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September 19, 2011 / Jenny Ann Fraser

When Things Don’t Go As Planned: Part Two.

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”
Last week, I wrote about how my website and launch did not go as planned. In fact, I am still having issues with fixing the things that are not working well, but I understand that life is much less stressful when you accept… …continue reading.

September 16, 2011 / Jenny Ann Fraser

When Things Don’t Go As Planned…

Part One:

On Thursday September 8th, I woke up 36 minutes after I was supposed to be at work.

It’s no wonder since I had been sleeping about 5 hours a night the week before getting ready for my super-duper website launch. The one that didn’t actually happen because the night before, when my friend the web-developer came over to help me put the last finishing touches on my site… we ended up with broken code instead of a finished to-do list.
Continue reading…

September 8, 2011 / Jenny Ann Fraser

My 3rd Annual 40th Birthday Dream

Read all about it here.

September 5, 2011 / Jenny Ann Fraser

Celebrating My 2nd Annual 40th Birthday!

On Thursday September 8, 2011 I will be celebrating my 3rd annual 40th birthday.  I will also be launching an all new Arriving At Your Own Door at http://www.jennyannfraser.comIn honour of this event, I am re-posting last year’s birthday post and my hope for creating a better world…

As we grow old…the beauty steals inward.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In honour of my 2nd Annual 40th Birthday, I thought I’d share a few of my many dreams for a better world.

I do not celebrate my 2nd Annual 40th Birthday because I don’t want to face the reality that I am 41.  My math skills, though nothing to write home about are far too good to fool myself that way. Besides, I love turning 41. It’s a good sign that I’m still alive.

My 1st Annual 40th birthday, could have gone in one of two directions. It could have been the beginning of another monumental life-threatening bought of depression due to the fact that it was the official moment marking the death of my dreams of being a mother and having a family of my own. I could have curled up into a ball lamenting the years lost to depression and anxiety and the long hard hours of work that drove me deeper into financial insecurity while stealing my youth.

Or, it could be a new beginning. The recognition that I am far from dead which means that I can create new dreams and move towards them with the wisdom that only years can provide.

Obviously, I chose the latter and threw myself a party. It was more than enough fun to warrant doing it again. Hence, the 2nd annual…

I do feel sad and more than a bit short-changed sometimes that my life did not turn out the way that I had planned. There has been far more tears than joy, and far more broken dreams than successes but I have so much that I am grateful for, I often suspect that I am happier than some of the women I know who have everything I ever wanted. Who would trade happiness? And for what?

So, as this birthday approaches, I find myself contemplating many of the things that I have learned over these years, and what I would love to share the most to mark this occasion.

I worry about the world. I worry about climate change and the fact that we don’t seem to understand that if we don’t make drastic life changes starting yesterday, we may be killing our children. I worry because I think I understand why we’re not getting it.

I understand, that we’re too focused on the wrong things and our belief in those things runs so deep that we cannot see clearly where we are headed...

I write with the hope that we will learn to see things differently without having to grow older, because we might be running out of time.

Over the years I have struggled with feminist ideals. The sadness I feel that women still do not enjoy equal rights all over the world, and the fact that women in wealthy nations are more stressed than ever balancing motherhood and career. Clearly, we have a long way to go.

What saddens me more than that, is how I see all of us, men too in some cases becoming more and more concerned with the superficial trappings of our sex. I’m speaking here of how we look, how we age, what we wear and our concerns over how others perceive us. I am sad that we still cannot believe in ourselves enough to let our accomplishments stand on their own.

It breaks my heart that even those who are incredibly successful, all too often, cannot accept ageing gracefully and instead allow time to take away so much joy. Too often we believe that they have to look a certain way to find fulfilment and self-esteem. For all that we have achieved, our appearance is still somehow tied to our self-worth.

It is the ultimate carrot on a stick as true self-worth and confidence will never be found in the reflection in the mirror. It can only be found within our hearts and minds. These are places it seems, that so many never look.

