Connecting The Dots

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

The Third Way

Mary Johnson - Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The world feels a lot like a roller coaster right now. Or it might be more accurate to say I feel like a roller coaster, .... As the news of Trump, pipelines, protests, populism, interest rates, #MeToo etc. unfolds, I feel like a yoyo alternating between an anger and frustration at wanting to lash out and hit something to wanting to hide off in the wilderness somewhere waiting til this all settles out and life returns to something I recognize. Yet in my heart of hearts I know it won't just 'blow over'. Been needing a better strategy for my day-to-day. 

Ah the Universe is wonderful. The other day a dear colleague of mine posted a beautiful meditation entitled Third Way by Richard Rohr**. It speaks of a stance that is neither flight or fight. As I read it I could understand it with my mind. More importantly there was a physical sense of what this Third Way feels like in my body. It offers a position of positive contribution to the energy of the world rather than a perpetuation of what's swirling so densely. 

I offer it here for your consideration and contemplation. More of the same isn't working. 

"The contemplative stance is the Third Way. We stand in the middle, neither taking the world on from another power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We hold the hardness of reality and the suffering of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness. Once we can stand in that third spacious way, neither directly fighting or fleeing, we are in the place of grace out of which genuine newness can come. This is where creativity and new forms of life and healing emerge."
Richard Rohr Daily Meditations. (  

** Richard Rohr OFM (born 1943) is an American author, spiritual writer, and Franciscan friar based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970.      

Giving ourselves permission

Mary Johnson - Thursday, May 31, 2018

Had a long overdue catch-up with a dear friend of mine. She has had a rough good number of months. It started of when she realized she was in perimenopause. That threw her for a loop. We feel ourselves, indeed tell ourselves we are still only 26, 37, 42 or what ever your version of young is! Our bodies remind us that time does march on. 'The Change' as it was so quaintly called tells us so. Then she fell and sustained a concussion back in March. Around the same time they became short handed at work. We've all had some version of this in our lives. A tsunami of events threatens to drown us. The concussion, in particular, humbled this high energy, uber positive, excellently thinking, active woman. She had brain fog, jumbled words in books and signs and an aversion to noise. Her brain needed time and little to no activity to heal. Ah nothing like time alone with your thoughts, no matter how jumbled, to scare the crap our of you! Playing off on the edges of her psyche are some relationship rubs that are making themselves felt. 

So the upshot for my dear friend?!? 'I have such tremendous fatigue. I'm going to see an alternate health Dr. to see how I can get my energy back.' Did you catch the trap of thinking that grabs many of us? I'm fatigued > fix. She's keeping multiple balls in the air and putting on the good face that all is as usual. That takes energy and lots of it! So we reach for some sort of pill or potion, program to give me back myself or get me through this. (For me it was always chocolate chip cookies. :)) Got a short term lift and could keep going a while longer. And I'll work on that 10 lbs. later.)  

I'm not dissing my friend. Indeed hers is a very common response. I have done it myself repeatedly. We feel we can't slow down. We are impatient and want things the way they were. There is huge resistance to what our bodies and psyche are telling us. Yet the reality is the fatigue is there to slow us down. Attend to ourselves. In a larger way than just getting a pedicure or going shopping with friend. It's about nourishing ourselves at a deep level and over a sustained period of time. That scares us. What if we never come out the other side? What if we are irreparably changed? What if I don't recognize myself, or no one else does? These are large hairy audacious questions and scary outcomes.  

We talked about this. The 'perfect storm' of events is heralding a major transition. How the internal resistance to moving at the pace dictated by our energy perpetuates the fatigue and delays the process. Forget 'mind over matter'. Befriend what is happening.  Be curious about what this time is about. Give yourself permission to engage it fully. I don't want to make it sound like it's easy. It's not. Know though you will come out the other side! And for the better.          

Settling in

Mary Johnson - Thursday, May 24, 2018

The last good while has been a funny space. One where the 'goal' is not clearly defined. The end point not visible. So I have been taking time to see where my energy is and what calls me forward in my days. Have to admit it's been a struggle to let go of my internal recriminations. I have reassured 'Betty' - my satin gowned, 50's styled, smoking inner critic. She's cutting me some slack (though not for long she tells me!) and I'm grateful. 

My days have a very different rhythm to them. Especially in this heat. And I'm loving it. Time in the garden, a little work, walks and yoga, camping, reading and sleep. Solid deep sleep. I seem to manage my way through all the things that need doing and even some that don't need doing so much as a little attention. Gone, .... well greatly reduced, a internal frenetic-ness. The feeling that I was not doing the right something or enough of it. 

