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August 2012

What are you so scared of?

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I’ve found that I ask myself this question more times than I’d like to admit. Everyone has their own past, their own experiences and their own things that we try to avoid because we are scared. Have you ever taken the time to ask yourself what it is that you are scared of? And taking it one level further, is it actually worth your time and energy to be scared? Is <insert your fear here> (mine being getting hurt, maintaining control to avoid any bad things happening to me) actually real?

Is it possible or plausible?

Is there any evidence to support my feelings?

If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety or depression, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The downward spiral can begin so quickly, and can escalate out of control even quicker.

When I was in my early 20’s, I went through a horrible ordeal with an ex boyfriend. There was a ton of abuse involved, and it’s definitely a fear that I now carry with me in some form or another. (My mom told me last night, after going through a rough patch with my current partner, that it almost seems like I’m self sabotaging.) It’ll vary for everyone who has been through this kind of situation, but mine manifested in a crazy elaborate imagination. In 30 seconds or less, I can think of a terrible situation that could happen, whether it be to my family, my friends, or to myself. Within those 30 seconds, I change from the bubbly, happy person that I am, into a withdrawn, emotional wreck. I could break up with my boyfriend, quit my job, and move to another province or country if the resources were available to me. And what I fail to do every time I feel this way is ask myself “Is this real? Is this possible that any of these things could happen?”

What are your tools to fight off these feelings? Mine include yoga, both the physical practice and the mental practice; a close support network, where no one will look at me like I’m crazy; your family, friends, community… etc.

Sadly, we don’t have an on and off switch for our feelings,  but we do have the tools to de-code and decipher and help us work through the anxieties. Know that you are never alone, know that the person or group you chose to confide in can help see the reality, and help bring you back to it.

– Liz Bauer

All That I Can, I Will

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A couple of weeks ago a great friend of mine left the company that I work for. Her and I had formed a bond beyond the normal superficial relationships you develop in the corporate world. We did have a ton in common (come from small town backgrounds, we are both divorced, we like to travel) what drove our bond was that we each realized that despite our work achievements, neither of us was really happy or satisfied in life. This lead both of us to pursuing other means of seeking what we were looking for.

When she left, she gave me a card with a French Proverb on it. It said “All that I can, I will.” She really felt that this was a saying that resonated with her, and specifically felt that it was something that suited me, as if it was a gentle nudge saying “Kevin, listen to this”. At the time, I kind of got it, but to be honest, it did not resonate for me. After what happened to me today, I get it now.

As always, whenever I get going on these posts, I have to give a lot of context, so here goes …

Earlier this year I had the most profound experience of my life: taking a Seva Safari with the Africa Yoga Project. A dedicated group of yogis, 10 of us from Toronto, came together and accomplished a major feat. We built a playground on the rooftop of the Kibera School for Girls in the middle of the largest slum in Kenya.

I came back from this experience with a new outlook on life. It was unlike anything I have ever felt in my life. And after 17 years at my company, I was finally convinced that I was going to quit my job and pursue a career as a corporate trainer. This was something in my heart that I knew was good at doing; but it was also, something that I liked doing very much.
Instead of quitting outright and pursuing this career, I decided to take a series of courses at Centennial College to obtain a certificate in teaching first. Towards the end of this course, I was asked to write a Learning Journal, reflecting on what I learned and how I was going to apply it to my teaching. After seriously reflecting on this, I realized that I did not want to teach full time. I realized that I really wanted to do it part-time. The reason for this was that I really liked blending teaching theory with real life practice and vice versa. I wanted to do both.

This was a shock to me, because that was not the answer I expected to get when I started these courses. I fully expected to start teaching full time at some point in the future. In reality though, I got what I really wanted out of this experience: clarity.

Back at work, last week, I went to Bolivar, Missouri to visit a team of people working for me. If this place sounds like it is hick and rural to you, in reality it is even more so. There are more churches in the town than fast food places, the town is basically dry, at the Peach Tree diner there was a man over 60 wearing a long sleeve shirt and overalls, and on the drive in one day an old school red pickup truck was being driven by a man with a cowboy hat.

