Category Archives: Life Design

Conversations with Your Life: 6 Day Challenge

Starting tomorrow, Monday 16th October, I’ll be posting micro versions of a few of the exercises we’ll be doing in my upcoming course.

Each challenge will be posted here, on Facebook and Instagram.

I’d love for you to read the challenges, share and respond. Please participate in whatever way feels right to you.

Wishing you interesting + helpful Conversations with Your Life.
 

To the Glorious Round Woman in the Piazza

I see you
in the Piazza
near the Uffizi.

It’s a hot day,
hotter than we
expected for October.
You’re wishing you
hadn’t chosen jeans
this morning
and your polyester top
isn’t helping.
You pull the top away
from your collarbones,
fan yourself with the fabric.

Your face is pink with heat
and something else
I recognize.

Your tour guide is talking
but you find it hard to focus
on what she’s saying.

I see it.
The moment you think,
“I’m too fat for this.”
“I’m too fat for this tour,
too fat for Florence,
for this piazza ringed
by statues
of perfect bodies.

You think people are looking at you.
You think you should have stayed home.
You think, “Who was I kidding?”

Oh, Girl!

I want to tell you that
you’re exactly where
you’re meant to be.

The piazza suits you.
Florence suits you.
Travel suits you.

You are glorious beyond measure.

Drape yourself in cotton and linen.
Move through the city.
Employ all your senses.
Let the world dazzle you.

Surrender yourself to your life.

You are exactly where you are meant to be.
You are glorious beyond measure.
 
 

What I’m up to right now + how you can join me:

Conversations with Your Life: An Online Course
This yummy six-week online course begins on Monday 30th October and the deadline for registering is Friday 27th October at midnight (EST). Here are the delicious details.

Six Day Challenge
During the week of October 16th – 21st, I’ll host a six day Conversations with Your Life Challenge where I’ll offer daily exercises to give you a wee taste of the course. I’ll be posting the challenges on my blog, Facebook and Instagram. I’d love for you to check out, and participate in, the challenge.

New Year’s Conversations with Your Life Retreat
We’re hosting three or four women in Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia from Thursday 28th December 2017 until Monday 1st January 2018. The retreat is a live version of the online course and includes transportation, accommodations and meals. The deadline for registering is Friday 27th October at midnight (EST). If this is your jam, you can learn more about the retreat here.

 

The Picnic + The Ants

I keep waiting for my gap year to begin.

It’s been two months since school ended and two weeks since I officially finished my job as Director of University Counseling.

During the summer vacation we flew to Canada, took all of our things out of a storage unit in Ottawa, moved them to my parents’ home, sorted them and decided what we were keeping, loaded this stuff back on a 16-foot truck that Damien drove across four provinces from Ontario to Nova Scotia where two very generous friends helped us unload the truck. We unpacked some (but not all) of our things. Damien assembled two sofas, our dining room table, and two of what are quite possibly the heaviest bookshelves ever constructed. We placed our dishes in a drawer rather than a shelf which felt like a revelation after decades of reaching over my head for plates and bowls. We hosted my parents for a week ~ showing them the South Shore of Nova Scotia. In mid-July, I went to Paris for a glorious week… three days on my own and then a retreat with other life coaches in the city of twinkling lights. For a few days we hosted a dear friend from our time in Barcelona. At the end of our time in Canada, we had two weeks on our own in Casa Limon.

I had this idea of how the summer would be: Fun. An adventure. Romantic. The summer-images I assembled in my mind felt just like the promise of the Ikea catalogue that arrived in my mailbox each year when I was a university student. All those perfect rooms… just waiting for me to inhabit them. This was the way I thought about each of the weeks of our summer; I imagined them as perfect rooms of time.

This is not the first time my expectations have kicked my ass.

It’s not that the summer wasn’t fun/adventurous/romantic. It was those things… at times. In little bits, in flashes, in moments when Damien and I would look out at the Lunenburg Harbour from The Fish Shack where we’d ordered fish and chip and iced tea and then we’d look back at each other and that look would contain the thought, “We’re so lucky to live here for part of the year.” And in those moments, it was eternal summer and everything yucky fell away. But there was also this pile of hard, frustrating and not very romantic moments. We had no hot water for several days. The guest bed did not arrive when expected and when it did, we couldn’t get the box springs up the stairs. We wanted to throw a party for our neighbours but we ran out of time and steam. It took many visits to banks in both Japan and Nova Scotia and two actual transactions to successfully send a transfer of funds to the USA. We didn’t spend as much time by the sea as we’d hoped. We spent way more money than we’d planned. I didn’t write a single Sunday Reader.

