Alchemy In Our Lessons

Golden Wisdom…

“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling — with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain.  But you have already borne the pain.  What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.”

Kahlil Gibran

In coming to understand the wisdom and truth locked inside these words was the true gift hidden within our own journey.  The struggles and disappointments of our past would eventually become the very conduit to our growth.  And at the same time the more we both ventured inward the more we felt compelled to reach out.  Through sharing our own experiences and the lessons hidden within them has enriched our lives with far greater meaning and purpose.  I have tried to illustrate many of the nuggets of wisdom in Part 4 “The Quest Begins” however I have summarized in this final section some of the more meaningful insights which emerged from Our Quest.

Suffering In Silence…

There were many times I felt like I was so alone in the world like I was the only one who felt so sad but now I know there are far too many who live in quiet despair. Literally millions of us who are right now living or have previously experienced the pain of suffering in silence or may know others that do.

John and I have learned through our own turmoil the high cost of that suffering and the burdens it places upon our society as a whole.  Feeling not ok about yourself is nothing to be ashamed of nor should it be received like some contagious virus and treated in total isolation either.   To the contrary with the proper guidance and support the pain we suffer from the inevitable wounds of life can eventually transform into the very thing that heals us.

Feeling Stigmatized…

The outpouring of our emotional journey was more difficult for John because of the stigma that men in particular are not supposed to talk about their feelings.   Our culture considers them a sign of weakness and therefore most men feel afraid or ashamed to share them.

Many of these men,  and women as well,  just stuff their pain  away dealing  instead with the consequences of such  choices  through alcohol,  drugs,  food or other varying avenues of compulsive activity.  Dulling down the pain merely masks it but will never cure it.  Therefore, why should it be so difficult in this day and age, especially for men, to safely express themselves in an environment of respect and compassion?

The system as it now operates is not working for the vast majority of the emotionally wounded.  I know how John, too, suffered silently for so many years, afraid to show any sign of his vulnerability and inner pain to the world.

Stuffed far away inside were the layers of grief from the loss of his parents and brother, disappointment from his business and financial failures and some bitterness and sadness left over from his divorce.  Throw all his physical pain and traumas into the equation they can accumulatively add up to some pretty serious baggage to carry.   How many millions of others have become victims of the scars of life and are walking around as wounded warriors as well?

Without the safety of an adequate support system to trust John found little relief in unburdening his heavy heart.   I can understand why many years later that his finally began to fail.  Our present tendency is to continue isolating and stigmatizing those victims within our society however this approach is completely archaic and inexcusable.

Mental health issues must be fully brought out into the light of day and those who suffer from it should never be afraid or ashamed to seek help when they need it and have proper care to support them during their recovery.

Chronic Pain…

The issue of chronic pain is a very widespread and serious problem.  And just like mental health many of the cases of physical pain remain just as under diagnosed and poorly treated.  John has been down this lonely road virtually paving his own way in search of any kind of relief.

Having suffered numerous concussions from his sports injuries and several car accidents has only added fuel to the fire.  Living in chronic pain has been a daily battle for John.  Some days are better than others and because we have not been able to find a long term cure for it he is thankful for any kind of bandaid that will give him some temporary respite.  John has tried almost every alternative therapy that has come along and through it has learned to cope. However merely managing it is frustrating because it changes his personality and diminishes his quality of life.

Once again regular exercise helps in combination with meditation, visualization,  yoga, herbs, adjustments and  body work and  also very  importantly a good sense of humour and  gratitude which helps both of us cope!  We have learned to be proactive out of necessity and are not afraid to venture outside the system for answers and solutions either. Most importantly we have learned to be still and listen… placing trust in our own intuitions.

