Integrated Wellness

Bullying: An Empowered Perspective

I was just reading a Facebook post about bullying that elicited some strong feelings for me.  The post asked people about their experiences with bullying and how best to respond to these situations when they arise.  In reading the responses I could sense a strong feeling of victimhood which I felt a lot of compassion around.

Let me begin with some background and qualifiers.  First off I do not condone bullying.  I take the fact that we’re working hard to reduce its occurrence to be an encouraging sign that we’re becoming a more compassionate society.  Secondly, I myself experienced both sides of bullying growing up as a kid.  I was made fun of a lot as kid for being overweight and ‘nerdy’.  I also dished out a reasonable amount of abuse to others.  In looking back on these experiences I find they had a certain warped innocence to them.  As if as kids we hadn’t really learned that there were kinder, healthier ways of interacting with one another.

The other angle of this situation that I am all too aware of is how we as humans tend to become very attached to our feelings of victimhood.  Perhaps understandably when we feel that we have been wronged we want to be validated.  We want justice.  It is much easier to point the finger at the other person and want them to change so that we can feel better.

A huge lesson for me here at Earth School has been that victimhood is a very limiting lens to see life through.  When you assume the role of victim you not only give away all of your power but you actually attract and create more situations where you are the victim.

This phenomenon can be best illustrated with the Drama Triangle.  When you’re operating in the drama triangle there are only 3 available roles: victim, villain, or rescuer.  So let’s play this out: Let’s say Bob experiences bullying.  He assumes the role of victim and feels that it is very unfair that he is being bullied.  Sally is the person bullying him.  She becomes the villain.  From Bob’s perspective there is nothing he can do about being bullied.  Sally is simply a bad person who is picking on him unfairly.  In many cases Sally may have no idea why she’s giving Bob a hard time.  There’s a good chance that this is unconscious behavior on her part.

Tragically the more we assume the role of victim in our lives the more we tend to attract villains and rescuers.  Have you ever known someone who seemed to experience way more than their fair share of ‘bad luck’? Someone who couldn’t seem to catch a break no matter how hard they tried? Was this person also eager to share with you all their experiences of victimhood?

Conversely have you known someone empowered who seemed to be able to navigate any challenge with agility and grace? Did this person ever consider themselves the victim in any situation they faced?

This is a harsh example but it is worth considering.  Two people are walking down the street.  One stands up tall and confident while the other one is hunched over and clearly exudes fear and vulnerability.  Which one do you think a potential attacker would choose? If you’ve ever watched nature shows who does the lion go after in the herd of antelope? The strong or the vulnerable? I’m certainly not saying this is fair or just or admirable but it does seem to be a principle that governs our lives.

Another lens that life can be seen through is from the perspective of the Empowerment Triangle.  Instead of Victim/Villain/Rescuer the Empowerment Triangle is based on Compassion/Responsibility/Empowerment.  From this perspective our bullying situation looks very different.  Sally goes from being a Villain/bad person to becoming a teacher.  She is reflecting back to Bob an emotional wound or a limiting belief that he as about himself.  Bob then has the opportunity to take responsibility for and address these issues so that they no longer limit him in his life.  The other benefit to this approach is that it doesn’t return.  Once you’ve dealt with an issue there’s no reason for a teacher to come along and point it out to you anymore.

Let me hash this out a little more.  Let’s assume your hair color is something other than blue.  If I came up to you and started making fun of you for having blue hair it wouldn’t really bother you, would it? You’d just think I was an idiot because you know darned well that your hair is brown/blond/pink, etc.  However if I came up to you and started making fun of you for being a ‘loser’ and that happened to be a subconscious belief that you had about yourself it would be a very different story.  This would be very upsetting and painful for you.   If something bothers you and really hurts it’s a sign that there is work to be done.  Again though once you’ve dealt with this issue I promise you that it will go away.  If you shift the false limiting belief that you are a ‘loser’ and someone comes along and pokes fun at you for being a ‘loser’ it would be like the blue hair example.  You know for a fact that you aren’t and anyone who suggests otherwise has their own work to do.