We still don’t know how to love ourselves enough to eat healthy and exercise just because it makes us feel better. We think that we need to do it so that we can get better partners, better jobs, or, just better.

Yes, I am aware, that those who are considered better looking do better in life according to some statistics. I have to ask however, why so many accept that and choose to conform? How can we improve the world if we don’t celebrate whatever it is that we have to give regardless of how we look? Why are we still buying into these myths when our survival is at stake?

Why are money, prestige, material possessions and beauty taking precedence over love, compassion and peace? Why have we still not learned to pay attention to what is most important?

We all have the potential to learn to love each other, and in doing that,  I am certain that we will finally learn to love ourselves. It really does happen in that order. We could not possibly feel so lost if the good of the whole served as our guide. I believe that it is the key we are missing that would allow us to begin to solve the monumental problems that we must face.

The key? We need to focus on what we give and practice gratitude for what we get. We need to focus on being kind, sharing smiles, learning to forgive. We need to be brave enough to share our wisdom and our love even when we feel unsure. We need to focus on gaining compassion for who and what is around us so that we might best serve for everyone’s good.

Then, we won’t need to look in the mirror to find reasons to love ourselves. Self-love will be easy to find because it will be a growing flame that we can’t possibly miss. It will be so obvious that we won’t need to look. We’ll never be able to miss the feeling of being beautiful because it will live where we can always find it. In our hearts.

What is even better, is the fact that this “inner beauty” is visible to others. Think of it. How many people have you encountered in your life that you would consider to be truly beautiful who would not in any way make it to the cover of some magazine? It stands to reason that if we were to cultivate this inner beauty and allow it to shine through, others would see it, and we would enjoy the same benefits that the stereo-typical beautiful people supposedly enjoy.

Today, I choose to accept time, gravity and age. I choose to celebrate what I have learned, what I am learning and what I will learn in the years to come.  I choose to celebrate everything that I have to give, even if it is just a smile directed at a perfect stranger. No matter who that stranger is.

Today, I choose to be beautiful!

August 15, 2011 / Jenny Ann Fraser

How I Learned Gratitude

This is a re-post from Aug 4, 2010. It is a favourite of mine, because it marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life. One that I have come to view as very slow and subtle adventure that is my life today.

It’s almost two years ago now, since I became the sole name on my apartment lease and after two years of feeling displaced, I finally had a home I could call my own.

Previous to that, I had moved in with a boyfriend, thinking that this would finally be the beginning of all of my dreams coming true, only to leave 10 months later with my clothes, my cat, my guitars and not much more.

I lived with my Mum for 10 months until she decided to sell her house and move into a new condo complex that was being built in the neighbourhood. I was thrilled for her, but more than a little concerned about how I would find an apartment since it was at the time when my work at the theatre would be finished and I had no idea how on earth I was going to be able to rent an apartment without a job.

As luck would have it, a friend needed a roommate and invited me to move in just a few days before we were to hand over the keys to my childhood home to its new owners.

My roommate had been clear that she would be moving out of the city 4 months later. I was just happy to know that I had a place to stay for the time being.

I loved this apartment the minute I walked through the front door, and within 5 minutes of being here, I vowed that I would find a way to stay. I assumed that would mean finding another roommate. I had always lived alone prior to the ex, but I just needed to be here.

The Landlords at the time were a young couple who had renovated the 3 suites in the building with a plan to sell it as soon as they could make money. I began to suspect this when they accepted my offer of being the caretaker for a small discount on the rent. I knew that they had turned down previous tenants who had made similar offers even though they were clearly not interested in maintaining the property. I was absolutely thrilled when they said yes, but not at all surprised to come home and find a For Sale sign on the front boulevard just a couple of months later.

The new Landlord took over that January, intending to honour my lease until the summer when he and his family would be moving into my suite.

I was devastated. I really couldn’t understand why the Universe was making life so difficult for me, when I’d already endured so much. I was still trying to furnish my new home and here I was going to have to move again.

