Category Archives: Thrive

How to know when it’s time to remove the labels

A few months ago, a friend who has known me for a couple of years described me as relaxed. I was shocked.

RELAXED?

In the same unconscious way that some women run their fingers through their hair, I scanned my labels and diagnoses: INFJ. HSP {Highly Sensitive Person}. Anxious. Round. Bookish. With occasional bouts of deep sadness.

Yup. All still there.

I’m a person who loves ALL the tests. At the school where I work as a counselor, we provide Grade 9 students with the opportunity to complete the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and VIA Strengths. Our hope is that these instruments will help them recognize their own preferences and gifts as well as their responses to other people. These tests are meant to provide a flashlight for one’s insides.

I first took the MBTI as a 20-something RA in a university residence. I learned that I’m introverted, that I take in information through my intuition, that I make decisions based on my feelings and that I’m an organized list maker who doesn’t thrive on chaos. (Note: this last bit was no surprise.) When I got my results, I felt like I saw myself, my whole self, for the first time. Suddenly, I was able to understand why certain things were so easy for me, why they felt just right in my body, and why other activities (and people) were WAY more challenging.

My MBTI profile led me to the work of Elaine Aaron and the recognition that I’m also a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) which means that I’m profoundly affected by my environment, that I startle easily, and that my nervous system is in overdrive much of the time.

Then I remembered that my friend described me as relaxed. I wondered if I was simply doing a really good job of acting.

And then I considered the possibility that maybe I’m not THAT anxious anymore.

When I took those tests, the information I learned was tremendously helpful. I was able to be kind and gentle with myself, and set up more ideal conditions for my own success. This information also helped me develop better relationships with others because I could see their not-so-tiny gremlins and be more empathetic about the kind of crazy they dealt with every day. Understanding how we’re shaped by psychological and sociological forces helped me to develop greater empathy for the people around me.

Empathy led me to counseling and then to coaching. Empathy rocks!

Recently, I’ve started to be a bit less gentle with myself. I’ve begun taking greater risks and I’ve challenged myself to do hard things like become a coach, start a business, get out of debt, and give up my lovely full-time job in order to take a gap year. I reached out and gave Uncertainty a big old bear hug and, to reward my courage, Uncertainty hugged me back. Sometimes we even go dancing now, Uncertainty and me.

It’s not that I’ve stopped being introverted or having a preference for order over chaos. That’s probably not going to happen. What has been happening, however, is that I’ve been teaching myself to stretch beyond my natural preferences and strengths. I’m claiming more and more territory as home.

Ultimately, I’ve chosen to feel safe. Choosing to feel safe in my life, and in the world, has made me feel free. And if there’s a better feeling than freedom, I haven’t met it yet.

One morning, I was in the kitchen cutting the labels out of a silk blouse with a pair of orange handled scissors. This felt entirely satisfying to me. Damien walked into the kitchen and raised one eyebrow.
“Why are you cutting out the labels?”
“They’re rough against my skin and make me itchy.”
“Aren’t you worried that you won’t know how to launder them?”
“Nope. I know what fabrics my clothes are made of. I have it all in here.” (I pointed to my brain.) “Besides, when in doubt, hand wash in cold water.”

It was time to remove the labels in my life. They’d served their purpose. They were never meant to be boxes ~ only feedback. A bit of a map to get me headed in the right direction.

So it turns out that I AM relaxed. I’ve learned a lot about myself and now I’m ready to be NEW things. I’m ready to be greater than the sum of my parts and my labels.

What are you ready to be?
 
 
Note: This piece was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters, sent every second Sunday, directly in your email inbox, you can subscribe here.
 

My Inner Teenager, the Life Coach + A Retreat

This is the teenager I’m becoming now that I’m 50.

Laura Kuffner, a brilliant student at our school, created the illustrations for an online course I’m working on. In our discussion of what I was looking for, we looked at Annosha Syed’s series of illustrations of what Disney heroines would look like as 21st century teens/young adults. Laura then illustrated me in this same style.