I ran into this situation with my son not long ago.  He felt he was being bullied at school.  I explained to him that the person messing with him was trying to teach him something and was showing my son something that needed to be addressed.  We did a healing journey and addressed the issue in question.  The next day my son was amazed to find that the bully/teacher was no longer messing with him but continued to bother other people.

The unfortunate thing about human beings at this point in time is that we seem to need struggle, strife, and suffering to learn the things that we’re here to learn.  It is for this reason that Earth School can appear to be a very harsh, cruel, and uncomfortable place.  Think about it: have the periods of true growth in your life happened when you were comfortable or when you weren’t? Would we as humans learn anything if we remained in a comfort zone for our entire lives?

Ultimately the choice is yours.  When you experience challenges and uncomfortable situations in your life you can see yourself as a victim and life as being unfair or you can see it as a lesson.  Which approach do you think will be more growthful? More empowering? If you find yourself being bullied you can take it as a sign that something needs to be addressed.  A limiting belief that needs to be shifted.  An emotional wound that needs to be transformed.  By choosing which lens we see Earth School through we can determine whether life will feel more like a dance or a desperate struggle.


Losing the Numbers to Find Ourselves

I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my life over the last while – the further I get from numbers the happier I become.

I think this need to quantify everything is a symptom of our mind based society.  Our minds love to divide everything up, put it in a box, and assign some sort of value to it.  This works for some things but for a completely integrated system like a human it can be quite detrimental.

A good example was the Garmin GPS I was using on my bike(s).  Having this clever little device provided all sorts of interesting data about my riding.  The most problematic of these was the seemingly innocuous Average Speed.  Being the competitive animal that I am I got sucked in to evaluating my rides in km/h and was constantly trying to beat what I had done previously.  This resulted in riding very intensely and aggressively every time I went out along with terrorizing various other path users in the process.

The end result was turning an activity that was supposed to help me relax into a battle with myself and any innocent victims that happened to be in my path.  Normally by this time of year (Fall) I would want nothing to do with my bike(s) anymore because I would have spent the whole summer killing myself while riding.

This Spring I realized that the blame for all of this lay with my mind.  If I wanted to get back to really enjoying cycling I needed to stop evaluating my rides on performance and start looking at them in terms of enjoyment.  So, the cutters came out and my Garmin mounts were removed from all of my bikes.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  Suddenly cycling was relaxing again! All of the pressure to perform was gone.  I no longer has to curse under my breath when I had to slow down for people walking three abreast on the path.  I could just ride at a pace that felt right and every ride I enjoyed (which was most of them) was a victory.

I can honestly say that the odds of my ever measuring my rides again are extremely thin.  In all fairness, clever little Gamin devices don’t torment riders, riders torment riders.  Having competed in cycling at a high level I had developed all sorts of beliefs and attitudes around performance over enjoyment.  I’m sure normal people can use Garmins, FitBits, Heart Rate Monitors, etc. without losing sleep over the results.  I, however, do not appear to be normal when it comes to these things and fare much better without them.

So what if we were to extend this thinking to other aspects of our lives? I definitely don’t miss checking a scale regularly.  I’ve also noticed a lot of parents give themselves fits quantifying their children from birth and fretting about what percentile they fall into.  Measuring our self worth with our net income certainly seems like a dicey proposition!

Maybe it’s time to put away the numbers and concentrate on how various aspects of our lives feel.  I can’t help but think the end result will be a lot more peaceful enjoyment.

Why We Must Love the Skin We’re In Unconditionally

How I and others feel about our bodies has been a pervasive issue for many years.  My own journey has been interesting in that I went from being an overweight and out of shape kid, to a disturbingly lean and extremely fit cyclist, to a much stronger more muscular individual who lacked aerobic fitness, to where I am now which is some mix of all of it.