The Invisible Wounds…

Post-traumatic stress disorder is another psychological affliction which has a much greater reach throughout our society than we had ever imagined.  It can strike anyone not just those who have come back from the battlefield.  There are no prerequisites in becoming a victim of it because trauma is so subjective and widespread.  There is no official Richter scale for the upheavals of emotional events that can shake our inner world to the very core.  Many of those who do suffer emotional damage from the ravages of life most often don’t recognize they have even become a victim of it.  Those that do are most often afraid or ashamed to admit they feel this inner turmoil let alone allow themselves the liberty to talk about it.

John and I both know about the invisible wounds inflicted through the battle scars of life and the emotional aftermath it leaves in its wake.  Post-traumatic stress and the symptoms which manifest in their varying forms are so insidiously dangerous because of their utter transparency.  You can see a broken arm or an open wound but never the ones which can hide deep within the dark crevices of our minds.  Lurking in the shadows tucked far away from the light of our awareness.  Like a silent enemy it invades our thoughts and behaviours and then precedes to take over control when we are not looking.  Feelings of hyper vigilance, confusion, indecisiveness, lack of focus and depression all found their way into my mind.

And when it does take over the controls which it often did at its worst I felt like my mind was actually crumbing inside my head.  It is so hard to describe because it feels almost tangible and it is a very scary thing to deal with.   Many times you think you have it conquered and then some innocuous trigger sets it all off again.  From my own experience I found that the more I let go of those events which had initially created it and allowed the strong emotional attachment to them to gradually release the less I felt their power over me.  Half a dozen decades ago no one really knew this disorder of the mind even existed let alone diagnose and treat it.  Although we have made some progress since then it is a sad situation that many of us still do suffer alone and in silence…

The Masks Of Hunger…

Many of my own emotional issues surfaced in the physical sense through the form of an eating disorder and panic attacks.  As I mentioned in the previous section many unaddressed emotions festered in my subconscious and affected my thoughts and behaviours so negatively that in essence I virtually turned on myself.   By proving that I could literally starve myself to death led me to the false belief that I was actually in total control of my situation whereas in reality it was the complete opposite.  Eating disorders and body image issues are so perilous because they entirely distort all perception of reality and cast one under their evil spell.   Through the severely distorted lens of my disease I could not see the reality of how thin I had become.

My mind and my body were in parallel universes and I somehow was caught in suspended animation torn between the two worlds.  Lacking self-worth and feeling unloved became the emotional accelerant which always caused flare ups over the years of my disease.  It was only when I began  to extinguish the flames from the inside rather than trying to douse the spot fires on the surface  was I finally able to contain it.  My panic attacks were closely linked to this disorder and one virtually led to the other.  Both are disorders of the mind but they manifest as physical afflictions and both ebb and flow with the crests and troughs of my emotional stability at the time.  It was only when I delved down into the emotional root of my symptoms and peeled away at the layers which concealed it did I truly start to make any long lasting progress.  Each time I loosened the grip on my past traumas and disappointments so too did the frequency and intensity of my episodes which eased along with it.

When I became aware of the direct association of food with feelings and the attachments of eating habits to my mood was the first step on my recovery.  I learned to listen to the genuine signals of my body and not to the pangs of my emotional hunger that I had been attempting to satiate through my misguided belief system.  By completely separating the two needs I was able to regain my sense of control over my eating patterns.  Rather than becoming a battle of mind versus body it became more of a dance instead.  One day I just woke up and realized that the dragon in my mind had quietly slipped away when I wasn’t looking.

I have also learned that without proper vigilance these disorders can also lay dormant for years and under the right conditions can re-emerge in a milder form.  One always needs to be on watch as to what and who in actuality are running the show in our heads.  Old habits and mental tapes die hard…

Taking good care of ourselves both physically and psychologically is a lifetime commitment.

Redefining Success…

When John and I initially met in the spring of 1988 we were both pretty much down on our luck.  However we both had tasted much success in our past.  This was especially hard for John as he had owned his own businesses and homes for many years and he took this very hard as most men would.  Although I had also owned several nice homes and a sporting goods business from my first marriage somehow I was accepting my new reality much better than him.  Somewhere deep inside I felt that although material possessions and wealth were important and certainly a necessity of life that there was something much greater in meaning in which to aspire.  I wasn’t a very religious person and my family never went to church but I felt there had to be much more to living than in acquiring material wealth.  Little did I realize that the journey that John and I were about to undertake would lead me to the wisdom and understanding in that notion.  Somehow I knew in the deepest part of me that this was to become our quest together in search of invisible treasure.

