We are our own Legacy

‘Legacy’ is the theme of the 2017 Tedx conference in Toronto.¬† If you’re reading this on or before May 1st and would consider nominating me, I would greatly appreciate it ūüôā


My maternal grandfather is probably the wealthiest person I’ve ever known.¬† A ‘self-made man’ in the truest sense of the word, he grew up poor yet built a series of diverse, successful businesses through hard work and ingenuity.¬† He was happily married for over sixty years, raised six daughters, loved God, invested in his local community and saw fourteen grandchildren and two great grandchildren come into the world.

As a kid, I loved visiting my family in Tilbury, Ontario.  There were endless afternoons in the pool, homemade apple pie and tons of cousins to play with.  For most of my childhood, I liked being in Tilbury more than Toronto.  I always felt safe and loved there, like life made sense and good things happened to good people.  One of the things I loved most was sitting with my grandfather in his favorite armchair.  I rememeber his booming laughter as he would talk and joke with me.  I heard a lot of stories and advice from that chair.

He was sitting in it when I went for what would be our final visit.  It was the fall of 2014 and he was dying of cancer.   That same chair, from which he seemed like an invincible giant in my youth,  almost swallowed him now.

“What’s left?”¬† I asked him.¬† His prognosis had been terminal from the beginning, and he was in a lot of pain.¬† He had told me not much earlier that he wanted to live until all of his assets were sold, so the burden wouldn’t be left on his daughters.¬† That was done now.¬† I had to know:

“What’s left?”


I used to think that legacy was measured in winning and popularity:  How much success could I accomplish?  How many possessions could I acquire?  How many of you could I convince to love me?

My secret hope was that if I accomplished and acquired and convinced enough, then maybe (just maybe) I would be able to love myself.

Financially speaking, my grandfather would have been considered successful by most people’s standards.¬† He started off working as a milkman to support his family, and ended up building a medical centre for the small town he grew up in.¬† He also owned two laundromats, a diner and a car wash in between.¬† In 1963, he sold a million dollars worth of life insurance for Purdential.¬† I bet that bought a lot of milk.

He was also very well known and respected in his community.  He was an active member of his local church, donated to charities and treated others with warmth and sincerity.

Back when I was a little kid sitting on his knee in that armchair, I didn’t know any of those things of course. ¬†When I got older, I didn’t care.

Let me tell you what I did care about, though:

I cared about the time he dove into the backyard pool fully clothed after my brother’s turtle floatie tipped over.

I cared about the way he explained to me that a devout Muslim was probably in better touch with God than most Christians were.  He himself was a Christian, and I admired him so much for saying that.

I cared about how he was such an ingeniuos and determined worker, but stressed that money didn’t matter if I wasn’t happy.¬† He sincerely told me I was better off being a milkman and spending time with my family than being rich if my job made me miserable. ¬†At the time I didn’t even know he’d been a milkman himself.

I cared about the loving, committed relationship he and my gramma modelled for us. ¬†She passed away just a few short months before him, and I was there in the hospital room when he leaned over, kissed her forehead and whispered: “It’s ok honny, you can go”. ¬†That is courageous.

I was thinking about things like this when I sat with him on that fall day in my aunt’s house in Leamington.¬† His own home, where I had run and played and ate my gramma’s home cooked meals and felt safe and loved, had been sold.¬† “So quickly,” he mused.

He didn’t have an answer for “What’s left?”.¬† Maybe he didn’t hear me ask.¬† He was in a lot of pain and on a lot of medication.¬† Or maybe he didn’t know himself.

That question haunted me for a long time, but I think I finally understand why I needed to ask it.

I needed to know, after building such an impressive legacy, what was left in life for an 83 year old man suffering with terminal cancer?

As I sit here crying and typing this article on a cell phone in India, a 35 year old man shaping the course of his own legacy, I would have to say my grandfather’s answer and mine would likely be the same:

The answer is Love.

Not long before he passed, my grandfather’s finances were settled and a cheque came.¬† Each grandchild and great grandchild had recieved an equal and generous share of his estate.¬† Looking at the figure, something hit me:

It was quite an accomplishment to be able to leave so much money to so many people.  It proved that he had been successful and acquired a lot.

However,

It paled in comparison to all of the love he had given while he was here.

…I know I won’t be the first or last person to say this, but I would have given every dollar from that cheque to have my grandfather back.

