself and for the world. It is obvious when you spend time around a toddler, they have an uninhibited flow of love. From there, we experience love between friends, romantic love, and the love of our own family.
Somewhere along the way, for many, this free flowing love is interrupted, whether by trauma, pain or wounding. Enduring the challenges of this human existence, it is not always easy to find that love for the world and for ourselves we joyously felt as young children. Often times we shut down. However, as we do, we close ourselves from the very love we are needing. For it is in relationship to others and ourselves that love is expressed and received.
I have been blessed with beautiful connections and friendships over the years. Some have ended while others have endured. Some have been painfully hard, while others refreshingly easy. Sometimes I have closed myself in fear of being hurt. I now see they all have taught me about love. And when I remain open and vulnerable, I receive the greatest lessons of love.
One new relationship I have come to cherish is with my friend Katie. Although I have only known her for a little over a year, she is one of my tribe. On Monday we were out on our usual rock climbing excursion at a local gym when overcome with emotion after a challenging couple of days, I jumped off a lead climb, just feet from the ground. I looked up at the line, it was harder than any I had led up to this point, and I felt disheartened. I did not want to lead this route.
I stared at the wall, attempting to coax myself to get back on and climb. "Janelle you got this" I muttered halfheartedly to myself. I continued to stare at the wall, becoming frustrated. Just when I was about to give up, the song Karma Chameleon came on. Of all the 80's songs, this song hands down, reminds me the most of my mom (and I might add, it is not one that typically plays at a rock climbing gym). The memory of my mom dancing around the kitchen to Boy George flashed through my mind. She had such a vivacious energy and love of life. (See She Loved to Dance). Although she died six years ago, I suddenly felt her there, urging me on.
"Ok, mom I know you are here. What is it you are wanting to tell me?" I whispered to myself, feeling her presence. I realized she was not just pushing me to lead this climb, but to move through all the challenging "mountainous" climbs in my life with an open heart.
I could feel the tears well. I choked them back, took a breath, and stepped onto the first hold. Halfway to the top, I shouted to Katie to take and sat back into my harness. It was the crux of the climb. Suspended in mid air, I felt a wave of sadness. I fought the tears. But they spilled anyway. I faced the wall, not wanting Katie (or anyone else for that matter) to see me cry. The voice in my head was saying, "C'mon Janelle you're at the rock climbing gym, suck it up, what's wrong with you?" Willing myself on, I gathered up my strength and finished the climb.
“Yeah, nice!!!” Katie shouted enthusiastically as she lowered me.
“That was awesome! I knew you could do it.” She beamed at me.
I smiled back at her.
"I used one hold that was not mine." I stated, looking up.
"No you didn't. That was in. You climbed the whole route!" she exclaimed excitedly.
We grabbed the rope and walked over to our next climb. Standing at the bottom of the wall, Katie began to flank the rope. Yet again, I unsuccessfully attempted to choke back tears before I succumbed to the sadness I was feeling. I shared with Katie what was moving through me.
“I am so sensitive.” I state. “I could learn some mental toughness from you.”
She listens attentively before replying “That's what makes you you. It is one of your gifts. It’s what makes you good at what you do”
I look at her and listen, wide eyed like a toddler allowing myself to receive her love and support.
“I think you have a healthy balance of strength and sensitivity.” She looks at me sincerely.
“Thank you Katie.” I respond feeling her acceptance of who I am.
I know this about myself, but in my fragile state I needed a reminder. I needed Katie to see me. And she did. She not only saw me, she reciprocated love.
A love I am learning. It is a love that is powerful and like no other. A love expressed with joyous curiosity. A love that accepts who I am even when I make mistakes. A love that embraces every aspect of myself, including my sensitivity. A love that makes no excuses. A compassionate love. A bold love. A love that is present, that I can tap into whenever I need. A love that is with me ALL THE TIME. It is the spark and endless source of inspiration inside.
It is radical life changing love. And it is redefining my relationships. Especially the one with myself.
"The more I think about our talk yesterday the more I want to tell you that I think you're the perfect mix of sensitive and thoughtful and silly and contemplative. You would not be as good of a connector and listener and soul searcher and easy friend-maker if you were less sensitive. You're great the way you are, don't wish to be different." Not surprisingly as I was working on this post, I received this text from Katie. xo
When we open ourselves to life with an awe and deep respect for what it is, each moment can be transformed to have an almost magical quality. Surrendering to this space, suffering and struggle dissipate and life unfolds in mysterious and miraculous ways. Here, the connection to who we are, to something greater becomes effortless.