This is a selfie of my soul.

I love that I’m looking out with confidence and determination. I also dig that my belly is showing. Going through my coaching program helped me connect with my divine badass even though I was NOT this girl as an actual teenager.

At sixteen, I worked hard to make a lot of other people happy. Myself? Not so much.

I was committed to following the rules as I understood them. I was to be the responsible Eldest daughter, earn great grades, become Student Council President, and receive awards and scholarships. I kept this checklist in my brain and I moved through my life checking off the boxes as if it were my religion.

When people said hurtful things to me, when they told me who I should be and how I should act, I did not speak up. I had no sense of where I ended and where they began and, therefore, I had no boundaries. I was filled with fear and did not recognize my own power.

What’s worse, I didn’t even know who I was. I was very rarely my full self (the self that is loud and joyful and loves to swear like a sailor) as I was too worried that these behaviours did not match the person I was supposed to be.

The teenager I started becoming in my late 40s understands that she can define success for herself. She can step away from everyone else’s ladders and crazy-striving. She can chill out. She has access to all of her emotions ~ the lovely ones and the painful ones. All of it. She loves to dance. She raps pure love. She craves joy. She wants to help other people as her truest self.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m channeling the awesome superpowers of my inner teenager and bringing all my gifts to my work and to my play. What I’ve discovered is that whenever I write a love letter to myself, I write one to you too.

What does your inner teenager crave?

What does she urge you to do, to learn, to create? Perhaps, like me, this is not the teenager you were but the defiant and amazing young woman you can feel pulsating and break-dancing inside you… the one who has her whole life in front of her.

Because we still do… have our whole lives in front of us.

The people I’m coaching are creating creative courses, they are finding their purpose and also learning not to worry about the question of purpose, they are setting out on travels for which their heart has been yearning, they are finding happiness in ordinary things (which are, of course, also extraordinary things), they are adopting babies, they are returning to life coaching and they are writing poems, stories and books. They are learning how to be gentler and kinder with their inner everything. They are finding their way back to themselves.

Life Coach Certification

Although I’m a long way from done with my gorgeous teenage rebellion, on Tuesday 9th May I was certified as a Life Coach. That means that I get to hang out a little sign that says Martha Beck Certified Life Coach. For me, my certification symbolizes the journey from one of the darkest periods of my life to the absolute lightest. It confirms my impulse to trust myself.

Certification feels like a graduation for the self who didn’t have good boundaries. It’s a mirror for the lovely one who couldn’t see herself. It’s a line drawn elegantly in the sand. It’s a parade with trombones, penguins, red velvet cupcakes and angels flying overhead. (It’s true… I never met a metaphor I didn’t like.)

I thought you’d want to know.

The Writer’s Retreat at Casa Limon

If your inner teenager (or your inner Wise Woman) has been urging you to write, here’s something lovely for you.

For four days in August, I’m hosting a small group of writers (6-8) at our yellow house in Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia. All you need is an idea for a writing project (poetry, non-fiction or fiction) and a desire to work with a small group of writers in a super-supportive setting.

{Top left: our house. Top right: Damien Pitter and Monna McDiarmid, Christmas in Blue Rocks, 2016. Bottom Left: the blue rocks + sea in Blue Rocks. Bottom right: our studio}

Here are the answers to some of the questions you might have:

When does the magic happen?
Thursday 3rd August – Sunday 6th August 2017. We’ll work together from 8:30ish until 4:30ish each day.

Where will the retreat be held?
We’ll work and play at our house in the fishing village of Blue Rocks, a ten-minute drive from the town of Lunenburg, a UNESCO world heritage site. During writing times, each writer will find her own writing space in our house, on the deck, or in our studio.