My intuition also told me that it would be up to me to gently nudge John in this direction because at that time in his life he was a definite Type A personality that was very goal orientated and self-driven.  He was definitely impacted by his personal losses and that I must find a way to show him his true value as a person on the inside rather than measure himself from the more conventional standpoint.

Eventually with much patience and many hard lessons later we both have come to the understanding that wealth and success can also be acquired in other ways which are much more intangible in nature but nevertheless as rewarding and valuable. Our value system has completely shifted over time and what motivates and inspires John and I are probably on a vastly different metric than for most.

John and I feel that contentment and joy in the truest sense comes from the heart and not the wallet. The most treasured gifts in life come from a genuine place within and leave a lasting mark upon those in which they are given and have little if anything to do with money.

Shining A New Light On The Past…

John and I also came to discover that we could never outrun the pain of our past either.  Eventually we got tired of bumping into ourselves. It was only when we finally got brutally honest with it did it seem less intimidating and powerful.  By understanding where we had come from in a new light gave us greater clarity as to how we got there in the first place.  Through understanding the bigger picture and looking at it as if from a high vantage point provided us a far more comprehensive view of the situation.

It allowed us to see our problems in perspective and in so doing they lost much of their power and significance relative to the grander scheme of our lives.   Through the clarity of this lens our pain transformed into something far less formidable. Our years of denial and running had now evolved into a feeling of acceptance and with it came a welcome peace.  This state of mind created the fertile ground in which we could once again grow in new directions towards our future.

Letting  Go…

By remaining completely honest with my past and without self-reprimand allowed me to see each issue for what it actually was rather than how I had previously coloured it in my mind.  This mental exercise created a neutral space in which to view it which is the first vital step in letting it go.

After mentally holding this vision in my head for as long as it felt necessary I would then ask myself “Is this feeling or event which I hold inside helping me or hurting me?”  Always the answer would come immediately and most often with a resounding “No” and with that rational thought in mind I could consciously mark the process of letting it go.  It seems rather oversimplifying such a complex problem but it is in the simplicity of the exercise that actually makes it work for me.  Not only did I feel a sense of relief from deep within but I soon began noticing a difference in my physical presence as well.  My shoulders relaxed, my face softened, my heart felt calmer, the chronic anxiety in my chest muscles eased and my panic attacks gradually disappeared. Little did I think that through this mental process of releasing I was also pleasantly rewarded with its physical benefits as well.

John and I still have more hurdles and obstacles to overcome on our journey but we are proud of how far we have come since we first met. We are and will always be a work in progress…  There is no finish line to cross because each and every day comes new steps and more experiences each unique unto themselves.  It is then up to us to find the hidden gifts within them.  As I had mentioned at the beginning of Our Quest there is no ultimate destination nor precise schedule on our journey and we wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

Turning Failure Inside Out…

I have learned through my own fears and bitter disappointments that failure is not the end of the road only a stepping stone along the way. Little did I realize at the Olympics that it was not the event itself that stopped my progress but strictly through the gravity in which I experienced it.

It distorted my perception on how I viewed myself because I had no solid foundation in which to base myself worth and value as person.  My whole identity was intertwined with my achievements but nothing beyond that.  My self-esteem rose and fell in virtual parallels with them.  I was on a high when I was winning but I was not emotionally prepared for the devastating defeat which was yet to come in my future.

Failing to win gold at the Olympics was not just losing a race but turned my whole belief system and sense of self upside down.  Rather than believing I was a winner in life I now officially labelled myself a loser.  It was not much of a surprise that I went on to prove that inner belief for the next several decades.

