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When You Don’t Have a Plan, You Just Have to Trust Life

Lessons from years spent journeying without a clear destination

I felt so adrift. So lost. I could barely string sentences together, let alone thoughts. But I did know one thing. I had to get out of town. Fast.

My mother had died a few weeks earlier. Amid the relief that she was no longer burdened by the disease that had ravaged her body was something else. A profound sense of loneliness. You see, I was alone. The term orphan tends to be associated with children. But I felt orphaned at 51.

I had to get out of town. It almost didn’t matter where, as long as there were mountains. Somehow mountains felt comforting. They reminded me of childhood years spent in Switzerland. So I decided to move out west, to British Columbia. I had no real connections there. I kind of knew a couple of people in BC, and had some good friends down the coast in the US. That was it. I sold or gave away half of my possessions, and shipped the rest out west. To start my new life.

My loved ones thought I was nuts. They understood my decision in one sense  – they knew I was devastated. But not in another.

“Why are you going somewhere you know no one?” they asked.

I had no answer that eased their concerns. I just had my instinct that this was the right thing to do.

This wasn’t the first time I’d pressed the fear buttons in my loved ones. I’d been moving home, city and country for much of my adult life, so they knew this was my MO. This one worried them more, though, fast on the heels of my mum’s death. They were worried that I was isolating myself at a time when I needed comfort. I couldn’t fault their logic, but it was still something I had to do.

My new life — phase one

I arrived in Vancouver, and moved into an apartment in the most exquisite location. Across the road from the ocean, and right next to Stanley Park. The latter is a 400-hectare, natural West Coast rainforest, surrounded by ocean. It was such a relief to be there. I spent much of my time walking beside the ocean, and in the park. The wet sand and forest grounded me. And I REALLY needed to get grounded. I’d spent the previous seven years on high alert. Caregiving for my ailing mother. Working full-time to keep us afloat. Dealing with my father’s death. Dealing with a volatile family member. Dealing with my dog’s death (he’d been my anchor for many years). Dealing with my mum’s death. It had been a lot. And it left me reeling.

The water and trees helped me in other ways, too. They helped me start living some important spiritual concepts I’d long understood. It’s one thing understanding a concept. And quite another living it. Being in the moment had always made sense to me. I could see how much easier it would make life. But I’d never managed to stay in the moment for any length of time. And this despite a daily meditation practice.

As I sat and watched the waves come and go, I noticed how every wave was different. Yet the same. Different in their force, their colour, their direction. The same in their essence. Water. No matter what was going on to and around the waves, water remained water. If you touched it, you got wet. I saw that water was what it was, and changed from moment to moment. What did this mean to me? It meant that I, too, was what I was. A human. And that everything about me changed from moment to moment. So, the present me wasn’t inevitably the past me. Nor was the future me inevitably the present me.

Spending time in Stanley Park with old-growth trees made me more aware of myself, and my energy. The majestic beauties that surrounded me, some over 600 years old, gave far more than they took. They shared their lives with everything and everyone within their range. They cleaned the air around them, and provided oxygen. They cooled the temperature. The most positive energy emanated from them. As I stood with them, they accepted me as one of them. I could feel their wonderful energy washing over me. And wanted to send them the same in return. I found I couldn’t do this right away. My energy had to vibrate at the right frequency for them to receive it. When, at last, I succeeded in sharing my energy with them, I was overjoyed. I thought I’d “cracked it”. I hadn’t. There were days when I had nothing to offer the beautiful trees. So I pushed aside my ego, and did what I felt drawn to do. Deeper meditation, and allowing myself to clear out my grief as it arose. This worked. And from then on, I shared my more youthful energy with the old-growth trees to give them a boost.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’d taken myself off on my own to heal. To heal from the years of loss, and being on high alert. My cortisol had got stuck in the ‘on’ position from it all, making it hard for me to sleep for any length of time. I had to take the time to decompress. But had no idea what that looked like, or how long it would take.

After a year in BC, I started to notice that something was afoot. It felt as though another new beginning was coming my way. Which made no sense at all, given the recent start of my new life. I put this feeling down to another phase of grieving, and thought no more of it. Until I started to notice something else. That I kept on running into European holiday-makers everywhere I went. We’d always have a good conversation. Somehow, our chat turned to what we each liked about different countries we’d visited or lived in. One day, a German couple asked me a question I couldn’t answer.

“You seem to like much more about Europe. Why are you living here?”

A month or so later, I found myself sitting in front of a travel agent, who asked me another question.

“So where would you like to go, and when?”

This time, an answer came right out.

“I’d like a one-way ticket to London. And I’ve no idea when.”

“What do you mean you don’t know when?”, he replied, with a confused look on his face.

“Well, let’s say three months from now. That’ll give me enough time to sell all my stuff.”

“OK”, he replied, still looking confused.

I hadn’t planned to go to a travel agent. I found myself there one day. I’d been walking down a street, and caught a red sign out of the corner of my eye. I carried on walking. 30 seconds later, I turned around, walked back to the red sign, and walked in the door beneath it. It was a travel agency. So I just went with the flow.

Three months later, I had sold or given away almost everything I owned. I was 53, and heading off on another adventure. This time with only four cartons and two suitcases in tow.

My new life — phase two

I arrived in the UK knowing two things. That it was great to back amongst friends I hadn’t seen in a while. And that I didn’t want to live there.

The UK was a stopover so I could catch up with people, and get organized. I needed to update my British ID so I could wander freely around continental Europe. I also need wheels to facilitate the wandering. I had no firm plan, other than to start by meeting up with a friend who was travelling in Germany, and go from there. After five months in the UK, I headed off one sunny winter’s morning across the Channel.