I’m not complaining about my life; I’m very clear about how fortunate we are. But I was surprised to find that our summer wasn’t perfect.

It never has been and it’s never going to be.

I realize that my feeling of waiting for my gap year to begin comes from the exact same crazy place as my desire for a perfect summer.

Once I heard a Buddhist teacher tell a story about a picnic. He encouraged listeners to imagine ourselves going on a picnic. We were asked to imagine that we had a delicious lunch packed away in a basket, the sky was blue and filled with white fluffy clouds, and the temperature was not too hot and not too cold as we set out our food on a red and white gingham cloth. The fried chicken was delicious and the lemonade was the perfect combination of sweet and tart. But then we noticed a procession of ants on the gingham cloth and our first thought was, “These damned ants are ruining my picnic.”

The storyteller then suggested another interpretation… that the ants are the picnic.

The picnic doesn’t exist in spite of the ants. The ants are as much a part of the picnic as the blue sky and the crispy fried chicken.

My hopes for, and understanding of, our summer had been way too limited.

The broken element in our water heater was the summer. The guest bed that arrived in pieces and cost more than we’d budgeted for was the summer. The jet lag and the packing and the unpacking ~ yup… they were all the summer. Also summer: the gloriously cool weather in Nova Scotia, the fog that crept in to the shore the day we took my parents to Green Bay Beach, ice cream cones, hugs, Chef’s Table on Netflix and great visits with new and long-time friends. Daisies cut from our own ramshackle garden, movies in Bridgewater, a pair of black leather sofas that feel like home, raspberry iced tea in blue rimmed glasses from Mexico, afternoon naps, the way the sun slipped through the blinds at twilight and filled the living room with golden light, driving with the sunroof open as the bass of the Hamilton Mixed Tape thrummed through the car. All summer.

When I opened my mind to accept the more challenging aspects of the summer as part of our picnic, a surprising thing occurred. Not only was I able to feel more peaceful about the rough bits but I found that my heart opened up WIDE to ALL of the beauty the summer held. I was able to see our entire summer with greater clarity and peace. Our summer was awesome.

News flash: Conditions will never be perfect.
Buddhist wisdom: It’s all part of the picnic.
Monna-move: Let’s get this gap year party started.

Yesterday, when Damien headed up the hill to start his seventh year at our little school in Japan, I didn’t go with him. I made a list of emails to send, blog posts and Sunday Readers to write, and people to help. And I began. And it wasn’t perfect because it was never going to be.

But it was a start and that was kind of beautiful.

What’s been stopping you from enjoying your picnic?

Coaching

Perhaps there’s something in your life that you’d like more of (or less of) but you can’t figure out how to make that happen. You have a sense that you should be happier but you don’t know where to start.

If you’d like some help with your journey, I have openings for four coaching clients.

Here’s what a couple of clients said about our work together:

I’d never participated in life coaching before, so admittedly I was a bit skeptical if it would be helpful. Thankfully, I gave it a shot because working with Monna over the course of a few months was really beneficial for me. I found Monna to be warm and patient and genuine, and I actually looked forward to diving in and discussing things that have not always been the easiest for me. What I found the most helpful was that she always found a way to turn a negative statement into a positive one, flip a bad experience into something I could learn from and present my self-doubt as a building block for much needed self-care. I’m truly grateful to Monna for this experience.” ~ M. in Montreal

Monna is the Marie Kondo of the mind. She has helped me declutter my mind, throwing out unhelpful ideas and those which were none of my business. She’s guided me through setting a plan which will help me find my North Star. Thank you Monna, I’m on my way.” ~ L. in Melbourne

We’ll start by working together for six sessions over six or twelve weeks. You’ll choose what works best for you.

If you are interested, or even curious, email me at monnamcd@gmail.com. I’ll happily answer your questions and we can even hop on the phone and have a 30 minute chat to help you decide.

Please share this information with a friend who might benefit from working with a coach.

Cheers,
Monna
xo

P.S.
This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these notes directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.

Imagine you are a gardener


 
Over the past few weeks I’ve talked with a number of women who are having a tough time finding/making time for themselves. They feel exhausted and stressed. Used up. A damned long way from happy.