I clearly remember one of the first times I experienced this. I was on a solo trip in New Zealand hiking the Routeburn trail, a world renowned backpacking destination. Descending from a pass on the 4th day I stopped and stared in awe at the view down the valley, at the peaks rising to meet wispy clouds, at the lush trees whispering in tones of sacred solitude and as I soaked up this stunning scenery, I was overcome with an immense feeling. An inexplicable feeling of being intertwined with the landscape, with all of life. In this expansive feeling of oneness, the distinction between myself and the land blurred. It was as if mystical clouds swept through my body and in their wake left a deep knowing.
I return to this knowing whenever I am in nature - when I see morning mist curl around treetops, when I watch crystalline dewdrops dance on trees, when I witness clouds move in unison with the sky’s landscape, and to this place of magical connection. Nature commands us to listen and respect. To witness her awe-inspiring beauty and feel oneness with all creation.
Time and again, I have surrendered to the grace of nature, to Mother Earth. For me, she is a portal, (see Mother Earth’s Gateway); an opening to reverence for all life.
how a crystalline feather forms on a blade of grass
and glistens in the sun
and I remember
with ease and care.
how snow softly speaks to the earth in ethereal whispers
cascading like white pearls from the infinite.
and I remember
into the eternal silky cocoon
sung from above.
how feathers flutter in the wind
caught between gravity and grace
and I remember
how winter’s dew breathes
droplets of diamonds
trailing along reed
and I remember
brightness illuminates the darkest days.
how layers of birch peel
revealing peach bark
smooth as satin
and I remember
unravel from the wounds
that wrap around truth.
beauty in the smallest things
a snowflake, a dewdrop, a feather
and my heart, mind and soul
expand into the grandest of things
in the dark
rage before acceptance
pain before love
torment before peace
sadness before joy
illusion before knowing
hold the balance
shadow and light entwined
the centre of my being
One of my favourite poets once said the wound is the place where the light enters you. Surely, inspired by Rumi, another of my favourite poets, Leonard Cohen in his Anthem song states there is a crack in everything, that is where the light gets in. And while I do not dispute two of my esteemed wise wordsmiths, I would like to add laugh and let the light in.
We’ve all heard the expression laughter is the best medicine. And we can all agree it feels good to laugh. Especially those full belly laughs that are cleansing and refreshing as a warm shower on a cold morning. With it feeling so uplifting, it is a wonder we do not laugh more often.
Growing up, I did not find it easy to laugh. As a child, I was rather serious. Although I felt happiness, I seemed to have a difficult time looking at life with humour and connecting to the rapturous joy that comes with this space. I can still hear my mom’s voice in my head “Janelle stop taking yourself so seriously.”
I knew at a young age life had its challenges, that is was not always full of ease and joy, that is was serious business. I seemed to adopt this as a belief system as I moved through childhood and adolescence and not surprisingly it has spilled into my adulthood. I have had to unlearn this pattern and open myself to laughter, playfulness and joy. As I did, it has proved to be one of the most healing things I have done. I now realize it is my true nature, it is who I am.
In this past year, though where pain, darkness and grief abounded, where I have felt the wounds, the cracks and the uncertainty, I returned to my default setting - life is serious business, rote with difficulty, and fucking hard sometimes. I’ve had to let go of relationships and feel unexpected change in others. I’ve had to watch my cousin lose his 9 year old son and feel the sorrow and questioning that followed.
I saw my role in how I unconsciously caused pain to others and witnessed the shadow side of those I love. I have moved through intense internal shifts as I dove into my professional Shamanism training that at times left me questioning what on earth I was doing. With the many challenges that happened in a short time span, it would be easy to focus solely on the negative. To feel weighted down and sink into despair. To stay stuck in the wounded and hurt places. And for awhile I did.
However, when I reflect on the year, I am reminded also of the many beautiful and joyful moments I have had. The numerous shared belly laughs with friends, family and even strangers (see A Boy Named Carl, What Inspires Me Today) that brought immense lightness and a space of wonderful connection.
Like Rumi and Leonard Cohen eloquently stated, recognizing and owning our wounds can be an opening to compassion, to love and ultimately to the light that resides in us all. It is comforting to know that so too can connecting to joy and humour. Going through life’s difficulties and painful lessons, I recognize it is not always easy to laugh. Nor should humour be a means to avoid feeling the challenging emotions we all need to move through at times.