When I look at the world around me today, I see a lot of pain.  But I also see a lot of potential.

What is the point of achieving success if we don’t have deep and meaningful relationships with those around us to celebrate?¬† What is the point of hoarding material wealth on a planet which is so obviously sick and in desperate need of care?¬† Who will be left to sing our praises if we continue to act in shortsighted, selfish ways which hasten our own demise?

Instead of building legacies, I invite each and every one of us consider being legacies.

On Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”, Roger Waters sings:

“For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be”

We don’t get to take anything with us.¬† But we can leave something behind far more valuable than money or skyscrapers or stories:

We can leave Love.

Every day, we each have countless opportunities to share Love with the world around us.

Every time we smile at a stranger.

Every time we share what we really think and how we really feel.

Every time we ask ourself, ‘What would the best version of me do right now?’, and then do it even if it’s scary or awkward or we don’t know how it will be recieved.

Every time we make this choice, we are sharing our most precious, most beautifully unique gift with the world:

We are sharing our Love, which really means we are sharing Ourself.

People are watching us.

Edwin Schramek shared himself with many people.¬† His love inspired many lives, including my own, to be bigger, brighter and better than we thought we could be. That’s a legacy worth living up to.

A good question to ask might be “Who is your Edwin Schramek?”

A better question to ask is “Who could you be an Edwin Schramek for?”

Thank-you.

Edwin Schramek Jan 23,1930 – Jan 16, 2014

 

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Badass Habits to Badass Happiness

 

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” – Annie Dillard

Quotes like Annie’s used to make me feel very uncomfortable. ¬†While I agreed in principal, ¬†I couldn’t deny that there were several things I really wanted to be doing- BUT WASN’T. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, and somehow that made things worse: I knew I wasn’t living the life I wanted, and at the same time thought I wasn’t good enough to do anything to change it. I suffered lots of guilt, depression, insecurity and shame on top of the basic sense of unfulfillment I experienced from not pursuing my dreams.

I’m grateful to share that I’m learning how to spend my days in a way that makes me love my life. ¬†Here’s a little story I like to call “Badass Habits to Badass Happiness, or How Johnny Got His Groove Back”:

Badass Habits to Badass Happiness, or How Johnny Got His Groove Back

The guitar has always been mysteriously compelling to me. ¬†As a child, I remember making the connection that the strange, wonderful rock music I heard was being made on these stranger, wooden boxes. ¬†The romance began. ¬†I briefly dated a girl in high school who I thought very highly of, and she could play, which I thought was so cool. ¬†The guitar’s spot grew larger in my heart. ¬†I sang in a couple of bands during and after university, and when I would say something crazy to the guitarist like “what about sinister and chugging… but circus-y”, he’d think for a moment and play this:

(Aside: ¬†That’s Peeder’s “Ten-Sixteen”. ¬†Only a couple hundred copies of the EP are still available, so act fast.)

The guitar always seemed like this cool, amazing tool to convey emotion, but totally perplexing and out of reach as an instrument.  The cool girl showed me a few riffs, but then we broke up.  My friend tried to explain some basic guitar theoy, but this only confused me.  Whenever I would pick one up I felt completely insecure and lost, which was a far cry from the effortless finger gymnastics I was used to from my favourite musicians.

Right hand over the sound hole, John, the sou- oh, forget it

So, I did the next best thing: if I couldn’t¬†play, at least I could¬†pretend.¬† I fantasized about being a great guitar player. ¬†I talked to people about “wanting” to learn to play, “someday”. ¬†I got pretty good at Guitar Hero. ¬†I played air guitar frequently while sober and constantly while drunk. ¬†(Air bolt cutters is a different story entirely.)

A few years back, hell froze over and I actually bought an acoustic and a ‘learn to play’ book. ¬†I dutifully practiced and learned fundamentals over a period of a few weeks… and then stopped. ¬†The guitar sat in the case for a few years, and every once in a while I would think of it and feel a mixture of sadness and guilt.

How many orphaned instruments, exercises devices, books and memberships have met their fates for similar reasons? ¬†By this point in the story, I’m already up to a solid 25 years of dreaming, a few non-starts and now a painful, physical reminder sitting in the corner that I LITERALLY SUCK¬†TOO MUCH TO FIGURE OUT THIS THING I REALLY WANT TO DO! ¬†FUCK!!!