Ran across a paragraph in a book called Coming Home: The Return to True Self by Martia Nelson. She framed up the potential of this time eloquently. 

"..... consider that your destiny may be a pull rather than a plan, a process rather than an outcome, a matter of following the vibrancy of life force rather than being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

This is a destiny that has no particular form and that, in fact, is not dependent on specific events or situations for it's expression. There is no fixed map with a set path that you are to follow to make your life worthwhile, ......... In such a reality, destiny is less about 'proper' unfolding of your life and more about inane unfolding of your being."     

I know I'm not there yet but am learning to distinguish between the two. To trust the 'pull vs the plan' just a little more.     

Reflecting back to move forward

Mary Johnson - Thursday, May 10, 2018

My last post was about looking for purpose at this stage of the game. (What is my purpose?)  Not really any closer but have had some fun casting about my life for clues. A good place to start has been looking at my career path. First off I calculated that since I finished nurses training I have been in the workforce 44 years. 44 years! That blew me away. In this time I have worked in 11 organizations/ businesses including 2 iterations on my own and in 8 other roles. I think that's what has kept me going. The reinvention or re-bundling of my work skills in a number of different settings and situations. What fun really!  

Then there were the 3 years in nurses training. We supplied 'labour' to the hospital in repayment for our schooling. There was a lot of payback! Part time work while in high school as a salesperson/ sewing instructor and waitressing, including being a cigarette girl for the Klondike Days cabaret in the hotel I worked. As well as cigarettes I also sold pickled eggs. Ha! Can you imagine? And of course did my share of babysitting in the neighbourhood before that. 

Geez! No wonder it's hard to see oneself outside the realm of paid work. I have been doing a version of it for a long, long time! Suspect this is one of the reasons people find the idea of 'retirement' hard. I'm not unusual in my work history. Work provides a 'purpose' or a place to play out our purpose. Contemplating shifting away from this is a huge rethink of who you are and what now are my days all about. 

Looking closer some themes and clues for me are embedded in my career. Several of these roles were brand new. Never done before. Loved making something my own. Then there was the opportunity to bring new ways of looking at situations to the table. I also frequently worked with eclectic individuals. All of this was very juicy. I still get excited when I think about those times.  

I feel pretty pleased looking back at my career. There is direction, certainly a 'feel' of what could be possible. It's not immediate but something more to bring into my reflections at this time. Nice!

What is my purpose?

Mary Johnson - Monday, April 30, 2018

Purpose. A big concept. Current wisdom says we all have one. We are all on this earth for a reason, have a purpose to fulfill. This is something I have been struggling with. What is MY purpose? What is inviting my time, enthusiasm and energy? Today. Right now ...

For years it was a no brainer. I wanted an education and career. Tick.  Was lucky to find a good partner and marry. We had 3 boys. I knew what I was about in a very practical way every day. Tick. Work required certain skills and abilities I was able to provide. Tick. My parents got older and needed care before they died. Tick.  Friends, travel, new learnings. Tick, tick, tick. Somewhere in there I was fulfilling a purpose. I hope!

Now I won't be so foolish to say 'what's left?' There is much out there. Trouble is nothing has really grabbed me. Throwing myself at things because I can doesn't interest me any more. I have more than enough day-to-day activities to fill that box. No I am looking for the 'the one thing' that turn my head and creates that whole body 'Yes'. I have a couple of friends that have been clear on their purpose for years. 'To touch the lives of a million people.' is one.' To support and create resilience in young women in our still misogynistic workplace'. These provide a clear direction every day. My sense of purpose has never seemed this large or well articulated. If I am truly honest what still gets me excited and spun out are new ideas, new concepts and how they might apply to everyday life. How they might explain behaviours and actions. I can get completely lost in the world of ideas for hours and hours. Or lose time exploring those ideas and concepts with like minded individuals. This is certainly a passion. Is it a purpose?

Or could it be I am looking for a purpose bigger than it needs to be? One that I can hold up against my friends and say 'see me too!'. Perhaps I have fallen into the trap of comparing myself to others. Wouldn't be the first time! Or maybe purpose is an invitation. A siren call that you can't resist. One recognizes it when it shows up. Either way I'd like to think I will know it when it appears. 

In the meantime I cannot force a 'purpose'. As much as I'd like to have that tick mark. Ha! My challenge is to sit for a time empty and leave enough space so I will recognize it when it shows up.