I wasn’t drawn to spend more than a week in Germany. The language barrier was a real issue for me, despite having university-level German. I couldn’t communicate with ease, and that wasn’t what I wanted at the time. That piece of understanding ruled out a lot of places I’d been interested in exploring. Spain, Portugal, and Italy, for starters. It also ruled in two countries. France and Switzerland.

My years spent in Switzerland as a child had left me pretty fluent in French. I knew I’d be able to understand and be understood in either country. I was drawn to France, in particular. This was odd as I knew no one there. When I left Germany, a destination had come to mind. Lyon, the second biggest city in France. This, too, was odd because I didn’t want to live in a big city. But I went with my instinct.

I loved Lyon. It was beautiful to look at, and welcoming. It had a very strong sense of itself, which I found compelling. I sub-letted an apartment in La Croix-Rousse area of town. This sweet neighbourhood atop one of Lyon’s two hills was wonderful. My apartment was in the eaves of an old building from Lyon’s silk-making heyday. It was a space where the silk was manufactured, and the silk-workers also lived. All the ceilings were high enough to accommodate the Jacquard looms… except for my attic space. There, the low beams threatened my six-foot tall frame, often getting the better of my head.

Lyon helped me get a clearer sense of who I was. I guess that’s why this city with such a strong sense of itself had called me. Living my life in French contributed to my self-understanding. When I talked with the locals, the person they saw standing before them wasn’t the one I saw. On hearing my slight accent, the conversation always turned to where I was from, and what I was doing there. When I told them my story, their responses always contained the same word. Courageous. Standing before them was a courageous 54 year-old woman.

After nine happy months in Lyon, I moved on. I’d reconnected with my childhood friend in Switzerland, and wanted to live closer to her. So I moved to Gex, a small French town near Geneva. The scenery there was so beautiful. Gex was nestled in the foothills of the Jura mountains, and opposite the French Alps. And Mont Blanc. This snow-capped peak rose with such majesty across Lake Geneva. Especially when made pink by the rising sun.

Yet it was the Jura mountains that had a special place in my heart. They were lower, and full of rolling green hills, lakes and rivers. As a child, I’d spent many happy times in the Jura, hiking, and picnicking by lakes. My childhood bedroom window also looked out on them. They were the last sight I saw before sleeping, and the first upon waking.

Gex and I were not a match made in heaven. I left there after a couple of months, and moved in with my friend in Nyon, Switzerland. Nyon had been a lovely town when I lived there before, but had now grown. It was also full of ex-pats. In the couple of months I spent there, I heard French spoken only a handful of times. English — and ex-pats — had taken over. Without a work permit, I couldn’t stay for more than a few months in Switzerland, so I knew I’d have to move on. Again.

Switzerland gave me another piece of my puzzle. Because I’d loved living there as a child, I’d always thought of returning, and settling there. But, just as the child was gone, so was that Switzerland. The past is the past. The present is the present. And this present didn’t marry up with that past.

My love of the Jura drove me to seek my next location within its terrain. I opened Google Maps, and randomly picked a town. Salins-les-Bains. When I looked at photos of it, I was hooked. It seemed perfect. A few days later, I visited it on a snowy day with my friend’s son. As we descended towards the town, we rounded a bend, and our jaws dropped open. It was in the most exquisite setting. And I had found my next stop.

Salins-les-Bains had been an important town for hundreds and hundreds of years. You could see this in the buildings. It was a key religious centre, located as it was on the pilgrim route between Rome and the UK. And it had salt. Salt was so valuable back then, it was called white gold. The salt also had healing powers. Salins became a spa town, frequented by people from all over France taking cures. It was still a spa town, but an economically-depressed one. Much of its once-glorious architecture was falling into disrepair.

This small town was good to me. Its healing powers went beyond the spa. The landscape was so beautiful, it filled me with joy every time I set foot outside. I spent much time walking, hiking, and taking photos. The air smelled sweet, and was full of more butterflies than I’ve ever seen before. Everywhere I looked was bursting with beauty. The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and the cost of living was inexpensive. I started thinking that I’d found my home.

Then, one morning shortly after my 55th birthday, everything changed. I’d woken up to a new world. A world in which I finally understood who I was, and why I’d been the way I’d been. My life finally made sense to me.

And I knew who I was in the world without my mother by my side.

You see, this had been the purpose of my journey. Figuring out who I was in a world without my mum. We’d been extraordinarily close my whole life, but not in a mother/daughter way. We’d been the closest of friends. Life partners, in a sense. We spoke to each other more than we spoke to anyone else. We shared a sense of nonsense that no one else understood. We had a lot of fun together, and a lot of tears. When she died, I was adrift, stuck in a small boat in the middle of an ocean, surrounded by fog. Until I wasn’t any more.

My destination was never a place. It was knowing who I was, and loving myself unconditionally. That’s why I didn’t have a destination in mind when I set out on my adventure. How could I see a destination that I didn’t know existed?

Once I understood this, my self-imposed isolation ended. I started to miss my loved ones, and wanted to be around them once more. And, given where the largest concentration of them lived, that meant another move. Back to Canada. Back to Toronto, the city I’d fled from when my mum died.

My new life — phase three

I arrived back in Toronto at the end of last year, almost four years after I left. I knew immediately I’d made the right decision. It felt right, and I loved having so many of my friends around me. I settled into a new neighbourhood, and reconnected with the city in a new way.

Old city, new outlook. Old city, new life.

Much has happened since my return. My new life — phase four is on the horizon. This phase is the ‘happily ever after’ one.

But that’s a story for another day.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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What Is Love?

Answering the one question that unites us all

Most years, “What is love?” is the top global Google search query. A quick search using this phrase yielded a staggering 402,000,000 results in .08 seconds.

I didn’t look at any of the answers. I didn’t need to.

I know what love is.

Love is a sacred union between two beings. Parent and child. Person and tree. Life partners. Close friends. Person and animal. What makes the union sacred is that it’s unconditional, and divine.

