Connecting The Dots

Discussing the threads of my own passions which have culminated in my work as coach, mentor, presenter in my own business.

Do you need a new question?

Mary Johnson - Wednesday, March 07, 2018
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Maybe you too are familiar with the saying that goes something like it's better to live the question than have an answer. Okay so I don't remember it exactly but there's the general gist. Sounds great in theory and I'm a want-to-know kinda gal. This has reared it's head on a wee bit of a holiday Neil and I are taking. I like to know where I am going (map in hand). A plan also helps. We are traveling fundamentally without either. This is a challenge! Wish I could say I am 'going with the flow' but I'm struggling. 'What's your thinking about what you want to do? 'Where are you thinking we'll travel to today?' 'This is unexpected. What's plan B?' It's more or less up in Neil's head (or so I tell myself) and not in my hands. Hmm my not so inner bossy pants twitches with this!! My default is to find ways to rephrase the same question. Not working!

On another hand I usually take along some inspiring, uplifting books to read. One idea by Jennifer Krause** was when you find yourself hooping around the same thinking, it's time to find a new question. One that opens up the situation; or on a much larger scale one that your life can be an answer to. Seems like a great suggestion for my situation! 

So I've been playing with what question(s) might get me out of fretting about the trajectory of our trip. Here is some of my fruitful ones. 'What might I see on this trip that I've never seen?' 'How will I be inspired today?' 'Who or what will touch me?' 'What will I try that's new?' With practice and perserverance it's helping. I'm a little less obsessive about the particulars. When I evoke the questions, my eyes and my heart are less focused on my need to know and more open to some delightful and /or new to me experiences. Have met some wonderful folks, been helped by strangers, narked a whole lot less when we got tired and had a long ways still to drive. Her wisdom showed up at the right time!

 So now it's got me thinking how might this approach work for some of the bigger questions in my life!

** Jennifer is the author 'The Answer: Making Sense of Life One Question at a Time'.  

     

My Auntie Betty

Mary Johnson - Sunday, February 25, 2018

On Thursday my mom's sister, Auntie Betty, passed away at home. This was her wish. Auntie's heart had been failing. It simply stopped getting ready for her day. An accepted  inevitability of her disease. I have written before about the dear Old Ones in my life and just wish to reflect a little on this dear soul here.

There were 9 years difference in ages as well as a different father between the 2 sisters. Mom was first born. Lost her dad at age 4. Mom was taller, larger framed, dark haired, more out going. Auntie was born after her mom remarried. She was short, finer boned, wicked white blonde and, as I found out these past number of years, introverted and extremely private. I have often described my mom as a little brown bird. She never found the knack of doing her hair, wearing stylish clothes or feeling comfortable wearing some of the beautiful jewelry Dad gave her. Auntie, on the other hand, was classic and classy. She wore beautiful expensive clothes, tasteful but lovely jewelry and was always impeccably coiffured. And lipstick. She had her signature color and was never without it on. I was fascinated by my Aunt. She shaped some of my ideas about dressing up and jewelry. Let's not forget the lipstick. I too love to wear it. It's rare to see me without!    

The sister's lives traveled very different trajectories. The very regular family gatherings of my childhood dwindled as family busyness took over. Though bless my uncle Leo's heart, he created periodic gatherings for us to stay in touch. When he died around 8 years ago,  in a variety of small ways so did my Auntie. Or at least the impetus to be out in the world with the variety and enthusiasm as she and my uncle had done. She became a bit of a recluse. Hard to draw out of her home. That said last November Auntie was feeling better. Her daughter, my sister and I took over a lunch and had a wonderful visit. It had been close to 2 years since I had seen her. Auntie was in fine form. We enjoyed a delightful afternoon. A quick story, .... she wanted to show me some pictures of a fellow that starred in a Netflix series she was really enjoying. "Isn't he a hunk?" she said. You could have bowled me over with a feather. Never heard her say anything as earthy as that. And yes he was a hunk! It delighted me that part of her life was still in play. 

Secondly, there was a wee piece in our last correspondence on email. She loved email! I had shared that my sister and I made pirogies for the first time in any significant way. Used her dough recipe and it was amazing! Also told her I had received a ring for Christmas, similar to one I had admired for years and years of hers. Told her I thought of her when I wore it. "Good hubby" she wrote back. Made me laugh!

There will not be a gathering of any kind. Am sorry for that. There would be other sweet stories of my Auntie Betty that would have been fun to hear. She lived and died on her terms. In the end what more could you ask for. Will miss you dear one!