Catching yourself in a mental trap

Mary Johnson - Wednesday, April 18, 2018

In my last newsletter, (go to for sign up), I spoke about sitting in a trough of energy. A place where nothing happens and you can't see what's coming. It's a place I don't do well! Interesting too were some of the reactions. A good number of folks identified with this and shared how they ride it out. Others though were concerned, worried that I was in a too deep funk. All comments were appreciated. 

Siting and marinating in this 'no-thing' time allowed me to see I had placed myself in the mental trap of persistence. To keep going in a set direction at all costs. Persistence has a doggedness, moral imperative that we finish what we start. Even when the original reason has evaporated. The act of beginning binding us to continue no matter what. We put ourselves in a leg hold trap of our own choosing. This is in contrast to perseverance. To pursue our aims despite obstacles has a very different feel. There is a clear headedness to perseverance. An occasional stepping back to course correct.    

When I caught myself in this persistent thinking, I realized the word insistent is in someway embedded in it. My body should have been a pretty strong indicator being wound tightly. My posture pitched forward both walking and sitting. This influenced my thinking narrow down a most linear path. A + B = C. As you may have experienced this is not creative or fun! 

So back off I did. Indulged an 'only just before bed' love of reading. Gave myself permission to read some mystery novels. Inhaled 7 of them actually. Can't remember the last time I did such a thing. When I felt sated and wonderful thing happened. My energy came back. A more discerning energy that looked at my 'to-do' lists, general direction with kinder eyes. A number of personal items that have been dragging on are now finished or in the final stages. Other things have morphed into something I actually want to do - without a need for a certain result. Others no longer matter. 

In persistent mode all thing felt like they had equal weighting. Required equal attention. This took tons of energy keeping all those balls afloat. I was tired and didn't recognize it at first. A mental vacation was what I needed to see the mental trap I was in.  

What's in a name?

Mary Johnson - Wednesday, April 04, 2018

In 2017 I was contacted about my time at the Charles Camsell Hospital. It was regarding a documentary about the hospital including some of the darker history associated with it's exclusive 'Indian Hospital' days. I felt I couldn't truly represent a time before I was even born but did have a story of my time to tell. My time included the last 3 years of the Camsell being a northern referral hospital. I chose to participate in the documentary.

Since then I have had the pleasure of getting together, on a number of occasions, with the young woman involved in spearheading this initiative. Miranda is an activist in championing awareness, fairness and due process for Aboriginal people's. I love her energy, determination and chutzpah. She has gently provided materials and sources of information to help broaden my understanding of what's at stake. That indeed is happening. In our times together though I have continued to come away questioning 'what the hell have I missed?' in terms of the abuses and substandard care that is at the bottom of a class action suit being brought to bear against the Federal Government and it's 'Indian Hospital' system. Was I naive? Willfully blind to what was happening around me? 

On this I have searched my soul, horrified that I might have actively participated in something so terrible. My 2 tenures at the Charles Camsell are quite simply a highlight of my nursing career. I learned so much about a different approach to treating patients. One that moved in Kairos vs Kronos time. Was more inclusive of the patients because their reality didn't fit into nice neat boxes in a linear framework and we had to work with multiple levels of complexity in people's lives. This opened my eyes and my heart. And clearly was not the experience of those pursuing the lawsuit.

One day it dawned on me as the news reported on this lawsuit that the moniker 'Indian Hospital' did not describe the time I worked there. My stint saw all manner of patients from northern Alberta as well as the Territories and the Yukon - Whites as well as Aboriginal. We also served the Department of National Defence so had patients from Griesbach and Cold Lake airbases. My floor also treated end stage cancer patients from the city cancer hospital. My experience was a more eclectic and diverse version of that early hospital. 

When I shared what I had realized with Miranda she said no it was still an 'Indian Hospital' when I worked there and the lawsuit included that time. Hmm yes people who hadn't stepped foot inside still referred to it as such. I can remember correcting people on a regular basis. Certainly Aboriginal patients who had been treated at the old Camsell returned to as it was where they were familiar. It had changed though and perhaps with that so had the care. I do know what I saw. There was not abuse or substandard care. This was not my first job. I was not naive. 

So northern referral hospital or Indian (TB) hospital? In recalling my time there in no way takes away from how this place is remembered by others. Really it was both over it's history. A time of great learning and growth for me and a dark time for others. The name does make a difference. In saying this I do wish those who experienced harm at the hands of those who should have be there to respectfully care for them the best in receiving acknowledgment and restitution from that dark time.            