The real danger in thinking this way was not one which I consciously chose but originated from a very primal level based on the strong self-beliefs in my subconscious mind.  I cannot emphasis enough the importance of keeping a vigilant watch on the seeds which germinate far below the level of our conscious awareness because this is the mental blueprint to our future.  I now know that my identity and self-worth do not depend on the measurements of others. That my identity and value comes from the inside rather than the outside and only I can truly quantify it.

I have also come to realize that failure and falling short of expectation is a basic element to any worthy endeavor and should not be considered unthinkable.  Quite the contrary without mistakes and errors there would be no reason to challenge ourselves to overcome them.  It is in their impetus alone which can push us all on to greater heights.

Healthy Escape Routes…

So many times over the course of our journey have our physical activities and sense of fun saved us from falling apart.  We found that any kind of activity distracted our minds when we felt down. It always raised our mood just enough to pull through and helped to lift our spirits as well.

Sometimes when things were really tough we’d go see a movie and with a good sense of humour would comment “well at least that kills a couple of hours”    Without humour and being able to find a laugh which was mostly at ourselves we would never have made it this far.  We rely on our sense of finding the absurd in the most mundane when no one else would have even noticed it.

And usually we have at least one “gut buster” laugh every day.  People who don’t know us think we have just met because we have so much fun in each other’s company.  We also have come to understand through our own experiences that life’s challenges can put a lot of strain on a relationship and it isn’t easy either.  However  when we did work through the tough times and put them under our belts that in fact  over the years they became the very glue which added strength to the unbreakable bond between us.

We enjoy so many similar activities and yet we also appreciate our differences as well.   One of my passionate interests is reading about the latest theory in physics and cosmology whereas John loves music and nostalgia and he laughs at me when I start talking what he calls “brain stuff” One day we were driving near a well-known observatory and science center which I had always wanted to visit. So I said to John hoping he’d pick up on my hint to go there “guess where we are near!”  and John’s enthusiastic reply was “Where! The Dairy Queen?”  But that is so John…

Living In Gratitude…

There have been a few times for me and John where we really hit rock bottom not just emotionally but financially as well.  What truly got us through was not wallowing in self-pity for too long.  It’s ok to lick your wounds in the immediate but it won’t get you out of danger’s way in the long run.

By jumping into action without completely denying our emotions we managed to cope well enough to get us through. Facing serious adversity naturally creates a strong sense of fear and uncertainty but there is something empowering about action that can ease the stress and more importantly sustain hope.   I must admit there have been times when even a baby step seemed like a herculean task and nothing seemed to cheer our spirits. In those moments all we could do was just hold one another and allow ourselves to weep from the deepest part of ourselves hoping to find some comfort in the mutual tears that we shed.

Having been stressed out too many times to count we finally began to realize that worry and want are the black holes for the soul.  Rather than thinking of what was wrong in our lives we began to see the many things we liked and enjoyed instead.  Eventually we replaced want and need in our thoughts to the many pleasures and fun we already had.  Mostly they were simple things.  Things that were of little or no cost but were overflowing with intrinsic value to us.  All of a sudden we realized we had much to be thankful for rather than complain about the things we lacked.

Living with a profound sense of gratitude is how we live our lives now and for each day yet to come.   I cannot express how much this has changed how we view everything.    Gratitude has given us a grace and a peace which provides stillness to our moments and the wisdom in which to embrace them.

John and I live each day the best we can with what we have because there is no perfect time only present time…

Transcending The Ordinary…

John and I have also found that simplicity has its great rewards.  Often times are happiest moments are the ones which are completely unplanned. Most of them simple and small…   Living with a sense of childlike wonder rekindles that spark for life and brings us immediate joy and laughter. We honestly are two kids together with a sense of play and we bring out that kindred spirit within each other.

The more we planned and complicated things the higher became our level of expectation which often ended up falling short and disappointing us.  Now we truly treasure the simple everyday things we do together.   At the end of the day these small joys ultimately become the ones we remember most fondly.