     

Downstream effects of technology

Mary Johnson - Thursday, February 15, 2018

As I have written before, I love when presented with a new twist on an old idea. So it was on the weekend when I read an article by Michael Harris in the Globe where the author wrote 'I have forgotten how to read.' He was talking about a book or a whole article. It twigged a conversation I had, oh about 6 months ago when my website fellow mentioned the same thing. He said he was too impatient to read a full length article let alone sit down with a book. Seems our digital technologies are indeed shifting the way we take in information. I had resisted the notion that I too was developing a shorter attention span! Yet it's true. It takes a real effort somedays to read to the end of an article rather than just browse the title and first few paragraphs. I can still chug through a book but gee it better be pretty darn interesting and fast paced!!

There are secondary effects of this needing to be engaged at such a constant level. Author Nicolas Carr (The Shallows) has suggested that "digital technologies are training us to be more conscious and more antagonistic towards delays of all sorts." Think of the implications of this. As I did certainly driving in traffic came to mind. I tend to drive just over the speed limit and yet constantly have other drivers sitting on my backside just waiting for a chance to get around. Grocery and other line-ups is another place to experience loads of impatience and rudeness towards those doing their jobs. Send an email and get huffy if someone doesn't reply right away. And texts are expected to be an immediate response ( I know Jane has her phone on ALL THE TIME. Why isn't she texting back!!). Have an issue with a service provider, email your question. We'll get back to you within 2 business days. WHAT?!? ........ You get the idea.

Then in a societal sense we are losing the ability and patience for due process. People are convicted in the social media sphere without all the facts. No explanation afterwards or during is good enough if I feel you are wrong! We want immigrants to hurry up and integrate so they are like us (and yet aren't), minority groups to just get on with 'it', old people to quit taking time and resources. Our sense of urgency and impatience has permeated so much. We get tired, frustrated, bored easily and want to move onto something less messy. This isn't serving us.     

So how does one navigated enjoy the (now not so new) technologies and maintain a sense of perspective and remember those larger rhythms of time? My thinking is it is about catching your self in moments of impatience. Slowing oneself down, even briefly, to regain as sense of equilibrium. Be mindful of the degree your technology has you in it's grip. (Digital providers are admitting to wanting to bind you more and more to your phone/ their app.) 

The world needs cooler heads, less reactivity, more playing a 'long game.' On this one you can make a difference!


65

Mary Johnson - Wednesday, February 07, 2018

65

The other day a friend of mine made an interesting comment. "I'll be glad to turn 65 as then I don't have to go back to work. I can be retired." This is a friend who left the workforce 4 years ago in a combination of circumstances about government downsizing and her health. She but has felt the not-so-sublte  pressure of 'aren't you consulting? or here's a good job that fits your skillset.' Her declaring that 65 was now safe to say one is retired. There is a lot of jockeying and competition amongst colleagues and friends about who is still working and for how long. Then there are those that circumstance have favoured and have left the paid workforce sometime before 65. Even though choices and legislation have made working longer possible, it caught my attention that 65 was still a significant demarcation line in the sand. If not in terms of work vs retire, certainly as marker of our next stage of life.    

Going back to the 80's and 90's I remember the sparkly days of 'Freedom 55' being championed and desired. Watched a whole generation aspire, indeed take up the cause, of endless playtime. My folks sure wanted this but circumstances precluded them from leaving their jobs that early. That said they were 'outta Dodge' before age 65. The cache of saying you could retire sooner was a desirable thing.   

As my cohort has been facing this time the situation is now reversed. For those considering leaving the workforce before 65 I hear the inevitable "What will you do with your time? I couldn't just sit around!" Wow! conversation goes from a discussion to running defence about your choice. Boom, judgement passed that retirement means turning into a slacker. Working on and on carries a big badge of honour - proudly worn. I have several colleagues who profess to be somewhat or semi-retired. Then they take great pride in telling you the extensive hours and number of clients/ projects they have. The numbers don't add up to semi anything! Heck be thrilled you still like the game and indeed are thriving.  Don't couch it. You're still  working- period!  

My wander around this, is this. We have choice, maybe more choice than any other generation. People will chose what feels right for them and their journey. Be curious. Invite a sharing of how someone can to their choice. Applaud what they have come to. It would be a wonderful place not to feel as my friend does. That hitting a number - what ever the number, means get folks off your back. Surely we've earned the right to simply travel by our own lights!        

The tale of two weekends

Mary Johnson - Monday, January 29, 2018
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Usually after Christmas January weekends are pretty quiet. Neil's retired and I have loads of flexibility in my calendar. That means we don't always have to place things we want to do in the Saturday/ Sunday timeframe. Well Neil's taken a 4 months contract right now so Monday - Friday have one old rhythm and the weekends the other old rhythm. So this year our January has been very busy with all weekends planned for. Except two weekends ago our plans for visiting some friends in a near-by small town got postponed due to an unexpected family situation. It was disappointing and things happen. Still we had been so looking forward to getting together. 