When I talk of unconditional love, I mean that there is nothing about the other you want to change. Ever. You accept the other exactly as presented in every moment. You see the other, apparent imperfections, and all, and love her anyway.

And when I talk about love being divine, I mean that its sole purpose is to elevate each being. To help the other realize her full potential. The potential that reflects her true self, and not the self we may want her to be. You remove all that limits your love. You give of yourself fully and freely.

This love is real love.

Does knowing what love is make it easier to find? Does it make it drop into your lap, as if by magic?

I also know the answer to this. No, it doesn’t. But it does make this kind of love easier to recognize if you do find it.

It’s easy to mistake other kinds of love for real love. At first, anyway. In the honeymoon period, when love is so new and fresh, there’s no place for conditions. Everything about the other is so wonderful, so perfect. Conditions start to creep in soon enough. Your eyes go from seeing the perfection to seeing the flaws.

“That tree is so beautiful! I’m so lucky to have it in my garden!!” ==> “That tree is blocking my light. It would be better without those branches!”
“I love his creativity! He can see beauty in chaos!” ==> “I wish he’d tidy his home, it’s so haphazard! The mess drives me nuts!”
“I love how independent and free-spirited she is!” ==> “I need her to be around me all the time. If she loved me, she wouldn’t want to be so independent.”
“I love you so much, I’ll support you, no matter what!” ==> “I want what’s best for you, so you need to do this, not that.”

Conditions don’t creep in consciously. They start to appear when your insecurities do. And insecurities arise when old, unresolved wounds get re-opened.

They, too, get re-opened without your knowing it. It happens when something you’re experiencing today triggers a memory in you. An unpleasant memory. This old hurt gets activated and feels so real in the moment that you react to it. Even though the present situation doesn’t warrant it. You believe you’re reacting to what’s going on today. But you’re not.

The minute things start to get conditional, real love goes out the window. That’s because unconditional love it the starting place for real love. Love needs to be unconditional before it can become divine.

The path to unconditional love

To misquote The Beatles, the path to unconditional love is a long and winding road that leads to your door. Your own door, not the door of another being.

Unconditional love starts with you.

If your love for yourself is conditional, then your love for others will be the same. The conditions might even be the same, because they’re all about you. Your conditions reflect what you believe you need to feel worthy of love. All those “If only I/he was more…, then I would feel more…” thoughts flying around your head are your conditions.

I get this. I spent much of my life in the conditional, only to discover one truth. That the conditions never filled the void inside. You see, the void can’t be filled by things, be they conditions, endless pairs of shoes, or binge eating sessions.

The void can only be filled by love. Self-love.

The foundation for unconditional love is self-love. Truth is, this kind of love is NOT selfish — it doesn’t spring from your ego. It springs from your caring for your own well-being, and happiness. It springs from your taking responsibility for your own life. (If you’d like to understand this concept better, you can read my article on it.)

How you get to a place of self-love is personal. There are as many different routes as there are people. What they all have in common is this. They demand an unrelenting focus, and courage. The focus keeps the prize in mind — the prize of a happy, worthy you. The courage keeps you moving forward, one step at a time, no matter what gets thrown at you along the way.

My own path to self-love was a very long and winding one. It took 30 years of relentless focus and courage. But the prize was worth every ounce of effort, and more.

The path to divine love

This path is both harder, and easier, than the path to unconditional love. Harder, because it involves two beings. And easier, because it involves two beings.

The challenge lies in finding another being who is on the same page as you about love. Especially another human being. I first explored the whole notion of divine love with a tree. I felt much safer with this tree — a cedar — than with another person. Trees are unconditional and divine by nature. So I knew that any resistance to our shared love was coming from me. At first, I had some good days when I’d connect deeply with it. But I had far more bad days. Luckily for me, trees are endlessly patient — especially my tree.
Over time, it got easier. I found that I could love my tree unconditionally, and give of myself fully and freely. I wanted nothing less for my tree than to help it achieve its highest purpose. Which was being the tree it was destined to be, not the tree I wanted it to be.

At this point, I knew I was ready for divine love with a human. One who was one the same page as I about the nature of real love. The 30 years I spent getting ready for divine love were hard. But this is when the challenge really began.

It’s easy to see why finding someone with the same view of love is such a challenge. Real love is not what society values. You can tell, because of how society rewards conditional love. If you do x, you’ll get y. Even worse, if you don’t do x, not only won’t you get y, but you’ll also get punished in some way. Life today is about compliance. And compliance, by its very nature, is loaded with conditions.

The starting place for me was to get clear on some prerequisites for real love. For this, I had to write a list of my relationship non-negotiables*. These are the characteristics that must be present in another for us to be on the same page about life in general. After I’d written my list, I realized why so much had gone wrong in all my previous relationships. My partners and I were miles apart on most items on my list. This meant we were miles apart on everything that mattered to me. I couldn’t see any of them as the perfect beings they were, because they were far from perfect for me.

This is a crucial point. Unconditional love depends on your being able to see and accept the other as perfect, just as he is. This won’t happen if what matters most to each of you is very different. You won’t feel comfortable enough with him. And this will make it easy to find fault with him — as a way of explaining your discomfort.

With your list of non-negotiables in hand, it’s much easier to navigate the choppy waters of dating. There’s a yes or a no answer to every item on your list. An answer to whether this person has the same worldview as you, for example. It removes all subjectivity from the dating equation.

If you find someone who meets all your non-negotiables, then the fun can begin. I say ‘can begin’, not ‘will begin’, because what follows depends on other things. Like timing. Are you in the same place at the same time? Like connection — emotional, mental, spiritual and physical.

You’re worth it

If you do get to a place of real love, life gets easier. Much easier. Because divine love ‘à deux’ is love on steroids. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Getting to a place of real love isn’t for the faint-hearted. The focus and courage it requires knocks many people off-course. But the prize when you get there makes it worthwhile. It makes it beyond worthwhile, to be honest.