The conundrum of Social Media

Mary Johnson - Friday, March 23, 2018

Have you given away lots of your personal information on social media? I certainly have! We know now the degree to which data collectors (and a whole lot of other potentially unsavoury people) can follow your movements travelling, your political leanings, who your kids and grandkids are and where they live, etc. etc. The revelations of the last few weeks has me really thinking about the benefits vs the risks of staying on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest. For many of us it's too late. What started out as a super easy, fun way to stay in touch has a decidedly dark side.

While I knew political parties were in their like dirty shirts - in the US, I was floored last night on the news when the it was revealed the volume of ads targeted at us here in Canada. Just yesterday it was reported on Global news that the Conservative party sent out 247 ads on social media- many attack ads. The Liberals 25 mostly about Trudeau and the NDP 4 about tax cheats. I'm not lauding any party. On another day the ad count numbers could be look quite different. And the ads are tailored to what you like or don't like on social media. That's only the more obvious tip of the iceberg. While I thought I knew my information was being used, this came as a shock to me. Like to think of myself as an independent thinker. Heck most of us would abhor thinking we are being constantly manipulated.

So does the upside of social media out weigh the dark side? Do we all delete some of our personal information in the hopes that some sort of regulation requires the social media machine to cease and desist? It is reported to take 90 days for your information to be deleted. 90 days. What else will happen while we wait? Or do we vote with our delete buttons? 

What's the message you want to send?           

Time to think Seeing patterns

Mary Johnson - Friday, March 16, 2018

Just returned for some time away. It was wonderful seeing new places and old friends. We also had some very long days on the road. The hum of the motor and beautiful scenery has a tendency to put you into a rather Zen like state. In my last blog Do you need a new question? it was early in the game. I was having some difficulty gearing down. Became focused on being grumped about not having a map. (I did get an Atlas by the way.)  

So with the 'big picture' in hand - literally, I began to relax. The bigger picture of my life floated before me. Accompanied, as always, by a good book. Well several in my case. The book I was spending time in was Harriet Lerner's 'The Dance of Anger'. I had read it years ago and it certainly resonated. But I was also not prepared to accept as much responsibility for my contribution to situations. Now as I reread about patterns of behaviour, in particular, over-functioning, I was able to connect a number of dots in my life.

Over-functioners have a number of hallmarks**;  

~ know what's best not only for themselves but for others as well.

~ move in to advise, rescue, and take over when stress hits.

~ have difficulty staying out of and allowing others to struggle with their own problems.

~ avoid worrying about personal goals and problems by focusing on others.

~ have difficulty sharing their own vulnerability, under functioning side, especially with those people who are viewed s having problems.

~ maybe labeled the person who is 'always reliable' or 'always together'.

AHH! I was reminded these are all ways anxiety and uncomfortable feelings are kept at bay. I have circled around this whole busyness thing in a number of blogs. Are you busy or productive? The frame of over functioning provided another piece in the puzzle regarding my how I tend to deal with life. When the going is tough, I squash down my feelings about it, and immerse myself in a lot of activity. Not all productive. Usually end up exhausted and I feel resentful. 

 Sooo you say this is all well and good. Any insights?!? Yes indeed. 

1. Remind myself (as I feel the need to fix someone's thinking!!) that I'm not responsible for them - their feelings, dilemma, etc. 
2. If I have misstepped I can (and have been working on) circle back with whom ever (usually my husband. Also an oldest and over functioning) to talk about The Real Issue. I am getting way better at identifying what in me is off kilter!
3. Stay our of triangles. Families are full of them. Certainly I can hear someone out. But I need to stay out. Zooming in to soothe can takes away the opportunity for the other person to deal with their issue straight on. Follow Harriet's 3 part process. Stay calm (remind yourself it's not about you!) Stay out of other people's situation/ emotions. Hang in - don't withdraw emotionally.     
4.  Spend regular downtime with myself. Come into an understanding, recognition of how I get ramped up and how to ramp down.

Holidays gave me a chance to see myself in action. It's a low risk, lower stress time. Realize I worry about Neil's energy levels driving. Hate 70 - 80 MPH in the US on their busy freeways (and ALL the trucks). Struggle with long hours in the car vs Neil's seemingly limitless capacity. I worked on identifying what was up with me and what I was needing. Felt a whole lot less uncomfortable speaking up. The real test will be in a crackerjack situation. But practicing everyday has strengthened this practice.

 **(from Page 192 of 'The Dance of Anger 2005)

Do you need a new question?

Mary Johnson - Wednesday, March 07, 2018

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'.