‘Fuck’ is right! ¬†Thankfully, I didn’t get rid of that guitar. ¬†Something made me keep it, and about 14 months ago I screwed up the courage to take lessons. ¬†I say “screwed up” both because it¬†was very intimidating to ask for help, and also because there were countless times I felt like I was paying someone to watch me make mistakes. ¬†Asking for help forced me to acknowledge and confront all of my fears and insecurities around perfectionism, criticism and failure. ¬†I often found the lessons exhausting, but I had a kind and supportive teacher (thanks, Jackie!) and I was actually learning, and so I kept at them.

I took weekly guitar lessons¬†and practiced daily for about a year. ¬†During this entire time, I think it’s important to stress that I rarely enjoyed playing. Aforementioned fears made the process feel very stressful, and I almost never met my own (unreasonable?) expectations. Nonetheless, I persevered. ¬†I learned Bob Dylan’s “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” (so symbolic!) at my first lesson and was working on Cream’s “White Room” (also symbolic, also much harder) at my last. ¬†I will definitely take more lessons in the future.

I stopped taking lessons because I felt like it was time for a break. ¬†Not from playing. From lessons. ¬†After all of that struggling to gain some foundational skills with the instrument, I’ve been challenging myself to play my favourite bands’ music from tab (step-by-step instructions; harder than it sounds), share things I’m playing on Facebook and YouTube, and even write a few riffs myself. ¬†Truthfully, I still experience stress when I make mistakes, but I’m building up both a resiliency and a genuine love for playing. ¬†A year ago, ten minutes of practice felt like running a marathon. ¬†Yesterday, I pulled my electric guitar (yes, I own an electric guitar now as well) out of my storage locker to play for a moment because I feel incomplete if a day goes by without picking one up.

Maybe that’s the most meaningful thing I can say: playing guitar went from being something I couldn’t imagine doing to being something I couldn’t imagine not doing. How’s that for badass habits leading to badass happiness?

Continue reading Badass Habits to Badass Happiness

Don’t Do Depressed: 3 Sure-Fire Ways to Get Fired Up When You Just Want to Eat a Large Pizza and Watch Netflix Alone in the Dark

Like far too many of us, depression is something I’ve battled throughout my life. I find it can come and go with the seasons, specific events, or simply on days with ‘day’ in the name ;). While I’m learning that I may not be able to control if I feel depressed, I’m embracing that relief and growth are very much within my control when I follow these three steps:

Reach Out:

In the times where I feel most lonely, isolated and vulnerable, exchanging a few minutes of honest communication with a trusted friend can do wonders. When I *feel* depressed, my thinking invariably becomes very negative and self-defeating, and my perspective narrows down to the point where rational, objective (never mind positive or optimistic) thinking or action becomes impossible. Openly sharing with someone I trust has a truly alchemical, magical impact, broadening my mind, bringing clarity to issues and elevating my mood. 12 Step Support groups are largely built around this premise for a reason.

Sharing my concerns with a friend allows me to process my emotions, dispels the notion that I’m alone, and reminds me that I’m loved (even if I don’t feel particularly loving of myself in the moment). I find the action of reaching out for help by texting, messaging or calling starts to elevate my mood, even if the other person isn’t available to chat right away.

..I used the words ‘trust’ and ‘friend’ above for a reason; reaching out to someone who is either unable or unwilling to be supportive can feel pretty terrible. Make no bones about it: asking for help and admitting vulnerability can be incredibly challenging when I feel depressed, and I don’t want to risk exposing myself to someone who might respond indifferently or insensitively. Everyone also has their own life to live with its various obligations and shenanigans to attend to, and sincerely caring individuals won’t always be able to talk with me in the exact moment I need it. Building up a community of trusted confidants and practicing open communication has taken me time and effort, but the gifts I continue to reap as a result are literally life-changing.

*Being part of a healthy, vibrant community is SO essential to my mental health, I’m realizing it needs its own post. (Note to self).

Get Up:

When I feel heavy, insecure and unhappy, the thought of hiding out alone, eating a bunch of food and passing out can be very seductive (hence the title of the article). If salvation was at the bottom of a jar of Nutella or end of a large pizza devoured in solitude, I would have found it a long time ago. Trust me ūüėČ

When I encourage myself to get up and invest in some slow, rhythmic movement (walking or yin yoga if I’m feeling really gummed up; jogging or various body resistance exercises when I have more gas in the tank), it acts like a physical reboot for my system. Trapped energy gets redistributed, endorphins are released and my mood and thinking generally lighten up.