And you’re worth it, you perfect human being. You may not believe this right now, in this moment, but you are. You are worth making the effort for. You are worthy of real love. You are worthy of being your best self. You are worthy of giving of yourself — and receiving of the other — freely and fully.

You are worth it.

* I’m grateful to SARK and John Waddell for making this easier via their book, Succulent Wild Love: Six Powerful Habits for Feeling More Love More Often

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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My Life As a Dog

And how it made me happier

Let’s face it. Dogs make amazing companions. That delighted-to-see-you greeting when you come home — even if you’ve only been gone for a few minutes. The look of pure love in their eyes as they gaze at you. That sense of their knowing when you’re upset, and in need of their comfort.

I was late to the dog-loving game. You see, I grew up in a cat family. I rarely came across dogs — they were much less common as pets back then. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I first fell in love with a dog. Oggie Doggie was anything but average. Physically, he was very tall and hairy for a Jack Russell. And his personality was larger than life. He was very cute (and knew it), very smart and very funny. Oggie had my heart at first sight, and knew that, too.

For the first few years, Oggie and I were inseparable. It’s true to say that my ex-husband was envious of the relationship I had with that dog. You see, life with Oggie was uncomplicated. We adored each other. It’s so easy to adore — and be adored by — a dog. My idyllic relationship with Oggie lasted for five years. And came to a crashing halt the day I left the marriage. I paid a high price for my freedom — my ex-husband got Oggie. He also got the other dog we had. He was “his” dog, just as Oggie was “my” dog. Oggie and I were separated for about 18 months. The moment our separation ended will stay with me forever. After much discussion, my ex had finally agreed to give me my dog back. When I went to the house to collect Oggie, both dogs rushed to the door to check out the visitor. The other dog walked away after one sniff, but not Oggie. He sniffed me, started to turn away, then rushed forward, and sniffed me again. He looked up, his eyes shining bright, and leaped into my arms. licking me. The look on his face said: “It’s HER. She’s BACK!”, and he ran out of the house without looking back.

It was at this point in our relationship that I started to learn from Oggie. A lot. This timing had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with him. He’d always had much to teach me, but I’d not been ready. It took a couple of major life challenges to get me ready to receive Oggie’s wisdom. The divorce, and my getting very sick with an autoimmune disease. These ground me down to the point where I had to do some serious self-work. Or go completely under. The decision to take a long, hard look at myself and how I was living opened me up. It gave me the self-awareness I needed to see the gifts Oggie had to offer.

The gift of unconditional love

The first gift was his unconditional love for me. I’d always known that the love I got from him felt different from all other love I’d experienced. But I had no idea why. His love felt liberating. I could be the real me with him at all times — no matter what that looked like in any moment — and it was fine with him. He didn’t judge me or my behaviour. He just loved me. And that felt so good.

It felt so good, because it’s not what I was used to. I’m guessing it’s not what you’re used to, either. Truth is, most of the love between people is conditional. You don’t mean it to be that way, but it’s what happens. It’s not your fault, it’s how society trained you to be. The conditions are subtle.

  • You praise someone for getting top marks, but not for failing.
  • You reward success, not the effort.
  • You think or say things like this. “If you really loved me, you would […]”, or “This is in your best interests…”, or “I wish he were […]”, or “You must/should […]”.

If you’re honest with yourself, you know you do this to others. And that it’s done to you, too. In fact, you’ve spent your life trying to fit in to receive love, even conditional love. It’s true for me. Or it used to be true.

Stepping away from this conditional form of love takes awareness, and courage. It starts with your noticing when you do any of these conditional things, and when they’re done to you. Once you start to see this behaviour in yourself and others, you can’t un-see it. Over time, you’ll start to catch your behaviour when it’s still a thought, and will have time to change it.

With every interaction, ask yourself if you deliver love that feels like Oggie’s love did for me. Love that says: “You’re perfect, just as you are. There is nothing I would change about you or this moment.”

The gift of living in the moment

The second gift Oggie gave me was understanding the power of living in the moment. I would often take him out for walks along exactly the same route, day after day. Whilst I tired of this route and routine, he never did. He treated every minute of every walk as if it were his first time experiencing it. He stepped out into his walks full of excitement and joy.

I could see WHY Oggie lived like this — it was an exhilarating! But it took me a good while to figure out HOW he did it. I wondered how he could get so excited about experiencing the same thing again and again. Many years later, I understood.

Oggie didn’t experience the same thing again and again. He knew that nothing is constant, that everything changes from second to second. And he noticed every single nuance of every single change.

He noticed that:

  • Different dogs had gone by, leaving different scents.
  • The weather was different, and this affected every sense. How things looked, smelled, how tasted, and felt. It affected the sounds that were about.
  • He was different, and was experiencing the walk through a different lens.
  • I was different, and was giving off different energy.
  • Everything along our path was different. Every blade of grass, every flower, every shrub, every tree. Different people were walking by. The garbage strewn around was different.
  • The cars going by were different.
  • Our rate of movement was different, and this affected how long we spent in one place.

These are but some of the things he noticed. When I finally started looking at the world like Oggie, it felt amazing. I was a young child once more, viewing everything with such wonder. What happened to enable me to be in the moment? I started a daily meditation practice… and kept it up.

The control this has given me over my thoughts and behaviour is mind-blowing. Take it from me when I say that a daily meditation practice will change your life. If you want more proof, this article from The Art of Living summarizes the benefits well.

The gift of acceptance

The third gift Oggie gave me was to accept what is. Completely. By the time he offered me this gift, I was already down the path to understanding acceptance. That had started when I got sick. After raging about my fate for a couple of years, I finally accepted it. In that moment, I took responsibility for my health, and took action to fix it. With great success. So I understood acceptance. Or thought I did.