In my working and personal life it seems that sooner or later body image will rear its ugly head in the discussion.  Over the years my approach to this issue has changed.  Back in my more eager athletic therapy student and strength and conditioning coach days I would offer exercise and dietary solutions.  As the years have gone by however and experience and utter failure has taught me, there is a much more important solution to this extremely pervasive issue:

We must all love our bodies unconditionally if we want to be well.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if your body was a child.  Ok kid, here’s the deal.  I’m only going to love and appreciate you when you are exactly as I would like you to be.  How do you think that would turn out? I guess there are plenty of examples of this around.  This is called conditional love.

The way most people relate to their bodies is very conditional.  Body – I will love and appreciate you so long as you have a six pack.  Body – I will appreciate you so long as you can achieve spectacular athletic feats.  Body – I will love you so long as you are free from disease.  When the body fails to meet our conditions what do we do? We start getting down on it.  We start criticizing it.  We start sending it negative energy.

Just as children don’t tend to thrive when bombarded with negative energy so goes it with our bodies.  Your body isn’t stupid.  It can very easily tell the difference between when you feel good being in it and when you don’t and adjusts its function accordingly.

Interestingly I observed a situation lately where the way someone felt about their body created a vicious cycle.  They didn’t feel good in their skin and it robbed them of the energy they could have used to lovingly feed, exercise, and care for their body.  It also created some relationship tension because when you don’t feel good in your body it’s much harder to be present and connected in an intimate setting.  Furthermore the bombardment of negative energy weakened the immune system and led to infection.

All of this can be resolved and/or avoided through a shift in how the type of energy you direct toward your body.  When you love your body unconditionally it simply works better.  It sparkles.  It has way more energy to be active and create with.

If you happen to be one of the people who has read this post to this point I strongly encourage you to take a moment to take stock of how you’re relating to your body and to adjust if necessary.  I would also encourage you to stop letting numbers determine the type of energy you will send your body.  Love your body regardless of what the scale says, what your cholesterol reading is (don’t get me started), what your blood pressure is, what your time up to the Champlain Lookout is, and revel in the benefits.

For the Love of… Go Outside!

I’m not normally one to rant and rave (much) but I post that a friend of mine sent me has reminded me of something I’ve always found fascinating but not really in a good way.

A rather extensive and presumably well funded study found that when people hiked outside in nature they felt better.  *Insert brain exploding gesture here*.

This reminds me of something I used to observe at the fitness center I worked at in Winnipeg.  Picture if you will a beautiful sunny day, high of 22c, nice breeze.  Surrounding said fitness center are kilometers of beautiful tree lined paths next to the Assiniboine River.  Now picture people circling the parking lot for upwards of 5 minutes trying to find a spot that’s close to the door.  Now picture perfectly able bodied people going inside and walking on a treadmill for an hour!

It used to take every ounce of self control I had not to scream, “WTF is wrong with you people!? Go outside!” How many well funded studies highlighting the importance of vitamin D, how much better our mental health is when we go outside, and how important fresh air is do we need before people manage to do a rectal head extraction?

Admittedly this is a bit of a sensitive issue for me because I went a bit batty back in my competitive cycling days after having done a little too much indoor training in the Winter.  We used to meet in a large unheated front room at the Rowing Club when it was -30c out and ride until the frost on the floor had become puddles of sweat.  A little too much of that time of training starts to mess with a person after a while.

Seriously though in a country where people are cooped up inside for 6 months of the year when going outside can actually be hazardous to your health why on earth would you exercise indoors when it’s nice out?

Why don’t we all save ourselves a lot of time, money, and energy and acknowledge the fact that as human beings we need to feel connected with the earth, breathe fresh air, feel some sun our our skin, and spend time in nature to feel alive and well? The only quote I’ll ever use from Don Cherry is, “It’s not rocket surgery!”.

Perhaps a future area of well funded study could be the potential negative health effects of me beating myself over the head with my laptop because I can’t believe how absurd we’ve become as a species.

There.  I’m done.  I’ll spare you all the obligatory mic drop.

Is Your World Expanding or Shrinking?