The small second bedroom which had been my roommate’s was sitting empty waiting for me to buy a desk and chair and whatever else I thought I needed to make it into an art room. I hadn’t had a space to create in since moving in with the boyfriend, and it seemed like a great idea. Until, I decided to take up meditation and used it for that instead. No furniture required, just an old orange velvet chair with no legs that I still love.

That was where I learned to practice gratitude.

I began a ritual that I maintained all winter. Each evening after dinner, I would meditate, then I would focus my attention and energy on anything and everything that I could think of to be grateful for.

It always starts like this: “Thank you. Thank you for my beautiful home. Thank you for this wonderful room. Thank you for leading me here.”

I would spend my days looking for things to be grateful for when I got home in the evening.I learned something valuable from this exercise:

There is always something to be grateful for, and true gratitude leaves no room for anything else.

I was determined not to waste what time I had here being unhappy and angry that I had to leave.

Yes, I could at times become completely miserable over the situation, but each evening saying “Thank you” helped not only to remind me to stay in the moment but also to trust that clearly, if I wasn’t able to stay here, it was because I was supposed to be somewhere else. I had to work to maintain my faith in that.

After my meditation, most nights I would climb into my layers of winter gear and head out to the river where I could walk for miles. (Except that I’m Canadian and I walk for kilometers.)

After a couple of days, it became part of my ritual to meet up with two deer that hung out in the patches of forest on either side of the river. I named them Neko and Tina, and I swear, they expected me each evening as I expected them.

I could walk along in silence, focusing on my breath with the intention of seeing them. Sometimes I would walk for nearly an hour in one direction and then suddenly for no reason, I would stop, breathe and turn my head back at some unlikely angle and just stare into the darkness that was the trees all around me. Then, my eyes would adjust to the dark and they would come into view just a few feet away. I would silently tell them that I love them and they would look back at me for a few minutes as if to say, “Hi”. Then, deciding that I wasn’t all that entertaining, they’d go back to eating.

Some nights, if I was particularly down or lost in thought, they would scare me half to death by jumping out of the bushes directly in front of me. When my heart returned to it’s normal rhythm, I would find myself a little bit happier to have again received the gift of seeing my two ladies and I would again remember gratitude. I was truly lucky to be where I was, even if it was only for a short time.

Spring came, and the river flooded and the deer moved on.  But my wonderful Landlord decided that he just didn’t have the heart to ask me to leave.

He and I get along wonderfully, and he especially loves the fact that I am an Environmentalist as he is. He recently gave me a gift to thank me because he says that every time he passes the building I never have more than one light on, and he appreciates that I always check for hallway lights and other building energy wasters.

Now, there is no way that I could call myself a rational person, and claim with any certainty that my practice or these deer meant anything in the grand scheme of things, but I think they did. Thinking that gave me hope for my future. It was at the time what I needed most of all.

My meditation room is about to be re-purposed again as I’ve come to the conclusion that I need the room to write without distraction.  The orange chair will fit just fine in my bedroom, and I try these days to practice gratitude everywhere.

August 11, 2011 / Jenny Ann Fraser

Full of Words:

I don’t see how there could be a happy alternative to fully being oneself. Anything less would deny you your destiny as far as I can tell.

I think the key to being our true selves lies in trust. We need to trust in a benevolent universe that creates nothing in nature without purpose, and therefore did not create us without purpose and meaning. So-called flaws included.
We need to trust that we are good enough as we are, and dismiss the judgements of others who may say differently.
Our so-called flaws exist because they serve some purpose but too often, we allow the limited thinking of others to define us and we decide to put our faith in that.

I did not speak a word until I was almost 3 years old.

Well, I did speak one word; “boo-boo”. Apparently it worked sufficiently until it didn’t.

It is typical of me, that I would wait until I was sure I could do something right before I would bother doing it at all. So just when my mother was becoming seriously concerned about why I hadn’t learned to speak I woke up one morning talking in fully formed sentences.