While I was there, it is safe to say that I veered way off my yoga practice. Also while I was there, and to a larger extent slowly but surely since I came back from Africa, I also veered way off many good habits I have worked hard to form: major lack of sleep, I effectively was free-basing diet coke, water disappeared from my diet, fast food and steak was the norm, and having a beer or two at dinner was standard practice.
I came back to Canada and my mind was spinning. I was reverting to all of the same poor thought patterns that had bothered me for so long. It occurred to me that these were tied, what you do to your body ends up in your head.

Because of this, last Friday I decided to recommit myself to those habits:
– I slept 12 hours that night, and I went to bed before 11 each day this week
– I hit my mat, doing two solid yoga practices that weekend
– My water bottle never left my side and I refilled it often
– I reduced my diet cola intake to one a day (as a treat)
– Protein shakes and vitamins came back in
– Solid meals with healthy snacks throughout the day became the norm
– I re-introduced short meditations sessions in the morning and the evening
– Each night before I went to bed I listed out the five things that brought me the most gratitude that day
– And I went all out dry, no booze
All of this really started to lift me back up. I started doing all that I can.

This past Tuesday night, I visited my therapist. This is a program I utilized that is offered to all employees at my company. I enlisted this program because I realized that there was no one single person who had the time, the training, and the level of detachment to listen to everything I was dealing with. Over the last couple of months I have had many sessions, Tuesday’s was the first one in the “weaning myself off” stage.

I started describing to her many of the things I stated above. Gaining clarity in my career direction, devolving down into a spiral due to bad habits, and then recommitting to the good habits.

I left the session in good spirits because the act of sharing opened me up to many insights.

During the session I described that earlier this week I had received an e-mail asking for people to teach a class in San Jose towards the end of August. With my new found clarity of career direction, I realized this fit perfectly, so I decided during that session that on Wednesday morning I would act on it. The key thing I did say then though was that if the spot was already taken because I had waited a couple of days, I would be fine with it. I was just going to do what I could do, and I was happy with that … all that I can, I will.

Come Wednesday morning, I send a note off saying that I would be interested in teaching this class, with no expectations.

Within 5 minutes, I received a reply. Unfortunately they had filled that class with an instructor already. They asked if I was available to teach in Chicago starting on holiday Monday. I politely declined the Chicago class, my work schedule would not allow me to do that, but I made it clear that if they needed me for any other classes to please keep me in mind.
At that point in time, I was completely content. I followed through on something I wanted to do. Nothing came of it, and I was ok with that. I did all I can.

I would not be writing this blog post if the story ended there.

An hour later, I am siting in a meeting, with my laptop (something I normally do not do). I get an e-mail. The assigned instructor cancelled on the class in San Jose. I was now assigned as the instructor. I sat in the meeting in shock. This is something that I wanted to do, something that I followed through on, and in reality I was not attached to the result; why, because I had done all that I can. Then it came to me: I was doing all of these great habits, I had attained career clarity, I was grateful for so many things in my life, then I did all I can. Of course, it was obvious that something great happened.

After this I started to reflect. I realized that for so long in my life, I have been doing as much as possible to get what I wanted, obsessing over it in some cases to the point of depression. And if you really wanted to see it, set your mat up next to me and you will see someone trying SO hard to get something, over-extending to the point of all out drama on the mat.

The majority of my life leading up to this, I was not doing all that I can, I was trying so hard to do so much more. I was pushing through pain to get what I needed. I was stretching myself too thin, on and off the mat, to achieve so much. I was not pursuing those things in life that I wanted, or if I was pursuing it I was doing it so hard that it was obviously over extension. I was doing everything possible to make it happen. And if I did not make it happen, I was beating myself up over the smallest missed thing (you know that person who gets 98% on a test and is pissed because they blew that 2%, ya, that’s me).

Little did I know, the words that I was meant to hear, were sitting on a card on my desk at work “All that I can, I will.”

It is so simple, yet it fits so well. My friend Karen, she knew something about me that I did not know. She knew the perfect thing to say to me, the perfect advice that I needed to hear, something that would fit my life. Then in one simple small situation I applied it. Turns out sometimes “all that I can” is just sending off a note and being happy with doing that, and now I will get a free trip to visit San Jose, with a small little summer vacation to see San Francisco.

At PYC, we often ask people “What are you up to?” It took me a bit to formulate my own answer to this. I now have an answer, even though it really is not a logical direct answer, you know what I do not care. What am I up to? I am up to “All that I can, I will.” (plus I am going to throw on a little extra something for good measure “… no more, no less.”)

-Kevin McDonald