One of the aspects of my work that I find incredibly satisfying is watching my clients able to expand their world as their fitness and physical capacities increase.  That can take the form of more ambitious sporting activities, more adventurous vacations, or even a greater capacity to play with grandchildren and maintain the dwelling.

Conversely, I am always saddened by watching someone’s world shrink, whether that takes the form of having to downsize or move into a home or simply become less activity due to increased physical limitations.

At the end of the day I think that is one of the biggest payoffs that you get from getting or staying in shape – the ability to expand your physical world.  It has been my observation that when someone is able to do this they feel excited, invigorated, revitalized, and ultimately more alive.

In many ways I think this is one of the essential keys to staying young.  Interestingly I find it doesn’t take as much time and energy as you might think.  With a lot of my clients 1-2 workouts of week of well under an hour along with an otherwise reasonably active lifestyle seems to do the trick.

I suppose the other essential component to all of this is looking after your body as well.  Should aches, pains, and injuries arise they need to be dealt with properly.  This applies to all aspects of wellness, not the least of which is the often overlooked emotional aspect.  It has been my observation that dealing with your stuff is absolutely critical to long term well-being.

Investing in your health often pays huge dividends and failure to do so can come at a very high cost.  Might as well enjoy the visit while you’re here!

Thoughts on Feeling Secure (Or Not)

As I await my latest car repair to reach completion I find myself contemplating the idea of security.

I think feeling secure is very contextual.  I think we can feel secure in some circumstances and aspects of our lives and not others.  Personally, I find I feel quite spiritually secure, like in the big picture I have a certain sense of who I am and what I’m here to do.  On a more material level, however, it’s not unusual for me to feel like my life is being held together with duct tape, chewing gum, and paper clips and it might explode at any moment.

Conversely, there are people I know who have what I would consider to be a tremendous amount of material security, but struggle with health concerns or to make sense of their lives.

As with my other aspects of being human I find we tend to play to our strengths when it comes to feelings of security.  People who are good at manifesting wealth keep on doing so in the hopes that once a certain net worth has been achieved then they will feel secure.  In myself I often see the tendency to revert to spiritual practices to reassure myself when material insecurity strikes.

Neither approach seems all that effective.  If one’s well-being is in question no amount of money will make that feeling go away.  If you’re going broke no amount of meditating is going to pay the bills.  Ultimately I think the answer here is to work on the aspects of our lives where we don’t feel secure rather than trying to compensate with something else.

A final observation is that having feelings of insecurity is very much part of the physically fragile human experience.  Suppressing or denying these feelings is also ineffective and counterproductive.  Like so many other aspects of being human perhaps the key here is to explore these feelings and figure out what they’re trying to tell us so that we can ultimately learn from them and keep growing.

The Undisciplined Mind Will Always Wander

I thought it would be fun to reteach myself an important lesson this week.  That lesson is about the importance of filling your mind with thoughts that are in alignment with your goals, desires, and values.

I’ve noticed a pattern where I’ll get my mind on the right track, either by reading an inspiring book or watching The Secret for the 274th time.  This will last for a little while, produce amazing results, and then, bit by bit, life’s little distractions will erode the useful thoughts in my mind.  Particularly problematic for me are things like sports radio and those ever tantalizing cycling videos on YouTube.

Looking back, the most abundant times in my life were permeated with information in various forms that kept my mind pointed in the right direction.  Clearly this is something that I need to create and maintain deliberately.

On the opposite side of the spectrum I’ve seen some remarkable examples lately of how problematic the mind can be left unchecked.  The undisciplined mind is particularly skilled at creating magnificent catastrophizing what-if scenarios and playing them repeatedly.

To me, the world we live in has far too many opportunities for our minds to be led astray for us not consciously keep ensuring that it is pointing in the right direction.  Once again this speaks to the importance of choosing what you watch, read, and expose yourself to carefully. It also speaks to the importance of things like meditation where we regularly quiet the mind and learn to separate the useful information from the noise.


Who Owns Who?