And, I haven’t stopped since.

I can’t imagine that it was very long before I began to be told that I talk too much. It was probably one of the first things that I learned about myself and it has in some ways plagued me all of my life.

Knowing that I talk too much, and being unable to control it, lead to a fair amount of shame and low self-esteem.

Even as an adult when I became conscious of the fact that I cannot slow my brain down enough to be able to catch my thoughts without talking or writing, I still felt somewhat guilty and ashamed of myself when criticized by others for being talkative.

When I got to my new job, I was seriously worried, knowing that my new boss is a very quiet man who doesn’t seem to like those who talk too much… but I was wrong.

My talking serves me well in my new position, but more than that, it serves the company well.

I am excellent at dealing with customers. I get them laughing, chatting, I brighten their day whenever I can and that is good for business, good for the customers, and good for me.

I have also saved my boss a few dollars by being the voice recordings for all of the voice-mail systems and the messages you would hear while on hold. He used to pay a pro for that service.

And then there is this writing thing. Finally, I understand why I was born full of words that are bursting to get out. And I also understand that anyone who would criticize me for being born this way is the one that has the problem. My words serve many a purpose and I wish I had realized it sooner.

The thing is, that I recognize that I myself have been guilty of criticizing others for the way that they are. Being critical is something I still catch myself doing, though less and less as I become more aware.

I am becoming more aware not only of myself and my space in the world, but that there is a plan for each of us, whether we figure it out or not. None of us chooses our intelligence, our personalities, our aptitudes nor many other things that make us who we are and yet we constantly critique and criticize each other for these aspects of ourselves that we do not choose.

I am also beginning to realize on a deep level that I am not the designer of the plan. Not for anyone. I can strive to control myself, but the extent of my influence ends there.

One of the things that has made my new position doing customer service a joy, is realizing that it is not up to me how others behave. My job is to accept, and work with that customer, or co-workers, the way they are. Not the way I think they should be.

What I have discovered over the past few years as I work to become aware of and curb my judgements towards others is that there is no other way to feel better about myself than to be accepting of what and who I am experiencing in the moment. Even when the situation is unpleasant as people often can be, where the path to non-judgement is a long one.

I’m not sure that I will ever be completely free, but the work is rewarding enough to spend a life-time trying.

Of course, there are always judgements to be made in every moment to keep us safe, make good decisions and create communities and relationships that serve us.

I don’t bring homeless people home for dinner, but I do give them the same smile, kind words, and dignity that I give to my customers and my co-workers.

I recently asked a young man who invited himself into my backyard while I was visiting with a friend to leave, because I was potentially concerned about safety. I was respectful when I did it, and I did not feel any animosity towards this clearly lost young person. In fact, each time I think of him, I wish him the best.

Living with compassion does not mean living as a doormat. Besides, I make a lousy doormat. I talk too much.

For a long time I have suspected that the only real reason we ever have for being critical of others is to make ourselves feel better. If we have any reason to look down on another human being, it can only be to prove our superiority. I don’t think we would have any need to do this if we really loved ourselves in the first place.

Understanding on a deeper level that we are all human souls first, and not the labels we place on ourselves or each other helps me to remain mindful that I am no more worthy than any other person alive. This means that I am no less worthy than any other, no matter how flawed I might be.

Learning to embrace myself as I am, in this moment, knowing that there is plenty of room to grow means that I can only boost my self-concept by working on myself. Looking down on others only provides the illusion of superiority. It will do nothing to make me believe in me.

If I want to truly be myself, then I have to allow others to do the same. I don’t see how there could be any other happy alternative.

August 9, 2011 / Jenny Ann Fraser

Honouring That Which is Sacred:

Years ago, when I converted to Judaism, I was blessed to have a group of close friends to share my religion with.

Shabbat, the celebration of the Sabbath which starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday was a great gift.

Those who turn their noses down at all organized religion often made comments about how silly it is to think that God, (if there even is one) would care what you do on Friday night. Whether you light candles, drink wine or eat bread or not, how can it really matter?