Now nature abhors a vacuum and so do I! When I got off the phone I immediately thought "Well we will invite the 3rd couple up! Or there are a couple of things around town I could book. Or, or, or ...." The possibilities popping into my head were endless. Luckily my wise self took me by the collar (could literally almost feel it!) and said "What are you doing?!?" The coming off autopilot came with a big outloud OH! Okay I thought. I will wait until Neil got home. We could figure out something then. My inner organizer was appeased - for the moment! Well low and behold Neil's reaction was like "YAY! a weekend with nothing on the go!" It felt funny. All of this white space and not marking it up! It took quite an effort just to let the weekend be empty of planned comings and goings. Fast forward to this past weekend and it was chock-a-block full. 

Came to remember this was our norm for years and years. Pack your weekends full. So much to and so little time (or so I told myself!). Don't like the constant planning and motion so much any more. The weekend that opened up we just putzed around the house, got ourselves outside, listened to the radio, enjoyed each others company. We handled this weekend with it's multiple happenings and each other much better I believe in good part because we had some genuine downtime. It was a good noticing.    


More time

Mary Johnson - Monday, January 15, 2018
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One of my favourite things is to be introduced to a new and/or clever way of looking at the world. So it's been with Stephen Jenkinson's work on approaching  end of life. My January newsletter touched on 'living a life of consequence' because what you do matters. We aren't talking 'special' but what we do does impact our life and those around us in ways seen and unseen. Sometimes long after we're gone. 

In reading Jenkinson's book 'Die Wise' he spends a fair bit of discussion on the idea of having or making More Time at the end of one's life. Now I'm not here to talk about that per se. It was a story he shared about a young woman, terminal in her diagnosis, who was praying for More Time. He invited her into the idea that her wish had already been granted, that what was she was living was her More Time. The story dropped like a boulder creating huge ripples of thought and feeling inside me. I have been surprised at how this idea has brought me more into the Present. We often read or hear individuals talk about 'the Now.' There are many teachers who invite us regularly into this moment. Personally I have found it a great idea though typically I can step into the Now oh for about 3 seconds before I'm off somewhere else in my mind! 

Jenkinson's invitation to the dying young woman has shifted something inside me. Personally I have experienced 3 brushes with my potential death. And have not considered any of them in a significant way. Heck  I'm young, strong, have a family to look after ... will keep on going and going and going! Now I am reconsidering each day I wake up. Looking at it through the lens of my More Time. That any prayers I offered have already been granted. That's a whole new ball game for me. Quite something!!    

 So the question I contemplate and I invite you to consider is, 'How might I live my life differently if this day, morning, this hour is my More Time?'  

You don't get an engraved invitation

Mary Johnson - Tuesday, January 02, 2018

This has become a funny time of year for me. Certainly I am all over a new year, blank pages, calendar yet to be filled with interesting and enjoyable pursuits. Delight in it all in fact! Today though is also the last full day my mom walked this earth. She died 5 years ago tomorrow most uncomfortably waiting for her attending doctor for hours. It still fills me with horrors! This missive is not what this is about ..... 

For a good number of years I was on my mom to organize her affairs. There were many loose ends. I had friends who had a nightmare navigating their last parent's affairs. Had wanted to avoid this with mom. My frequently expressed comment to her was "You'll not get an engraved invitation (about when you'll die)." It was said jokingly and she would laugh. Not that it budged her for a good many years. My frustration was why can't she see something could happen at any time!

Mom's landing in Emergency New Year's Eve didn't set off any huge alarms. A cold had affected her bad lungs. It was in ER we found out she had quit taking her pills. Her blood pressure was through the roof. We could see she wasn't feeling well Christmas Day but at 88 and a half this happened periodically. Mom was contrite about the medications and was quite clear on her medical directives. She did want issues to be investigated but we danced around full on resuscitation. Mom had a cancer, albeit slow growing, COPD, a heart arrhythmia, severe arthritis and her mind sharp. Okay.

January 1st she had all the family come up on their way to dinner at our house. The next day when we visited we were told her blood pressure was under control and she'd be going home Friday, 2 days hence. Great! I started making plans to get her place ready for her return to her assisted living apartment. Mom was exhausted from not sleeping well in a 4 bed ward and was still having stomach discomfort. She just wanted to rest. So we left her to do so. The disconnect between the cheery report on how well she was doing and how my mom really seemed blew right over my head. She was coming home. Of course she was. Mom was strong and a fighter!