I have an interesting question for you – do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you? What got me thinking about this subject this week was a fellow who was supposed to come and buy a bike from me but wasn’t able to because his girlfriend didn’t want him putting it in the back of their new Audi SUV.

I realize that here at Earth School we need everyone to be having their own unique experience and to approach their lives in their own unique way.  That said, I find it really interesting when people buy things that are so expensive and luxurious that they are unable to use them for their intended purpose for fear of devaluing them.

To be clear, I’m certainly in favor of looking after your stuff and keeping it functional for as long as possible.  I’m not a fan of abusing one’s possessions of being frivolous with them.  At the end of the day, however, these things need to be tools.  It is for this reason that I like buying things used.

I will admit that the life I lead is hard on my vehicles.  There are constantly massage tables, bikes, kettlebells, kids, etc. going in and out.  Perhaps this is part of why  I go through a car every 1-2 years.  This is also due to the fact that I buy them at the end of their lifespan, usually with well over 200,000kms on them and spending in the neighborhood of $2,000.

What I like about this approach is I don’t hesitate to use my vehicle as a tool in whatever manner I need to.  I don’t lose sleep at night if I get a scratch on it or in it.  This same thinking applies to bikes for me.  I’d much rather buy a bike that’s been broken in a bit (although not abused) so I can ride the crap out of it properly without having to worry about keeping it pristine.

At the end of the day there is absolutely nothing wrong with owning nice things.  Just make sure you’re the owner.

Irritants for Growth

We all get something stuck in our craw once in a while.  There’s that one person, thing, or situation that just grates at us like nails on a chalkboard.  I recently went through that with a bike I needed to sell.  As wonderful as Kijiji can be sometimes it can also be a serious pain in the ass at other times.  I think in all I had conditionally sold the bike no fewer than 5 times before actually selling it.

Some of the reasons it didn’t sell were downright laughable.  One poor fellow apparently had tire trouble on his way here to buy the bike and had to wait by the side of the road for two hours (not laughable).  Another was unable to come when his girlfriend freaked out at the though of a bike going into her brand new SUV (more laughable).

Sadly, as I taught myself beautifully, the best way to perpetuate an irritant is to focus on it with lots of thought and emotion.  To put it another way, “What you resist persists!” In the end, I ended up selling the bike for less than I might have been able to get for it with a little more patience because I became so obsessed with getting the thing out of my place.

So how could I have handled this situation better? First and foremost I think irritants need to be thought of as teachers.  Things that annoy us are showing us that there are parts of ourselves that need attention in order for us to be more at peace.  For me in this case there were lessons around patience, trust, and letting go.  Acceptance is closely related to this as well.

Mastery over annoyances would be to find gratitude around them for what they teach us.  This is obviously much easier once the situation has passed.  What a great and humbling lesson!

Trusting Your Gut

One of our most remarkable faculties as human beings is our intuition.  It’s beyond the scope of this post to try and figure out where our intuitive information comes from, so instead I’d like to keep this (somewhat) more practical.

One of the things extensive research found about successful people is that they tend to make up their minds quickly and change their minds slowly.  To me, in our information filled complex world, this means they have learned to trust their gut.  We are told that when taking tests our first answer is usually the best one.  If we get our minds involved in too much analysis it often leads us astray.

Having spent considerable time developing my intuitive abilities, I can tell you that while some decisions don’t seem to make sense at the time their made, they always seem to work out remarkably well and in a fascinating way over the long term.

How can you tell the difference between your mind and your intuition? I find they feel very different.  The mind tends to be quite noisy, cyclical, and generally unpleasant while centered in the head.  Intuition by contrast feels very simple and pleasant and as the expression implies comes from the gut.

To me, great peace comes from feeling like you’re in the right profession, living in the right place, with the right person, and owning the right things.  When something doesn’t feel right it’s a burr in our saddle.   This is something intangible that cannot be achieved with pro and con lists, etc.

Here’s an exercise you might like to try: one day, when you have some time, navigate your day solely on intuition.  See where you end up and who you encounter.  A whole new world opens up when you go by what feels right.