Where will I stay?
You’ll book your own Air B&B, B&B or hotel in Blue Rocks, nearby Lunenburg (10 minutes away) or in the city of Bridgewater (about 30 minutes away). When people register, I’ll send some especially yummy accommodation + restaurant recommendations from our Nova Scotia friends and neighbours.

Are meals included?
Each day (Thursday thorough Sunday) we’ll provide a light breakfast and a gorgeous lunch made with local food including cheese, bread and produce from the Lunenburg Farmer’s Market. Damien will be our chef.

What will a retreat day look like?
Each day we’ll toggle back and forth between learning, writing and sharing. We’ll focus on the following six topics:
1. Fear, Rebelliousness and Ease
2. The relationship between your writing routine and flow
3. Developing your voice
4. Writing Structure
5. Description and Metaphor
6. Celebration

Are there any yummy extras included in this retreat?
Heck, yes!
* Each participant will have an hour-long coaching session with me before, during or after the retreat. You’ll choose when you’d like to have the call and what you’d like us to focus on.
* A walk by the sea just five minutes from our house. The scenic village of Blue Rocks is a photographer’s dream. Bring your camera or i-Phone.
* Master class with Damien Pitter, partner, chef and MFA in Creative Writing from UBC
* A photographic portrait of the writer (that’s you!) taken by Monna

What’s the investment?
You’ll pay 800 CDN dollars for this four-day retreat. (Yes! That’s Canadian dollars.)

What’s the closest airport?
Halifax Stanfield International Airport is a 90-minute drive from our house.

Do I need a car?
Yes. There’s no public transportation between Halifax and the South Shore (Bridgewater/Lunenburg/Blue Rocks). Cars can be rented at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

What does “Casa Limon” mean?
Casa Limon is “yellow house” in Spanish. It’s pronounced ka-sa lee-moan. Damien and I lived in Spanish speaking countries for eleven years.

Please email me at monnamcd at gmail dot com with your questions or interest.

The Retreat page is coming soon.

With much teenage-certification-writing love,
Monna
xo

Note: This piece was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters, sent every second Sunday, directly in your email inbox, you can subscribe here.

What happens when we let go

I want to begin this Reader by telling you that the sakura blossoms are falling from the cheery trees like snow. I want to tell you that it’s finally spring in Japan and that people have discarded their coats and heavy scarves. I want to say that everything feels lighter now. But not everything does.

Last week was hard.

For three days I trained my replacement at the little school that I’ve loved like a dear friend for six years. I felt bone-sad even though I was the one who chose to leave my job as Director of University Counseling in order to take a Gap Year for Grown-Ups… to coach and write and change the way I live.

On Thursday morning, a couple of my colleagues met with the counselor who will replace me; she is smart and warm and experienced and I know she’ll be amazing in this role. Although the meeting was in my office, I chose not to join them because the discussion was about educational programming for next year and I won’t be there. Next year is a vast, open land for them to plant. Although I knew it was the right decision, it felt weird to sit in the red chair outside my office while my colleagues met without me.

When the meeting ended, I popped into the office to prepare for the next conversation. I noticed that the hand blown glass ornament that normally hangs from a suction cup on my window was sitting on my desk. Damien said that, during the meeting, a big truck had driven by and rattled the office window and both the suction cup and ornament fell to the floor.

The ornament wasn’t cracked or broken. It had just let go.

I laughed out loud. So often the universe sends you the big truck you need at precisely the moment you need it.

It’s time to let go.

I’ve decided not to put the ornament back up on the window. On Saturday I brought a small pillow home from my office. Next week, I’ll go through my large collection of books at school and decide which ones to bring home. I’m going to start letting go of this school that has given me so much over six years ~ the school that helped me become the most peaceful and joyful version of myself thus far. Monna 5.0.

What I want most right now is to be FREE and in order to feel that kind of freedom, I need to leave this lovely school. I know there will be moments of leaping and also moments of falling… when I’m moving through space and time entirely without a safety net. I’ll be a blue hand-blown ornament hoping for a soft landing. There’s only one way to find out.