My real understanding of acceptance didn’t happen until Oggie got sick. He’d developed a tumour in his neck that caused him constant pain. And it was inoperable. All I could do for him was to attempt to manage the pain via meds. This worked for a few months, then it became clear that his pain was getting worse. I kept on going back to the vet for more painkillers, but there was a limit to what they could do. I knew I had to make a decision, but the thought of being without Oggie was too much for me to contemplate. So I put my head in the sand and carried on.

Oggie made it clear that he knew I was struggling with his impending demise. He’d look at me in a way that said: “It’s OK, I’ll bear the pain for as long as you need”. He’d accepted his situation and his fate. I hadn’t.

I did make the right decision for him in the end, but it was two or three months later than it should have been. When I stopped feeling so raw from his death, I took stock of what had happened. And started understanding what acceptance really looks like.

Acceptance works on two levels. There’s accepting hard realities about yourself. And then there’s accepting hard realities about someone else. One is harder to do (the latter), but they both demand the same thing of you. That you step back and observe what’s there. That you see what is. Not what should be true, or could be true, or you’d like to be true. What is. And act based on that, and that alone.

I’ve not had another dog since Oggie. Partly, because I wasn’t emotionally ready for another. Partly, because I’ve been moving around a lot. I will get a dog, one day. And I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life for the gifts that scruffy little white dog with the big heart gave me.

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Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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Why you should fill your life with things that matter

And not distract yourself from them

When something is removed from your life, its value to you increases. You miss it. Its absence hurts. This is true even when it’s your own decision to remove that something.

It’s human nature to feel like this. You’re hot-wired not to like change, to view it as a threat. This is why it’s so hard to make changes that last.

It’s also human nature to do everything possible not to feel this hurt.

Such is this dislike of hurting – of feeling pain – that you do anything you can to avoid it. You can’t avoid it by preventing it from happening – so much pain is beyond your control. But you do have something very effective up your sleeve.

Distraction.

Distraction is an amazing way not to feel pain. And it’s never been a better time to find ways of distracting yourself. Social media, busyness, gaming, alcohol, drugs, shopping, food, Netflix. It’s distraction nirvana out there.

Distractions are interesting things. In one sense, they don’t matter to us at all, because they’re meaningless – and replaceable – time fillers. In another, they matter to us enormously, because they enable our pain-avoidance habit.

I guess it’s the process of distracting that matters to us, not the actual distractions.

But, here’s the thing. What we’re distracting ourselves from matters even more. We humans are supposed to feel pain. It’s part of our humanness. So distracting ourselves from pain is a problem.

It’s a problem in two ways. First, the pain doesn’t go away when we distract ourselves from it. It gets buried. Deep. Second, you cannot distract yourself from one emotion – pain – and not others – joy, love, happiness. When you numb one, you numb them all.

 

I learned this the hard way.

When I was young, I became a master of distraction. I’d use whatever was to hand to distract myself from feelings I couldn’t deal with. I used physical distractions, like having TV and radio playing in the background. And I used mental ones, like escapism, busyness, perfectionism and being in control.

My distraction skills enabled me to handle whatever was thrown at me. I stayed responsible, dependable and productive at all times. In myself, I was neither low, nor high. I was ‘fine’.

I remained ‘fine’ until one day in my 40s, when everything fell apart. No distraction in the world could take my attention away from the deep pain I felt. It wasn’t as though I wanted to feel the pain – I didn’t. It was more that my body had no nowhere left to bury it. The pain came bursting out from every cell. The recent pain overload I’d experienced had pushed me over the edge.

I was forced, kicking and screaming, to sit with the pain. It came up from my recent past, and my distant past. It was so intense that I stopped cycling and driving for a few weeks – I knew it wasn’t safe to do so.

After working through the worst of it, a few things happened. I felt a lightness I’d never sensed before. I felt real joy for the first time in my life. And I vowed never to distract myself from my emotions again.

My pain taught me a lot. About me. About life.

About what’s NOT important in life — what doesn’t matter:

  • Busyness doesn’t matter.
  • Living in the past doesn’t matter.
  • Perfection doesn’t matter.
  • Possessions don’t matter.
  • Being right doesn’t matter.
  • Distracting yourself doesn’t matter.
  • Faking it doesn’t matter.
  • Bingeing doesn’t matter.
  • Living in the future doesn’t matter.
  • Status doesn’t matter.
  • Being in control doesn’t matter.
  • Pretence doesn’t matter.
  • Hierarchy doesn’t matter.

Best of all, my pain taught me about what IS important in life. About the things that really do matter:

  • Feeling pain matters.
  • Feeling love matters.
  • Meaningful relationships matter.
  • Feeling joy matters.
  • Well-being matters.
  • Acceptance matters.
  • Feeling alive matters.
  • Giving freely matters.
  • Compassion matters.
  • Being healthy matters.
  • Forgiveness matters.
  • Living in the moment matters.
  • Feeling happiness matters.
  • Being loving matters.
  • Receiving graciously matters.
  • Letting go matters.
  • Community matters.
  • Being joyful matters.
  • Being authentic matters.
  • Being open matters.
  • Being respectful matters.
  • Wisdom matters.

You know what matters most of all? Putting everything you’ve got into what matters.

That’s how you honour what matters. That’s how you show your love. Because living, sentient beings are behind everything that matters.

And you and they deserve your best love.

 

 

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

trust-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

What happens when you trust with your whole heart?

The unimaginable does

I always tried to control everything. Life got so messy if I didn’t. Love. Work. Play. Everything.

I learned very young about control. I had to, it was an essential survival tactic. If I controlled what I thought, how I behaved, and how I felt, I got along just fine. On the rare occasion when my emotions got the better of me, they were smacked back down into their place.

That’s how things were.