The Gifts Of Nature…

John and I share much joy through nature which gives of itself so freely.   We always find something that catches our sense of wonder.  Even in the heart of a city there can be hidden beauty in the least of places.  A bird singing, a new bud on a tree, a small flower, the invisible power of a small shoot breaking through the concrete in a sidewalk,   squirrels jumping in sheer play at a park.

It is only because we purposefully look are we able to catch it while others simply walk by consumed in their own thoughts.  How many times have we heard the sound of birds or the rush of the wind in the trees when others are tuned into their ipods and cell phones.  Our senses are like antennas. Their reception is only as good as their direction…

Being Comfortable With Ourselves…

Our lifestyle on the road has definitely been unconventional to say the least.  At first we felt uncomfortable to be so different from what most others consider normal.  But through our journey we have learned to be true to who we are without feeling the need to cover up or apologize for our lack of convention.   I found that the less I depended on the approval and opinions of others the happier I became…

Learning The Lesson Of Love…

One of the toughest lessons was in learning about the real meaning of “love” To give and experience it unconditionally is a very rare gift.  The meaning of family and friends has changed for us in the many years we have been together.  Genuine love and compassion for someone has to be walked rather than talked.  There is a world of difference between loving a person out of a sense of obligation rather than giving it freely from your heart…

Finding Compassion Amongst The Ruins…

Our journey has taught us many things as you can see however most of our greatest gifts were the ones which ultimately transformed us in ways which were not so obvious at the time.  Behind all the adventure there appeared to be an invisible presence which also walked with us side by side.

With each lesson and insight we became more and more aware of its emergence into the light of our consciousness.  We finally realized that it had been with us all along only we had never recognized it under all the layers of our pain and loss.  It is called compassion… this is our greatest gift of all.

We have also become determined advocates for the voice of the underdogs of this world therefore our causes are many.  We support any socially conscious issue such as homelessness and mental health, animal welfare, human rights and equality as well as environmental concerns.  Much of the global disparity and complex problems which challenge mankind today could be eradicated by simply more kindness and compassion and eliminating greed…

Helping Others…

Over the past decade John and I have also campaigned for better water safety procedures and drowning prevention in the Province of Ontario.

Although we have made some progress in raising public awareness we still have much ground to cover before we can make any significant changes at the bureaucratic level.   We were however greatly encouraged and thankful by the wide reach of the editorial and moral support from the public.

Among other great causes we also helped to find a permanent sponsor and a trust fund for a very talented but financially struggling young athlete which brought just as much joy to us as it did her family. None of us ever escape the inevitable scars and wounds as we journey down the road of life but if we could all be wise enough to turn our pain into compassion for others this world would be a different place.  Be conscious in your moments and rather than squander them use these thoughts and actions for good.  Reach out even in the simplest of ways… A kind word, a helping hand or just in the warmth of your smile.

We all can give in the smallest of ways.  If you see a need then fill it.  Stop next time you see homeless person on the street and help them. Even better still talk to them.   Volunteer.   Share your story and listen to theirs.   By helping to lift others you raise yourself up as well.

Turning Lessons Into Gold…

We definitely have been transformed by our journey by seeking the treasure buried deep within it. If I had to choose any of our lessons which emerged from Our Quest that contained the true alchemy within them I would pick just 4.

They are:

  1. Redefining Success
  2. Living in Gratitude
  3. Finding Compassion
  4. Helping Others

If you can take these 4 main elements into your lives and truly embrace them then you, too, have turned your lessons into gold.

Never Quit…

On my darkest night there shone a candle…  I truly found that the faintest glimpse of hope within the despair of those moments gave me the grace to see me through them.  In each of us there shines a light.   For truly in our smallest hour is where we can find the seed of our greatest strength.  Never, never give up on yourself.  You are never out until you give your consent. I wish you wisdom, strength and courage on your own adventures on the journey of life and I hope you too, will discover the real treasures buried deep within them.