.. Speaking as someone who used to be addicted to heavy exercise, I feel it’s essential to repeat that I derive the most benefit when the movement is slow and rhythmic (at least to start) and done with the intention of bringing coordination and balance to my body. I’m continually amazed at how much better I feel after a light 10 minute jog when in years past I would have considered anything less than a 45 minute 10km cardio hell session “worthless”.

*Learning to differentiate between self-loving, focused action versus self-depreciating scattered action is SO essential to my mental health, I’m realizing it needs its own post. (Note to self).

Get Down (with your Funky Self):

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved singing, dancing, drawing and performing. I was fascinated with music, wanted to learn how to play guitar and be in a band that traveled around the world.

As I “grew up”, I stopped doing or pursuing all of those things.

I could blame this on our “repressive, money-focused, dream-killing society” blah blah blah (and honestly that’s a not-insignificant part of it), but truthfully It was me who killed my own dreams by not investing in them and believing in myself. I don’t mean “believing in myself” in the sense that I could (or should) be the best in the world at any particular artistic endeavour, but simply believing that I deserved to do it for no other reason than because I loved it.

Over the last year, I’ve taken guitar lessons, starting singing, drawing and writing again and can comfortably and joyfully dance (in public! completely sober!). No one pays me to do these things, but they all add happiness and value to my life, both on a daily and cumulative basis. I when I posted the video below on YouTube the day I was leaving for Burning Man, I was nervous as hell. I NEEDED to share it though, to prove to myself that I WAS learning to play guitar and that the things I care about MATTER. The more often I act from this place, the less often I feel depressed because I know that I am beginning to live my life authentically, with purpose.

*Learning to prioritize doing and sharing the things I love is SO essential to my mental health, I’m realizing it needs its own post. (Note to self).

Thank you so much for reading. I hope the post has sparked something positive for you, either as a reflection of healthy things you’re already doing or inspiration for things you want to start. How do you care for yourself? Feel free to share below ūüôā

 

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Trust: A True Life Story Told Through Shit 90s Alt Rock

“I am barely breathing and I can’t find the air
Don’t know who I’m kidding; imagining you care
And I could stand here waiting: a fool for another day
I don’t suppose it’s worth the price, it’s worth the price
The price that I might pay… but I’m thinking it over, anyways”

– “Barely Breathing”, Duncan Sheik

…I awoke the other morning, reeling from a vivid dream involving my former fiancee. I lay in bed, overcome with a deep, aching grief. The pain was undeniable and I desperately wanted to let it out, but something was holding me back. Amidst the turmoil, a calm, rational voice in my mind was telling me to lay still and be quiet. I became aware of all the locked places in my body which had protected me from expressing these feelings for God-knows how long. I couldn’t stand to hold on any longer, but was also terrified at the thought of letting go.

I had a choice to make.

In spite of the uncertainty and fear, I didn’t want to remain stuck any longer. I summoned my courage, took a deep breath and allowed myself to wail. I really hope the neighbours didn’t hear ūüôā

“I want something else
To get me through this
Semi-charmed kinda life”

– “Semi-Charmed Life”, Third Eye Blind

…Soon after, I found myself sitting on the subway, tired and raw. I realized that there was no way I could get through the upcoming day or be present with my students if I had to pretend that I was “fine”. I encouraged myself to play an ‘honesty’ game: whenever people asked me how I was doing, I would actually tell them. “Today, I’m feeling depressed”.

“Everyone’s got to face down the demons
Maybe today we can put the past away”

– “Jumper”, also Third Eye Blind

…My courage and vulnerability paid off in incredible ways. I received eye contact, words of concern and encouragement from my colleagues and students. Many asked why I was feeling depressed, and so I told them: “The holiday season is always hard for me, and this is the first in probably nine years where I’ll be single”. They listened and understood. Some offered advice, but what I truly appreciated was having permission to feel the way I was feeling without judgement or criticism. Incredibly, one of my classes asked me to share the sound healing I’ve been working on, and so I took a chance and did it. They clapped for me and smiled. It was amazing.