In just nine weeks, my gap year portal will open up into the wilderness of my life. I’m scared and also excited… and I hope to see you there.

 
Note: This piece was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters, sent every second Sunday, directly in your email inbox, you can subscribe here.
 

The Sunday Reader: Sakura Edition

The cherry trees in Yokohama and Tokyo have been slow to blossom this year. According to the people who know about such things, the trees may not blossom as fully as in other years because our winter was not cold enough and our spring has been very cold. I’m no scientist and I’m certainly not a cherry blossom expert but I feel enormous gratitude to these trees for whatever blossoms they offer us.

A friend and I were texting about the blossoms the other day (we take this stuff very seriously in Japan) and I wrote: “It’s okay if full bloom looks different this year. The trees don’t owe us anything.”

The truth is that I don’t always blossom fully.

In late March I started a writing course with Martha Beck and here is the poem I wrote In response to our Week #1 writing prompt:

Sakura

There was this time that I felt sad
but somewhere in that sadness
I suspected that my feelings
(my own precious feelings
that I’d spent a lifetime
learning to trust)
were lying.

How could that be?

With one eyebrow raised,
I turned towards my thoughts
which sometimes congregate
like a gang of thugs in the
darkest corner of my brain.
They looked embarrassed
as if they’d suddenly looked down
and found themselves naked
in Biology class.

Not so tough now.

I reached in and found
the sadness thought.
My inner wise-woman
held this thought up to the light,
pulled out her magnifying glass
and squinted, all truth-seeing.
That’s when the cracks showed up.
The fissures.
The fear
that caused the thought
that caused the sadness
in the first place.

For some time I carried
my Fearful Thought,
a small pitted seed,
in my pocket.
Several times a day
I sent it tiny love notes.
“Hello, dearest one.
I know why you’re afraid
and I know why you lied.
Patience, love.
Patience and peace.”

Walking home
from school one day
the Fearful Thought rustled
inside my pocket so I picked it up.
It was larger and had grown
a new green dress of moss.
The Fearful Thought whispered,
“I’m ready to be true.”

I planted the thought
at the base of a hill
where I could see it
every day and it grew
into a sapling and I sang
love songs as I went by.
“You’re doing such a good job growing.”
And the sapling drew
on all those good things,
the love and the sun and the rain,
and grew into a cherry tree.

At the end of March
each year, that tree
explodes with soft white truth.
The cherry blossoms dance
in the wind, each one connected
to the branch, each one surrounded
by joyful sibling-blossoms
that groove and sway
and call my name
as I walk home from school.

So I grew my truth like a sakura tree
and came to love my fear.

Of course, my hand was shaking as I hit “Post to Forum”. I wondered if anyone would read it or comment. I was seized with “not good enough” feelings which grew into regret which then morphed into something that felt a lot like panic.

Gently I called off my anxiety-induced take-off. I breathed deeply {inhale ~ exhale} and then followed my own damned advice.

“Hey, Monna. It’s not about how ‘good’ this poem is or how many people like it. This is you bravely and gently exploring your own inner life. This is about expressing what’s inside you. This is about making meaningful connections with other people through writing. As Brene Brown said, ‘The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.’ Your writing is about ME TOO. This is about you blossoming and there’s absolutely no way to do it wrong.”

There’s no way to do it wrong.

I spent a couple of hours reading and commenting on the gorgeous and astonishing writing of my fellow light-writers, more than 400 of them. It felt like dessert, like a hug, like sleeping in on a rainy Sunday morning.

There’s no way to do it wrong.

That’s also true about the Geography of Now.

Geography of Now begins Monday April 10th

Sunday is the last day to register for this online course and this will be the last time I offer the course in this way.