In time, control became part of my persona. In truth, it became my protective shell. If I didn’t feel in control, things started to unravel inside me in ways that I couldn’t deal with. I can’t explain it, but not being in control opened a door to an awful mess that I wasn’t equipped to deal with at the time.

I became very task oriented, because tasks were something I could control. People, less so! I did my best not to hurt people… unless they stood between me and getting a task done. Then I would bulldoze their feelings off to the side and keeping moving forward. I wasn’t proud of my behaviour. That’s how it was.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, fear held me in its grip. I was afraid of the world – it had always felt such an unsafe place to me. And, because of that, I didn’t feel I could trust. Anyone. Anything. Myself included. So I had to control, to try to force things to happen.

And that was a total disaster.

I got more and more controlling, and more and more unhappy and stressed out. Until one day, when I imploded. I was so utterly exhausted from all the effort I was putting into controlling. I was so utterly empty inside from living without trust.

When you hit rock bottom, you have a choice. You can either numb the pain, hoping it will go away. Or you can make sure it goes away by making some changes in your life. I chose the latter, despite knowing that my changes had to be radical. And I knew exactly where to start.

With trust. I had to start trusting. Myself. Others. The universe.

My journey to trust

I started with my friends, by asking them for help when I needed it. This was me trusting that they wouldn’t drop me as a friend, thinking I was weak for needing help. Yeah, I know. Baby steps.

When this felt safe, I moved on to people in general. First, I stopped apologizing all the time. For saying things I believed. For being in someone’s way. For being unwilling to do things I didn’t want to do.

Next, I stopped being defensive. I had a right to hold an opinion, and it didn’t have to be the same as someone else’s. Other people also had a right to hold an opinion I didn’t share.

Then I started accepting compliments. Saying “Thank you”, and meaning it. That meant no more detracting from compliments by saying something to devalue them. Such as “In this old rag? I’ve had it for years!” or “Oh, this wasn’t really my work, X helped me with it.”

And then, I reached the point where I was OK with people I trusted being untrustworthy. By being OK with it, I mean it didn’t send me scurrying back into my protective control shell. I learned my lesson from each incident, but remained in trust mode. The overarching lesson I learned was that I wasn’t protecting myself well. By asking lots more questions before making decisions, I fixed that.

The final frontier was trusting myself. Trusting my instincts. Trusting my wisdom. Trusting my skills. Trusting that I am enough. Trusting that I am worthy… of happiness, of help, of trust, of love.

As I worked through this, I discovered something about trusting myself. That it’s entwined with trusting the universe. I couldn’t trust that the universe had my back unless I trusted that I deserved it.

You see it all goes back to love. Self-love.

You cannot trust with your whole heart unless you love with your whole heart.

And when you finally do trust – and love – with your whole heart, magic happens. Magic that you could never conjure up yourself.

The unimaginable happens.

The unimaginable

  Doors open that you didn’t even know were there.
  ‘Coincidences’ happen that confirm the direction you should take.
  Your tribe starts to form around you, united by the positive, not the negative.
  You feel energized by life, even when challenges come your way… which they always will.
  You feel compassion for people who aren’t like you – feelings of fear and judgement subside.
  You wake up excited about the day ahead.
  You go to sleep grateful for the day you had.
  Your heart sings.

Jump into the unknown and trust. Trust as if your whole life depended on it.

Because it does.

 

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

love-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

What would love do here?

Here, in this moment?

Love would…
 

💖  Seek to understand, not to judge.

💖  Put itself in the shoes of others, knowing that there, but for the grace of god, go I.

💖  Look people in the eyes, and smile.

💖  Respond, not react. Love doesn’t take things personally.

💖  Only help those who ask for it, and not those who don’t.

💖  Be respectful of all people, not just those in your tribe.

💖  Ask questions, and not assume anything.

💖  Keep an open mind in every situation.

💖  Put the well-being of yourself and others above all else.

💖  Allow you to be yourself, and not the person you think others want you to be.

💖  Have its own view of what success looks like, and not society’s.

💖  Be compassionate. All the time. With everyone (you included).

💖  Be present in every action, in every thought.

💖  Make you resilient to life’s challenges.

💖  Nourish you, and not beat you up.

💖  Love fearlessly.

💖  Live in the present. Savouring everything. Expecting nothing.

💖  Learn from the past, but not dwell in it.

💖  Aim for the future with goals, plans, and action, but not fantasize about it.

💖  Know your life’s true purpose, what makes your heart sing.

💖  Spend every moment consciously, according to your priorities. Love knows that otherwise, you’re living according to someone else’s priorities.

💖  Accept your emotions fully. All of them.

💖  Never waste time on things that don’t bring you closer to your life’s purpose.

💖  Allow you to be, and not try to control you.

💖  Be grateful for everything you have, not resentful of what you don’t have.

💖  Encourage you to know yourself and why you’re here, and not to be a cog in a machine.

💖  Receive help and kindness as readily as you give it. Love knows you cannot give unconditionally unless you know how to receive.

💖  Let go of things from the past that no longer serve you, like old anger, old resentment, old fears.

💖  Be open to new experiences, all the time.

💖  Express your emotions fully, in the moment you feel them… or as soon as possible after, if you’re not in a safe place at that time.

💖  Know what’s yours to do, and not do.

💖  Love unconditionally.

💖  Seek shared solutions, and not compromise.

💖  Forgive. Yourself and others.

💖  Be of service to others, but without any self-sacrifice.

💖  Lead with the heart, not the mind. The heart knows how to share, giving the mind all tasks it does better. The mind keeps everything for itself.

 
•  •  •
If love were here, in this moment, what would it do?

Love would love, and not fear.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

critical-thinking-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

How critical thinking transformed my life…

After overthinking screwed me up

I grew up in a family that valued intelligence above all. It also valued thinking. Not critical thinking, but overthinking.