These three songs came into my life yesterday just as suddenly and unexpectedly as the experiences I’ve related to them. I grew up listening to 90s alternative rock but wasn’t a fan of either Duncan Sheik or Third Eye Blind. I probably heard “Barely Breathing” a few times in passing on the radio (yes, the radio), and honestly found Third Eye Blind’s singles so poppy that I dismissed them outright as “shit” without even trying to listen. Nonetheless, here were these three songs I hadn’t thought of for years, coming into my life ready to perfectly express a particular element of the challenges and growth I was navigating.

I can often feel the same way about my emotions. As I encourage myself to be more open-minded and live a full and satisfying life, I am frequently confronted with strong, sometimes over-powering feelings. Sometimes I think I know why I’m feeling what I’m feeling; other times I am completely clueless. Sometimes I am able to care for and reassure myself; other times I am left to flounder until I reach out (hopefully soon) for help.

In my journey to live authentically, the need to trust is becoming essential: Trusting that the experiences life brings me (and my emotional responses) are empowering rather than impeding my growth. Trusting that I already possess a wealth of knowledge and tools to care for myself. Trusting that there are loving, compassionate people to carry me through the moments where I cannot carry myself. Trusting that I will know when to look inside for answers and when to look outside for help.

..Trusting that, if 90s alternative rock songs pop into my head, I should pay attention. Especially to the shitty ones ūüėČ

We are such complicated, dynamic beings. We experience life in an infinite variety of ways, yet all crave love, connection and acceptance at our core. You are more resourceful, knowledgable and powerful than you think! If you ever feel you need some help, I’m here for you.

Thanks for reading.

– eyeball <3  

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Life-Long Learning

Dr. Malszecki, in what I'm assuming is a old photo
Dr. Malszecki, in what I’m assuming is a old photo

Today, I learned that one of my favourite university professors, Dr. Greg Malszecki, had retired. He was well known and liked as much for his personable attitude and penchant for loud sweaters as he was for his integrity and trustable nature. One of the memories which stands out clearly from my first year Kinesiology program was the morning he demonstrated a series of Tai-Chi forms in front of the class. He conducted himself with a simple grace which transcended the occasional miscues and inconsistencies in his movements. “I try to learn a new skill every year,” he offered, “so I will never forget how my students feel.”

At the time, I couldn’t fully appreciate the degree of humility it must have taken to present himself so openly to 400 students who were less than half his age. To be vulnerable and risk appearing as less than perfect to the same people he was entrusted with guiding as an authority figure betrayed his willingness to be real and lead by example.

It was a poignant display of integrity from a man who was operating within an institution I didn’t always find to be a shining example thereof ūüėČ To be the best teacher possible for his students, Dr. Malszecki was a life-long student himself. From that and many other interactions, I saw that he was willing to practice what he preached and truly believed in the value of self-exploration and self- improvement (two concepts he stressed regularly in class).

I hope you’ve run into a few teachers (inside or outside the traditional classroom) who met you honestly, with the sincere intention to be themselves in the service of helping you learn more about your self. After a decade of teaching and mentoring experience, I can say that this often hasn’t been an easy or comfortable proposition for me. I have found it to be absolutely essential, however, for meaningful learning to take place.

Whether amongst coworkers, friends or family, who hasn’t felt the pressure to appear as perfectly infallible? What is it which makes us (or me, at least) desire to have all the answers and loathe with the possibility of appearing unsure, uncomfortable or unconfident around others (and even ourselves)? Once we’ve invested a certain amount of time in something or reached a certain level of success, how tempting is it to assume we’ve realized our full potential? Are we content to rest in what we (think we) know, or compelled to continue the journey of exploration and growth?

I won’t pretend to have definitive answers to any of these questions, but experience shows me that striving for an open humility might be enough. To continually look for opportunities to express myself sincerely and see things from a new perspective allows me to meet others honestly, where we can hopefully both let down our habitual defences down and be open to allowing something new in. Taking the chance to be real again and again goes a long way towards dissolving those fearful, controlling and closed aspects of my personality. Like my university professor, I’m learning to embrace being a life-long student.

To paraphrase an old Chinese proverb: “The teacher and the taught together create the teaching”. I’m increasingly grateful to every teacher and student I’ve had who were willing to meet me openly and learn together. It’s a challenging, exhilarating journey I’m honoured to share with whomever wants to explore.

I hope you’re enjoying retirement, Dr. Malszecki.

-eyeball <3  

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