One friend told me that her own teenaged son recommended that she take some time to tend to her own happiness.

Over the years, I’ve listened to teenagers lodge a host of complaints about their parents… most of these concerns will be resolved with a bit of time and perspective. Not once in twenty years as an educator have I heard a young person complain that their parents were too happy. Quite the opposite. We are rooting for our parents’ happiness for a couple of reasons. First, we genuinely want to see them happy. When the parents in a household are happy, everyone is better off. Second, when our parents are happy, they worry less about us.

Worrying is a prayer for the worst case scenario.

Although I don’t have children of my own, I’m an Honourary Mother from way back; I’ve helped raise thousands of kids over the last two decades. {I’ve just realised that what I’m writing here is as true for teachers as it is for parents. Yay, teachers!} I’ve learned that in order to care for the kids with whom I work as a counselor, I must first care for myself.

Some of you are feeling uncomfortable with all this talk of happiness. It’s not selfish to want to be happy. The idea that we should always put other people first is just a story and not a very helpful one. One can be happy at the same time as she pursues meaningful work and helps others. This is not an either/or situation. This is completely AND territory.

Turtle Steps Towards Happiness

So what are some small steps that you could take in the sacred direction of yourself?

{I love that scared and sacred have exactly the same letters in them. It helps me understand that we’re often just one small shift away from something amazing.}

What’s something you could do in the next 48 hours? If you are a person who thrives on a homework assignment, consider it assigned. If you are a person who need permission, consider it granted.

Here are some examples of happy-life-turtle-steps from my own weekend:

Haircut step
I went to Tokyo (an hour each way on the train) to get my bangs cut. They were a little shaggy and I deserve fierce looking bangs.

Japanese curry step
I located the Coco Curry House in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Ebisu… on my own. I love the curry from this place so I looked up the location on my phone but I wasn’t sure where I was on the google map. I have this little story about myself which is that I’m terrible with directions so I considered giving up my search but decided instead to ask for help. I went inside a sporting good store and asked the young Japanese women at the cash register for directions. She didn’t speak much English but she was able to explain that when I got to McDonalds I should turn left, then go to the next intersection and it would be close by. So I followed her instructions and then I asked my intuition where it would build a curry house (if it was in the habit of building curry houses). I had a strong sense that I should turn left… and there it was. By not freaking out, by asking for directions and then listening to my intuition, I found my favourite Japanese curry.

Starbuck seat step
After lunch, I went to Starbucks where I had a Chai Tea Latte and began writing this Sunday Reader. At the Starbucks locations in Tokyo, there is a member of staff whose job it is to help customers find a seat during busy times of the day when seating is at a premium. As I walked up the steps to the seating area, I saw an available table and quickly nabbed it. What I didn’t realise was that it was right beside the area with where people waited while the employee found them seats. So I had grabbed the Starbucks equivalent of the table right beside the bar. Within a few minutes, three women were perched on the little wooden Starbucks stools and they chatted back and forth in a loud and animated way. Thy had every right to do so but I felt a bit frustrated as I’d come to the cafe to work and I could hear their voices above the music in my headphones. Then I did a crazy thing. Instead of packing up and leaving, I found the employee who was seating people and let her know that I would appreciate a quieter seat and that I didn’t mind where it was. Within two minutes she came to my table and escorted me to a seat at the front window where she retrieved a a small reserved sign she had placed there t save my spot. It was the best seat in the house and I wrote and people watched happily for more than an hour.

Dance steps
I like John Mayer. I’m a big fan from back in the day. DP and I first saw John Mayer play in Houston when he was a 17-year old kid in an long-sleeved orange t-shirt and khaki cargo pants. He has just released Phase 2 of his new project and there’s a song called “Still feel like your man” that I’ve been grooving to for the past couple of days. On the trip back to Yokohama, I was listening to the EP and this song, in particular, made me want to dance. So I did. I danced on the platforms of Ebisu Station and Naka-Meguro Station. A woman smiled at me at Naka-Meguro. One of the train employees moved closer to make sure I hadn’t dropped my basket. It was an unusual move but I felt compelled to let my happiness out. And so I danced and no one came to take me away.