There’s a crucial difference between overthinking and critical thinking. Overthinking has overtones of obsessing about a subject. Usually someone’s behaviour, often your own. You keep replaying what happened in your head, as if you’re trying to understand it. I say ‘as if’, because you’re not trying to understand it. You’re judging it. You ask questions designed to show that someone is right and someone else is wrong. Overthinking isn’t productive, it’s destructive. It stalls you, prevents you from moving forward.

Critical thinking is all about seeking to understand. It involves no judgement. You ask questions designed to elicit useful information. Questions that bring you closer to a deeper understanding.

Critical thinking had no role in my life as a child. We were expected to tow the line given by whichever authority figure was present. A parent. A teacher. A house mistress. It didn’t matter whether we agreed with what these authority figures were saying. We had to go along with it. Without question.

I remember school teachers sending me to stand in the corridor for asking questions. Not the “How do you do this?” sort. More the “Why is it done like this?” sort. At first, I asked them because I was trying to understand something. I either couldn’t ‘get’ their way or argument, or could see a different way or argument. When this was met with a show of authority instead of an answer, my reason for asking questions soon changed. I then started asking questions to amuse myself – and annoy the teachers. But this behaviour ground to a halt when my school threatened me with suspension. So I stopped asking questions at school.

I’d never even tried asking questions at home. I’d seen early on what happened when you did and didn’t like what I saw. So I learned to tow the line. At first, the questions I wanted to ask came into my head, but after a while, they stopped. I guess my questioning mind turned itself off through underuse.

It’s fair to say that I came to see asking questions as a sign of weakness. “Only unintelligent people ask questions!” I thought. Because intelligent people knew everything. They were always right. So said the prevailing wisdom around me at the time.

It’s also fair to say that this view screwed me up. Big time.

It screwed me up in many ways. First, I became scared of asking questions. I wanted people to think that I knew about whatever it was that was being discussed. That I understood everything. Which I didn’t. And in those pre-internet days, it was much harder to fake it till you Googled it. I got good at bullshitting – I managed to glean enough from people’s often baffled responses to get by.

Second, I became scared of trusting people. If it’s not safe to ask people questions, then trusting people can’t be safe. Contorted logic, I know, but that’s what happens when fear takes hold.

Third, I got myself into a lot of messes. When you don’t ask questions, you make a lot of assumptions. And assumptions make messes. I’ve never had an assumption of mine prove to be correct.

So life wasn’t always easy. But I learned a lot. After a while, I could see the patterns in my behaviour, and the results. And I took action. Despite my fear of asking questions and trusting, I wasn’t paralysed by fear otherwise. I took many risks and changed almost everything about my life.

After decades of relentless self-improvement work, I learned much.

  • I learned that where overthinking seeks to judge, critical thinking seeks to understand.
  • I learned that overthinking is toxic, and mostly self-directed. Overthinking is your inner critics at play, making you feel less than enough.
  • I learned that critical thinking is liberating and enriching. It opens your mind… and heart.
  • I learned that trusting other people is essential for a happy, fulfilled life. If you don’t trust, your heart remains closed to the amazingness others have to offer.
  • I learned that asking questions helped me learn to trust others. Asking questions allowed me to keep my heart open – to trust – whilst protecting myself from harm. The answers I received enabled me to make wiser decisions.

Today, I’m no longer an over-thinker… most of the time. I still have my moments, but they’re rare. I catch myself when I start to make assumptions, and flip into question mode instead. I catch myself when I start to judge, and instead celebrate the difference between us. And I trust, even though this makes me vulnerable.

I trust, because it makes me vulnerable.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

resilience-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

How to Spend Less Time on Autopilot and More Time Living

The art and science of conscious living.

When times get tough, I have a habit of going into autopilot mode. I learned to do this long ago – it was a way of making sure I got things done, even if all hell was breaking loose around me. So I guess you could say it works for me. Except when it doesn’t.

The trouble with autopilot mode is that it has no heart. You do everything by rote, without putting any of yourself into it. This is because you care more about getting things done than about how you do them. Or why you’re doing them. And when you do things without heart, your heart shuts off… a bit, at first, and a lot if your autopilot state persists.

Once you start to shut off your heart to get tasks done, you also start to shut it off for everything else. You see, you can’t selectively shut your heart off – hearts don’t work like that. They’re either open, or they’re not. So while you may be efficient on autopilot, you’re not effective. Effectiveness has a level of complexity that requires heart. Chances are, when you’re on autopilot, you’re not being as compassionate, either. Compassion comes from the heart.

When your heart shuts off, your groove is another casualty. I describe my ‘groove’ as a combination of my particular rhythm – my essence and how it manifests – and my routine.

It took me years to find my groove. I was subjected to such a dominant nurture environment as a child that my groove was silenced. What I thought was my groove wasn’t mine at all – it belonged to my nurturers. Being groove-less for all those years had a huge impact on me. I became very task-orientated – it was my way of feeling more in control of my life. I had little resilience. I wasn’t very happy. I tended to overreact to challenging situations. I was a stress-head. I got sick with an autoimmune disease. I hid behind my autopilot efficiency. Yet, my innate personality often came to my rescue, enabling me to build an amazing network of friends, and a successful career.

Once I found my groove, life got much easier. And happier. I became more productive and my creativity started to come to the fore. I became much more resilient to whatever life threw at me. I got the autoimmune disease I’d developed into remission, without medication. All was good.

Except when my groove disappeared. It did this when I became overwhelmed by or disinterested in what I was doing. Then I’d default to my old autopilot behaviour pattern. And stay there for a while, because I wouldn’t notice that I was in autopilot mode. Autopilot is, after all, a subconscious behaviour. Some time later, I’d notice that my joie de vivre was missing. The minute that happened, I could switch out of it – action follows awareness.

Nowadays, my autopilot moments are few and far between, and not as long-lasting. I am, for the most part, in my groove – and here’s what that looks like:

  • I have a clear life vision.