As a child who grew up with a serious nature, who did not laugh often, I now see the many benefits of humour and laughter. The liberating feeling of just letting it all go, exuberantly laughing out loud, and not minding what other people think. The feeling of exhilaration while surrendering to the present moment.
If there is one constant reminder I seem to get, it is this: laugh and let the light in. Laughter is a way of connecting, releasing, and healing. It allows us to take ourselves and life less seriously. It creates waves of joy rippling through our body, mind, and spirit. It is medicine. And one I plan to use frequently.
Anxiety hung thick, suspended in the air mixing with the smell of disinfectant. It seemed with every inhale it became thicker. It clung to the white walls, the white bedsheets, the white linoleum floors. It leeched onto the blue hospital gown wrapped loosely around her frail body. If you took in too much, it transmuted to utter fear. A fear that could seep into your pores, into your cells and change your DNA.
She shivered with the slow release of drugs in her system, her body awakening to the trauma of the nine hour surgery. Her breath remained quiet, but her eyes fluttered open occasionally as her mind flitted from thought to thought. How will I sleep? It's cancer. Will I live? Did they get it all? I’m scared. Past, present and future, all silently paying homage in the anxiety washed room. Outside the trees were coming alive in the spring sunshine, but in here it felt as though we were heading into the long dark hours of winter.
Internally she was like a ravaged war torn country. Parts of her digestive and gastrointestinal systems were cut out and rerouted. She would never again eat normally. There was a chance she would be instantly diabetic. There was the possibility she would endure another surgery to remove the rest of her pancreas. And there was the chemotherapy. In this moment, however recovery was unfathomable. The focus was on the night ahead.
It was not planned nor discussed, only subtly stated that one of her four children or two sisters would stay with her each night past visiting hours. And on this night, hours after her surgery, it was me that remained by her bedside, comforting her best I could. I stroked her hair, placed my hand on hers and listened to her.
The month prior to her surgery, after her diagnosis, I took her to a relaxation session at the Cross Cancer Institute. For one hour we were guided through breathing exercises and what I now know as meditation; it was an experience that would not be fortuitous. As nighttime encroached in the tiny hospital room, anxiety and fear became like poisonous snakes that slid from the walls, moved out from the vents, seeped from the dust particles, and insidiously wrapped a noxious grip around the room.
Unable to calm her mind, she asked me to guide her through “one of those sessions.” In my own heightened state, I could barely remember the words. It was even more difficult to find a soothing voice needed to bring her into such a state. Yoga therapy, meditation, Shamanism and energy medicine were not yet a part of my repertoire. Curled on a chair near the edge of her bed, I wanted to cry. I wanted my mom to console me. I wanted her to tell me everything was going to be ok. But it was me that had to distill her fears.
Somewhere out of the thickness the words floated to me. “Hush Little Baby don’t say a word.” I knew this song. I had sung it every day to my baby girl. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, mama’s going to show you a hummingbird. If that hummingbird should fly, mama’s going to show you the evening sky. When the nighttime shadows fall, mama’s going to hear the crickets call. While their song drifts from afar, mama’s going to search for a shooting star.” And so I sang a lullaby in hopes to ease the snakes back into their place and guide my mom into a deep restorative sleep. It was all that I could do in that moment to keep myself from falling apart.
One year later in early spring as snow swirled outside, I watched her slip away. In the hours before her last breath, I froze not wanting to witness what was about to happen. The intensity of what was moving through me was beyond anything I had ever experienced. Swept in a tsunami of emotions, I oscillated between grief and pain, fear and love, compassion and awe.
What I did not know in those moments of her last hours or after her surgery was the impact these life altering, heart wrenching experiences would have on my journey. Witnessing the fragility of life and death has helped me connect to what is most important. It has taught me to be fully present; present to what I feel so that I can be present for others. I realize now I had been given an unbelievable gift.
For the past two years I have volunteered weekly at Compassion House, guiding women with cancer through restorative yoga and meditation. Recently I began offering private healing sessions to the women. What I have learned through it all is beyond the grief, beyond individual suffering, there is compassion. For me, giving compassion has been the most healing thing I have done after losing my mother. In stepping outside of my experience and supporting others, I have transmuted my pain into love.
And I know, without doubt, my mom is so proud of me. (ok, mom are you happy I put that last line in? I know you wanted me to.)