Time steps
I’m a person who worries about time. It’s another one of my not-very-helful stories and I come by it quite honestly. My mother tells a story about her father wanting to be SO early for church that if they arrived after the pianist had begun (30 minutes before the service), they would turn around and go home. Yesterday, as I was travelling home from Tokyo on the train, I realised that I had enough time to stop at JINS, an optical store at Landmark Plaza, before my appointment at 6:00 p.m. Despite a couple of false starts including getting off at the wrong station and then being directed up to street level at Minato-Mirai, I had 45 minutes of shopping for eyeglasses before heading home. When I began to feel anxious about the time, I breathed deeply and reminded myself that I had lots of time. I’m learning how to draw an image of greater spaciousness inside my mind. I’m learning how to create my own white space.

It feels, to me, as if happiness
is a magical thing we create,
little by little.
We can always create it.
We’ll never lose our ability to conjure it up.
There’s no way to get this wrong.

*This piece was originally shared in my newsletter, The Sunday Reader. To receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.
 

Reaching for ourselves

She asked, “How can you tell
if a person really likes herself?”

She’s kind to other people
and she sings sometimes
for no reason
and she’s calm
like a warm day on the lake.
Calm like a lake-sized mirror
reflecting the sky. Two skies.

“And what happens when she isn’t
happy with herself?”

The woman stands at the window
and watches the storm clouds gather
and move across her landscape.
Tornadoes of self-doubt.
Earthquakes of drama.
Aftershocks of gossip.
She worries the storms will
destroy everything she’s built.

But she built the storms too.

She’s always reaching
for the wrong things.

When we reach for things
that aren’t good for us:
food, drugs, alcohol,
too much of anything,
loving the wrong person
or loving the right person
in the wrong way,
the thing
we’re really
reaching for
is ourselves.

We’d like to come home to ourselves.

When we say,
“Hi honey, I’m home”
we’re longing to hear
our own voice respond,
“I’m happy you’re home, love.
How was your day?”

 
*This poem was originally shared in my newsletter, The Sunday Reader. To receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.
 

What are you a warrior for?

 

The message above is from Danielle LaPorte; I have her #Truthbomb App on my phone which means that I get a new message every day from Danielle/The Universe. A few days ago the #Truthbomb was, “What are you a warrior for?”

Such a good question! I started making a list:
* Truth
* Growth/Change
* Feminism
* Stories/Art
* Teenagers and young adults
* Love

What’s on your warrior list?

Looking over the map of 2016, I can trace my routes towards all the ideas on this list. Some are well worn footpaths such as the work that I do with kids every day or running the Poet Laureate course. Other journeys have left fresher tracks. These are the big bold leaps.

When you look at your own voyage through 2016, are you surprised at the paths you took? Would you like to change directions for 2017? What would you like to move towards?

HOME

In the twilight of this past year, Damien and I bought a house in a small fishing village outside Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. We took possession on December 20th and have spent our Christmas vacation here with a minimum of furniture and a maximum of joy. Our house is small and yellow. It is 104 years old and has beautiful wooden floors and only one closet. It’s a five minute walk from the sea. For a few years, we’ll be here during our long school breaks and then it’s our plan to live here full-time.

GAP YEAR FOR GROWN UPS

During the 2017-2018 school year, I’ll be taking a Gap Year for Grown Ups. Damien will continue his work at our school in Japan so Yokohama will be our home base and I will… well, that’s the funny thing… I’m not sure what I’ll do. For more than 25 years, I’ve worked full-time in the service of others and next year I’m going to put myself first and see how that feels. Although planning is normally my thing, I’m going to let the year unfold and see where it takes me. Perhaps I’ll write. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to do some contract work with kids and teachers and counselors at some international schools. I’m going to have more joy.

I welcome your ideas for my gap year. Just leave me a note in the comments for this post or on Facebook. Thanks!

Finally, Happy New Year to you, dear one!

Yesterday, on Facebook, I wrote: “Thank you, 2016, for all the lessons you tried to teach us. May our hearts and minds be open and more receptive in 2017.”

I’m not mad at 2016. We lost some good people but we got amazing new people as well… and we made and witnessed beautiful things and the golden light here makes me think of Italy and there are these miraculous connections between us that shimmer and dance like small white Christmas lights wound around a porch.

Welcome, 2017! May we join forces in the creation of a luminous new year.

Big hugs.

Cheers,
Monna

P.S. This message was originally published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters directly in your mailbox, you can sign up here.