The next day more family and friends were scheduled to visit. Their reports said she was so very very sick. My brother, bless him, got up there at noon. With texts back and forth told me mom was quite unsettled but the doc would be there any time. I felt a need to get up to the hospital but not anxious. Carl was there and the Dr. coming! Finishing some appointments I headed up around 2:00 PM. This was one sick lady. A huge flu outbreak was keeping all sorts of doc and interns busy in emergency. The hours passed trying to make her comfortable. My mom then had a stroke. Our family gathered. Despite pleas and demands for her doc, no sign. The helplessness and frustration overwhelming. At one poignant moment I seemed to step out of my body. I came to 'see' that nothing we could, would do would change the course of what was to happen. It was set in motion. Mom would die. I was shocked out of my denial and utterly blown away. She did die, peacefully, shortly after finally receiving medication for her pain. We were numb. 

Time shifts some, though not all the pain around this. Mom did had a good run and was happy in her later years. That's a comfort. The ultimate irony though? After years of telling mom she wouldn't get an engraved invitation announcing when she would die, either did I.  

Baraka

Mary Johnson - Friday, December 29, 2017

A good number of years back when I worked at Telus, a little coffee bar opened up kiddie corner to the office building. It was called 'Baraka'. I loved the name and how it sounded when you said it. It seemed middle eastern. Figured it meant Coffee House or something like that. You could sit up at a bar and look out onto Jasper Ave. The place always had a good feel!

So it was with great delight I ran into the name Baraka again the other day. This time it came complete with what it really means (not coffee house!!)! Baraka has several meanings/ origins but what the one that caught my eye was in the context of being Islamic. Wiki defines it as "Baraka, the beneficent force from God that flows through the physical and spiritual spheres." This includes objects, people, transactions and relationships. The beneficent force brings being blessed as well as bringing blessings to all involved. Is that not a beautiful thought? 

Think about coming from a place of Baraka in your relationships, family, friends, our food, business, industry, community, the world. Taking the time to make sure that whatever the transaction it is good for everyone involved. When this occurs we will be blessed by the giving and receiving of kindness. This has the feel of turning up mindfulness just a notch. 

Baraka is a thoughtful and generous principle no matter where you come from. Perhaps we could all infuse a little bit more into our lives! So on that note I wish you a 2018 full of health, happiness and all things Baraka!   

Surrounded by love and memories

Mary Johnson - Tuesday, December 19, 2017

For the past 40 years we have hosted a Sunday Christmas brunch called the 'Pink Gin Float Breakfast'. Yes we make pink gin floats (pink lemonade, gin and ice cream). A summer themed drink enjoyed in the opposite season! The brunch is an appreciation gesture to family and friends. After all these years people tell us they look forward to seeing folks they only see on this day as well as yummy food!

The day before is busy with getting the food and the house ready. Mid afternoon Saturday I put up my feet and surveyed my surroundings. As Christmas carols played in the background I could see the threads of many many Christmases pulled forward into this day. Cookie recipes from my Gran, my mom's holiday table cloth, a stocking from my childhood, ceramic decorations made by my Aunt and a friend at the time to celebrate my oldest son's first Christmas. My 1st son's grade one 'forest of pinecones' sits on a small table along with a beautiful music box - gift from a dear friend who died 9 years ago. An advent calendar from the gift shop of my favourite workplaces, Seven Sleeps Before Christmas - a book authored 20 years ago by a friend of mine. Decorations made by the boys. It goes on and on. 

These are not just items that get brought out each Christmas season to 'decorate the house'. These are wonderful memories wrapped in love and fondly placed around my home each year. I am surrounded by a lifetime of love and goodness every day but especially remembered and celebrated this time of year.

I woke up relieved

Mary Johnson - Thursday, December 14, 2017

If you're like me it's hard to get away from all the news that showcases partisan politics. My personal opinion is that what has been ramping up in the States affects us here in this country. Our brand of politics is nastier too.  I have watched, with baited breath, the moves of this president and his wing man Steve Bannon in dismantling decency and democracy as it's been practice since before I was born. Both stirring the pot to create chaos and mistrust. It seemed to be working!

So it was with such relief I woke up to the news that the despicable individual that ran for the Republicans in Alabama was defeated. I was quite taken back by the strength of my feelings. After all this is not my representative or even my country. There's been a growing a sense of losing our moral compass - in what is considered right and honourable. For example being a gentleman seems a quaint old fashioned concept. Better to be a  'rootin', tootin' cowboys of the wild west'. (And we put down or are horrified at other cultures that marry young girls off, have overt male privilege, restrict women access to just about anything you can imagine). Can't we see a version of this is in our own back yard!

Well apparently we can. Those most affected by the nasty rhetoric got out and voted. Made their voices heard despite practices that would try to discourage them. Yes, yes, yes your vote does count. Your protest and speaking up does make a difference. We don't need to be saved by an authority figure. We can speak up and save ourselves. I watched a powerful reminder that if we want change it really begins with each one of us!