  • I have a comprehensive list of all the components that will bring me to this vision. Knowing your life’s purpose is the starting place.

  • I set 90-day/monthly/weekly goals for all these components and take action on them, every day.

  • I act consciously on a daily basis, doing only those things that bring me towards my vision.

  • I create healthy habits out of as many of my desired behaviours as possible. That way, they move into my subconscious mind and free up space in my conscious mind for things that arise. Many of my healthy habits are daily ones – these have become as automatic to me as brushing my teeth.

My younger self would laugh at my planning, process and routines. “How stifling this all must be!”, she’d say.

But she’d be wrong.

Being in my groove keeps me anchored. Instead of limiting my life with goals and plans, being in my groove has liberated me. It has allowed me to live with limitless wholeness.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

connection-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

How to feel the connection you crave

You turn around, waving at your family for the last time. You’re on your way, living your dream.

You’re ready for a big adventure, To live life courageously, pushing past your comfort zone and living every day to the max. You’re ready to meet new people, to experience new cultures. You think about the people you’re leaving behind – your people – but know they won’t be far away. You’ll be sharing every moment of your adventure with them.

You’ve got an action-packed trip. You’ll be constantly moving from place to place, witnessing the most extraordinary things – exquisite sunsets, mind-blowing architecture, the bluest of seas – and the most humbling of things – grinding poverty, extreme violence. You just know you’ll have sensory overload from the newness and wonder of it all.

Six months and thousands of miles later, you pause for breath. Your adventure has been bigger and better than you ever imagined. You’ve seen and experienced so much. You’ve made so many new connections. You’ve grown so much as a result of your experiences and from being on your own. And you’ve given so much pleasure to your people back home, who are living their own adventures vicariously through your blog and Instagram.

You feel alive.

Your aliveness comes from your knowing that you’ve made a deep and meaningful connection on this adventure, With yourself. You’ve always been so distracted at home that you never really spent any quality time alone. Now that you have, you plan to stay connected. Knowing who you truly are feels so good.

It also comes from your having made so many other connections on your adventure. Whilst they’ve not been as deep, they’ve shown you an important life truth – that all beings on this planet are connected. You now understand that you share the same emotions with people everywhere – joy, sadness, happiness, despair, love, fear – and that you are as one with them. Your connection with the natural world has also changed – the wildness you experienced touched the wildness in you – and you understand that you are as one with this world, too.

You feel alive. And yet you feel something else, too. As though something’s missing from your life. This troubles you – how can you be anything but 100% grateful for the life you’re living? You push it aside and carry on, focussing on all the good in your life, and on enjoying your adventure. But, try as you might, you can’t shake the feeling that’s something’s missing. Then, after connecting virtually with your family one morning, you get it.

You’re missing your people. You’re missing the physical connection with your loved ones. You thought that keeping in touch virtually would be enough, but it’s not. You realise that this physical connection with your people is an important to you as your deep connection with yourself.

It’s time to head home, for now. Safe in the knowledge that your expanded horizons will never leave you. Safe in the knowledge that your understanding of connection – to yourself, to your people, to everyone and everything in the world – is now deep.

Safe in the knowledge that you need all three types of connection in your life to feel whole.

Baggage in hand, you rush through the sliding doors. You look quickly to the left, then to the right, your homing beacon flashing bright. You see them. Your people.

You’re home.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

persistence-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

Why Persistence Matters

Because life is one step forward, two steps back.

Here’s the thing.

When you start to make changes in your life, you feel good. Not just because you’ve been courageous enough to take action and make some changes. You feel good because you notice some real improvements. Maybe you lose some weight. Maybe your face looks less pinched. Maybe your heart feels lighter. These things – tangible evidence that what you’re doing is good for you – encourage you to keep moving forward. Your resolve is strong and you know what you want. What’s more, some of your previously held truths about yourself start to fall away – as if you’re re-wiring yourself into the person you want to become.

Until one day, that is.

That’s when the self-doubt begins to creep in. Out of nowhere, you start questioning what you’re doing and how you could be so naive as to think that YOU could actually change. After all, aren’t you that same, fearful person you were a few months ago? Haven’t you always been like this?

These doubts may be so disruptive that you stop doing the things that were behind the improvements you saw in yourself. You stop exercising, or meditating. And start eating and drinking crap, and stressing yourself out. Your mind is working overtime.

Your mind. It can be a very useful thing, your mind. But it can also be a very destructive thing.

You see, your mind is where fear lives, along with all of fear’s sidekicks, like self-doubt, pity and despair. Your mind likes to be in control of you – in fairness, it’s used to being in control of you – and it uses fear to maintain this control. So when you go and do something fearless like making life changes, your mind fights back.

Because your mind likes you in your place.

It’s a bit like in Star Wars when the Empire struck back. The Siths didn’t like those pesky Jedis trying to be a force of good, so they fought back to put them in their place.

Now, this is a good moment to remember who won that battle, in the end. The Jedis did. Their persistence paid off. So, if the Siths represent your mind, what do the Jedis represent in you?

They represent your heart.

Without getting all woo woo on you, this is an important point. Your mind is where fear and its sidekicks self-doubt, pity and despair live. And your heart is where love and its sidekicks joy, happiness and self-belief live.

It’s your heart that drives all life changes.

The more you follow you heart and make your life changes, the stronger your heart will get. The stronger your heart gets, the less your mind will be able to knock you off course by making you fearful. Your mind will keep trying, of course, introducing whatever doubts and questions it can to keep you enslaved to its way of life, but its effect on you will diminish.

With your heart in charge, it controls your mind. You can then use it to help you make your life changes. Minds are great at planning, analysing, and creating systems and processes, all of which you need when you’re taking action.

One step forward. And two steps back. Persistence is the only way forward.

Just remember. You are a Jedi knight. And the force is strong in you.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).