 

Thoughts on Belonging

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Over the past two decades I’ve lived in five countries outside Canada. During that time I’ve become utterly fascinated by the similarities and differences between cultures. If you imagine culture as an iceburg, it may be easiest to start with those habits and norms on the small chunk of the iceburg that juts up above the water. An example would be how we greet others. There are kisses (one cheek only) upon arriving and departing anywhere in Colombia and Mexico. In Spain, a greeting involves kisses on both cheeks. In Thailand, one says hello with a wai which is a bow combined with hands clasped together as if in prayer. In Japan, we simply bow our heads. In both Thailand and Japan, the depth of the bow depends on a combination of factors including your socio-economic status and age as well as those of the person whom you are greeting. Even these greetings, these cultural bits that show above the water, are not superficial. They reflect the deeply held values and beliefs of that culture.

The way we do one thing is the way we do everything.

I grew up on a farm near Ottawa Canada. People greet each other in many different ways. We say “hi” or “hello” or, in the case of the Ottawa Valley, “G’dayandhow’reyanow?” drawled out as one long word. Sometimes we shake hands, firmly and with confidence and, when we’re very close to someone, we hug. Let’s be clear that for some Asians the hug is perceived as a gesture so intimate as to be equivalent to foreplay. Where I grew up, a man will sometimes clasp his hand around the shoulder of another man; sometimes this shoulder pat is combined with a handshake and sometimes not.

It must be so challenging for immigrants to Canada to know what the hell to do when they meet someone for the first time. They must worry about offending these Canadians, these funny and welcoming but also sometimes bristly and reserved people with whom they now share a nation.

The truth is that some people who have long lived on a certain patch of geography get indignant about this stuff. Because a particular way of being in the world seems normal to them, they experience something on the spectrum of surprise to offense when a visitor or foreigner gets it “wrong”. Many of us have developed a deep sense of ownership of our own culture and we’ve been taught that it is natural to feel this way. I’m not sure this kind of place-ownership is helpful.

Each time we’ve moved over the last 20 years, I’ve evaluated how well I fit into my new city and country. In fact, I’ve been pretty obsessive about my search for signs that I belonged, that I had been (or could be) accepted by others in this place. To deliver the perfect wai, to lower my voice enough, to act in a way that allowed me to blend. Lately, I’ve been noticing the sheer lunacy of this endeavor. It is never going to happen. I’m a round white woman with pink cheeks and the place on Earth where I blend most is not Canada but Scotland. My partner is a tall black man with facial hair. People are not going to look at us and say, “Sure. These two are from here.” Not even if we speak the language perfectly, not even if our manners are impeccable, not even if we recycle our garbage in precisely the right manner.

We’ll never blend to the extent that people will think we’re from there. But this doesn’t have to mean we can’t belong. It doesn’t have to restrict where we call home.

We just spent a week on the south shore of Nova Scotia in a spectacular Air B&B overlooking the LaHave River. The host told us that before she bought her home there, she approached the three closest neighbours all of whom invited her into their homes for tea. I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days. Does she believe that she belongs to this community because the people invited her into their homes or does she belong because she was the kind of person who would go to their homes to introduce herself? I really like this conundrum.

Perhaps the secret of home is twofold:
To live as respectfully as one can while also being your authentic self.

An enthusiastic and passionate person who is constantly shushing and censoring herself will probably struggle to feel at home in a Very Quiet Place because her true self is exuberant; it needs to be let out of its box. In making a place home, it’s important not to be overcome with worry about what other people think. Their judgments about you, shaped by the smallness or bigness of their own mind, heart and experience, are truly not your business.

In truth, even Japan can make space for some loud and enthusiastic souls. We need to have more faith that our cities and nations states are places capable of evolving.

Here’s the thing that has been on my mind for a while: places don’t belong to us. The place belongs to the place itself. At my school, we say the classroom belongs to the school ~ not to the teacher who most often teaches there.

I’m going to employ this thinking in my life in places I live and visit outside that tiny pocket of perplexing greetings called the Ottawa Valley. Live respectfully and authentically. Extend myself to others with warmth and sincerity. Believe in the capacity of others to adapt, to accept, to change their mind. Remember that what other people think about me is not my business.

The next time I encounter someone who doesn’t know how to navigate Japan, I’m going to invite them for tea or some lovely equivalent. I too am an immigrant. I am going to give them a permission slip for belonging just in case they are not yet ready to write their own.

 

This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these essays and poems directly in your mailbox every two weeks, you can subscribe here.