This course is for you if:
* You need an injection (or inoculation) of creativity in your life
* You’d like to pay more attention to the beauty all around you
* You want to take more photographs and go on some lovely photo-walks in your own neighbourhood
* You have a deep craving to write. (Please note that you can respond to the prompts with poetry OR prose.)
* You’d like to share your photos and writing in a super-supportive environment
* You want to practice gratitude

If you’re looking for a reawakening, here you go.

P.S.
This piece was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters, sent every second Sunday, directly in your email inbox, you can subscribe here.
 

Confidence Manifesto for Girls

1. Think of a person who loves you unconditionally. Love yourself like that.
Think about a person who doesn’t care how you dress or what grade you got on your most recent Math test. This person thinks you are amazing exactly the way you are. They let you be sad or happy or quiet without judging you or asking you to change. Do you feel the way they love you? Good! Now practice feeling that way about yourself.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Need some help? Turn off the television. Log out of facebook. Unplug. Stop reading fashion magazines… they’re designed to make you feel inadequate so you’ll spend money on just about anything to make yourself look and feel better. Never (ever) utter the phrase, “Out of my league” about the boy or girl you like. Leagues are for sports not for dating.

3. Flex your super power.
What do you do better than anyone else? (If you’re not sure, ask a friend.) Take a moment to feel proud of yourself. Now, go out into the world and do good with your power. Become a superhero.

4. Be vulnerable.
Take risks. Open your heart. Make mistakes. Perfection is a bad goal.

5. Treat your body with respect.
Love your body. Whatever your body looks like, it is an extraordinary machine that allows you to do amazing things. When you go on vacation, it’s your body that takes you there. Eat well. Drink more water. Move. Get enough sleep. Insist that other people respect your body too.

6. Try new activities.
Have you ever wanted to audition for the school play or try paint ball… but you were too afraid? It’s okay. Be afraid… and go ahead anyway! Try out that new hobby, sport, or creative activity. How do you know what you’ll enjoy, or even excel at, if you never try?

7. Be careful with your words.
Stop gossiping. (It’s toxic… don’t be that girl!) When you love and support other girls, it’s way easier to stop comparing and competing. Be more cautious about what you share with other people. When you’re angry, count to ten before speaking; stop a bad situation from getting worse.

8. Stand for something.
Make a list of ten things you believe in. How will you support those ideas & causes? Take action now.

9. Dream big.
What are you passionate about doing? Pursue that thing even if you’re not good at it yet. Develop goals and work hard to achieve them. Find ways to feel proud of yourself even if others don’t understand your dream.

10. Hang out with people who like and inspire you.
Real friends get how amazing you are. They ask you how your day was and try to comfort you when you feel sad. They tell the truth even when the truth is hard to hear. They make you want to be a better person. If your friends don’t make you feel good about yourself, they’re not really your friends.

11. Practice joy.
Celebrate! Be happy for yourself and others. Play! If you’ve forgotten how, spend some time with little kids. Dance! It helps lighten any mood, is great exercise and helps you get out of your head.

12. Stand up for yourself.
Find your voice and use it. Stop apologizing for yourself and say what you really mean. When you are struggling or hurting, talk to someone you trust.

 

Join me in the Geography of Now


 

Hello, lovely one.

Two years ago I created my first online course, Geography of Now. I’ve decided to run it one last time this Spring.

Geography of Now is six weeks in length and will run from Monday April 10th until Friday May 19th. Every weekday you’ll receive, via email, a lesson along with a photography or writing prompt. It’s completely up to you to decide which ones you’d like to complete; you’ll find the pace that’s best for you. All you need is the camera in your phone (or a fancier one if you wish) and your favourite combination of writing implements: journal/pen or computer. We’ll have a secret + private Facebook group where people can share their photos and writing + comment on the work of your classmates if you’d like. My very favourite thing about both Geography of Now and Poet Laureate is the community created by the people in the course. The cost of the course is 75 USD.

If you’ve been itching for a CREATIVE PROJECT,
if you’ve been feeling a little blah and need an INJECTION OF JOY,
or if you want to spend more time NOTICING and FEELING GRATEFUL,
this would be a lovely course for you.