 And if you did those things why would God care what kind of bread you eat? What is the difference between two carefully braided loaves of challah and say Wonder bread? Or a good healthy whole wheat? Why is one thing sacred and not the other?

I understood though, without fully having the language I have today, that all ritual in all religion is about mindfulness. It is about intentionally, and consciously bringing the sacred into every day life.

Saying blessings over lighting candles, drinking wine, washing hands and breaking bread with loved ones has nothing to do with winning favour with God. It has everything to do with stopping for a 7th of each week and being mindful of all that you have. And what could be better than good food, and good friends singing songs of joy around a beautifully set table each week?

I have a co-worker, of Aboriginal decent who was telling us recently that he never takes anything from the earth; food, or a fish caught in a lake without giving something back. The tradition: Tobbaco.

It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in this day and age until you stop and ask the question, “what kind of world would we live in today had we always given something, even something purely symbolic back to the Earth every time we took something?”

I can only imagine that there would be a lot less greed, consumption and destruction if we had committed to that way of thinking. The whole point, is that there would be a lot more mindfulness. If we thought more deeply about what we do and the consequences of what we do, I don’t see how everyone wouldn’t be better off.

On the whole I am quite certain that we could all use a little more, wait… make it a lot more of the sacred in our lives. A lot more conscious choosing of what we will declare and preserve as precious.

So often, we move though our lives at a rapid pace, working, travelling, consuming and worrying our way out of connecting with where we are, and what we are doing.

What we value in life, so often has been taught to us and we haven’t stopped to think about whether the things we value most really are important.

Lately, I have begun to notice that it doesn’t matter who you talk to or what their circumstances are, we all seem to have 2 things in common. We’re all too busy, and no-one has enough money.

Whoa! That cannot be true can it? Are we all equally busy, and broke?

I know people who make 3 or 4 times as much as I do who complain about money.

And not being a math genius, I may be wrong but I don’t understand how we can all be busier than each other?

The reality is, that we live in a world that tells us constantly that we don’t have enough, and quite frankly, if you’re not busy, you’re probably lazy, which is pretty much the bottom of the totem pole in today’s world.

I wonder if the world would come to a sudden end if we decided to slow down and create some space for the sacred. My guess is that it would become better, but at the very least, it would become better for us.

This past weekend, we had a family gathering to celebrate two birthdays. We always have a great time when we are together, but of course with all of our crazy schedules the gatherings don’t happen often enough.

At least we are all grateful when they do.

I was reminded of the sacred by a moment that I managed to capture on camera. It is a photo that I see myself cherishing for a long time to come. An image captured by my phone of all things and it will serve as a reminder of what is really important in life.

Three men that I love and a baby.

Truthfully, there is really nothing better than a baby to melt away your problems and stress and just allow you the space to stop and stare in wonder… unless of course it happens to be your baby.

The thing is, we don’t all get to spend time with babies. (This was an anomaly for us as this baby is not part of our family).

We do however get to spend time outside. We can take a moment with a tree, a squirrel, a fluffy cloud that grabs our attention. Simply feeling the sun warming your face or the wind whistling through your hair can be a sacred moment if we choose to pay attention and make it so.

A moment with a child of any age, quality time spent with a partner saying thanks for all that you have, even if you feel that you don’t have enough. These are all ways of connecting and consciously choosing the sacred.

As I write this, I am thinking of ways that I could continue to create sacred space in my life. Practising gratitude, stopping to smell the flowers, appreciating the view before me, I do these things regularly and yet I realize, that there is always room for more.

How can I give back to the Earth for each thing I take? How can I be more mindful in each moment so that I catch the sacred when it occurs? How can I bring more sacred moments into my life, or better yet, offer more sacred moments to others?

I am going to ponder this, and I am also going to make a real effort to open my eyes as wide as I can so that I am awake, and aware, and the sacred becomes the priority.

I will also document this as I go.

Anyone care to join me?

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