This will be the last time I’ll run the course in this way. It may be available as a self-study but I think the magic of this program is in the alchemy the participants and I create in our shared space on Facebook.

Pop on over here to learn more about the course + sign up.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the course.

Cheers,
Monna
xo
 

Variations on The Word Should

WORDS.

I love words.

I suspect that you do as well and that’s one of the reasons that you’re here. I live for those rare gossamer moments when words flow out of me as if directed by some invisible conductor. My muse or tiny conductor or whatever she is doesn’t stop by that often but I keep writing anyway and, little by little, my writing improves and my words reach more people and, even in her absence, people tell me that those words make a difference to them. That’s another kind of magic.

As a bookish girl growing up round and introverted in the Ottawa Valley, I saw + felt that words had power. Words designed to put people in their place. Words that included some and excluded others. {So many words that excluded girls and women.} Words that tore people down. Fat. Lazy. Know-it-all.

{Ouch.}

As I grew older. I began my Sacred Odyssey to read ALL the books. Through conversations with kindred-spirit-nerd-girls and with supportive teachers and librarians, I encountered more words that elevated people. Words that inspired and ignited. Faithfully, I collected these words in spiral bound notebooks from K-Mart; at first I kept the words in lists and then I got brave and tried out various combinations in poems and short stories. As an undergraduate student of English Literature, I learned the intricate history of words and I began to understand the blue-green sea-bottom of this language I’d been given.

ALWAYS. NEVER.

As a writer, educator and coach, there are some words that I’m choosing to use less. I’ve talked a bit here about “always” and “never”. My experience is that those words are short cuts designed for the sake of emphasis but that they rarely describe a situation fully. This is not about semantics for me… it’s about expressing the complicated truth of being human.

I can’t think of anything that I always do. I love to sleep until 7:00 a.m. {and I mean that’s a strong preference) but sometimes I get up at 5:00 a.m. ~ to travel, because I can’t sleep, or because I want to watch the sun rise. Sometimes I desire the rising sun more than the warmth of my bed. So these words, always and never, they feel too easy and not quite true. For me, the biggest problem with always and never is that they sometimes create unhelpful thoughts about myself or someone else. Always and never become limits. Boundaries. Occasionally they are declarations of war. (See: “I would NEVER do that to him!”)

Honestly, I prefer the soft shoulder of “I have not yet published a book but I’m working on it,” “I try to get to sleep by 11:00 p.m. as often as possible,” and “I’m committed to loving and respecting the people in my life.”

SHOULD.

That’s the word that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Every time I use the word should about myself or someone else, I sentence myself to a little bit of suffering. {Sometimes it’s a lot of suffering.} I’m starting to see most of that suffering as completely unnecessary.

Here are some shoulds I’ve had recently:
* “He should give up his seat on the train for that elderly woman.”
* “She shouldn’t be wearing that outfit that doesn’t flatter her body.”
* “That woman in Starbucks should not be speaking so loudly on her phone.” {Yup. True story… as I was writing this piece.}
Please be clear that I am a big fan of establishing good boundaries and teaching other people how to treat me but many of my shoulds are old ghosts from my childhood, from the time when I believed that there was a right way and a wrong way to do things.

This is the worst should of all: “I should have done it differently.”

Here’s the thing. I didn’t do it differently. I did it exactly the way I did it.

So rather than beating myself up… rather than focussing on the ways I should be better or more __________ (fill in in the blank) or PERFECT… I can choose to say, “Wow. That didn’t work out exactly the way I’d hoped. How can I do that differently next time?” I can choose to speak to myself in a kind and compassionate way. I can choose to speak to myself in the same way that I would normally speak with a friend or a student at school.

Come to think of it, should is kind of an asshole of a word.

I want my life to be easier than should.

As always, I want that for you too.
 

*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.