Managing my beautiful mind

Ah! Our amazing mind… it can lead us to impressive results, create incredible imaginary stories, regulate our bodies and a zillion more things. Our mind however can also play some interesting tricks on us, as I was about to discover.

Many of you know that I have a big project on the go, that of becoming much healthier. One of my favorite activity, other than walking, is swimming. I am far from being an efficient swimmer. Until 5 years ago, I could never swim with my face in the water. With guidance and perseverance, I did manage to learn how to swim the proper crawl method, but my endurance always was poor.

Typically I swam in a 25 meter pool. My routine is to swim breast stroke or side stroke until I get warmed up, then I attempt to swim the crawl, which is difficult for me, but I can usually do the length and with a very short rest, continue for a few more lengths. The intent was to build up my endurance.
Flash forward to two years later, ie, one week following my early return from my Camino. My regular pool is closed for maintenance, and I leveraged another pool which is 50 meters long. In my mind however, that was WAY too long. After all, I was just used to doing 25 meters at a time.
deep end pool
And, wouldn’t you know, the slope for the deep end starts just a bit past the 25 meter mark. Somehow, my mind was set that I couldn’t go past that mark. I tried for two entire weeks yet each time I would see the beginning of the slope to the deep end, I would have problems with my breathing and my endurance. Even I, who tends to talk myself in or out of just about anything could not get past that marker UNTIL… I found myself resting at the deep end after finishing the last length breast stroke style when I remembered I was to start the crawl at the beginning of that length.

“Well, I thought, I guess I can do it now” and I headed off thinking I would likely stop again 20 meters or so short. Much to my complete surprise, I got to that point and since I was in the shallow end, it seemed my mind didn’t see the anchored marker that previously kept me from finishing the length, and I just kept going the entire 50 meters. I pondered a moment and thought “I must have broken through the barrier” so I headed back again but to my dismay, the moment I saw the change in depth I tanked.

I side stroked to the end again, and after a moment or two of frustration, I headed back to the shallow end. Again, I did the entire distance without any issues. At that point, I was determined to overcome that visual block. I admit I haven’t quite managed that, BUT I do know I can at least do the 50 meters by starting off at the deep end.

I know eventually I will overcome this challenge but it totally amazes me that even though I KNOW I can do the 50 meters, I still am bound by that hard stop. Amazing that my mind is struggling with this however I am determined to conquer that invisible yet powerful obstacle.

Incredible what our mind can do, and surprising the power it can have over things that we struggle to control. In the grand scheme of things this is a small and inconsequential thing, but to me, it’s the game of mind over matter.

I wonder how many other “artificial” obstacles I have let impede my plans, how many times I’ve bowed out thinking this was not something I could do, or given up too early.

My determination is strong and soon the lane in both directions will be mine.
Now, please excuse me while I go and visualize this conquest!

Even after 44 years

I tell people I live a charmed life. I have a strong sibling family, I am mother to two beautiful and loving daughters, I am a wife a giving and wonderful the man who stayed at home with the girls and provided them with stability at home (when it was very rare to see a man stay at home) and I lived a very unusual professional life with a its final day some three years ago.

My husband and I travel often to many amazing locations in the world. I have had the privilege to walk in Spain on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that people have been doing for more than thousands of years. We made cast-in-stone decisions that allowed me to retire at the tender age of 50. We have a humble home in a very nice neighborhood and we have many great friends and loads of acquaintances and our life is amazing… I am so grateful for this, and all the beauty I have experienced in my life.

dad 3But, there is a hole in my heart. No due to a failed romance, bad professional moves or terrible investments or wrongful acts… My hole in my heart belongs to my father. It belongs to the decades of living without a fatherly influence, a fatherly embrace each evening, a fatherly stern concern about a potential decision on my part… It belongs to the little girl who was but 9 years old when life took him away from us. It belongs to the many decisions I’ve had to do with only one parent, or at times, no parental thoughts, advice, or concern. It belongs to those days when having a male parental figure in my life to guide me along was needed. It belongs to those special days such as my wedding day (I have the most considerate brother who walked me down the aisle), the birth of our two girls, or my retirement.

I live my life in a frozen state – that of a child not being able to ever experience her father in a mortal way. I live my life not having gone through the stage of finding my father to be old fashioned, out of touch or unaware of the progress of technology. I live my life in a stage where my father is nothing short of perfection – for I am, and will always be, adult or not, in a mind’s child of 9 when it relates to my father.

Each father’s day, I rejoice in the recognition that my husband has always had a very strong presence in our family. What joys can my daughters have to continue to get to know their father with new eyes each year on what makes him so amazing and unique. What incredible experiences they have each day in even the most mundane situations. What joy and simple but touching moments they can have with him each and every day. And in the bottom of my heart, I miss this.

Growing up I remember thinking that this would be easier with time… this constant missing of my father’s presence. There were years where I thought that years of maturity of age would make his absence easier. There were years when I thought my sheer anger would help me through the moments of void. There so many times when I would fall asleep at night, hoping that somehow I would be able to dream of him. My belief system is such that I feel he is with me at all times.

However, not in the way I want him to be. I would give almost everything to have one more day with him, one simple time to be able to, as a adult, to be with him. But life had other things in store for me, my mother and my siblings.

On father’s day, I truly celebrate my beautiful husband’s presence in my daughters’ lives. It is a true gift to all be together and to honor someone’s presence which will forever be an influence their lives.

And quietly, when everything has been put away, when dishes have been cleaned and dried, when leftovers of a good meal have been put away, I have my moment… of missing a hug, a smile, a cuddle, an advice, a stern word, a caring action…

They say time heals all wounds… but I can honestly say, time does nothing to help a heart that has a hole, a girl/woman who misses her father. Even after 44 years.

Renewed focus on returning to my Camino

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESEverything was set; my backpack was as light as could be, my plans were open enough to allow for changes, but focus enough to get my end goal accomplished. Although my first two Camino weeks were challenging in many ways, nothing was set to prepare me for a halt… not just a halt for a few days, but the complete halt of my third Camino.

For the past fifteen years or so, my sleeping habits had taken a toll for the worse. A byproduct of a corporate traveler’s life, my hours of work were very high and my hours of sleep were low. Along with this were less than stellar eating habits; late evening dinners consisting of whatever was left in the office kitchen, in my hotel room or rented apartment, late dinners with clients, airport food and grab-and-eat moments… Exercise? mostly running from one meeting to the next or trying to catch that late flight. Years of such a lifestyle took its toll on me. When I retired, I counted more than 7 daily medication going into a very tired and out of shape body.

My goals upon retirement were three fold; First to wean myself off the too frequent medications, second to get back to an active lifestyle and third (and hopefully as the byproduct of the active lifestyle) to get to a healthier weight. Well, one byproduct of my not so healthy lifestyle of the past was the need of a CPAP machine to help me sleep… oh, and actually not die IN my sleep due to obstructed airways. I’ve been on the machine for almost 3 years, and although I’ve made progress with some of my goals (down to two meds, both low dosage) and a much more active lifestyle, I still have some way to go for a healthier weight.

Last summer, I completed my Camino and chose not to bring my heavy CPAP machine with me. I managed to make it through with less than optimal sleep, but no other consequences. This year, thinking I would do the same and I headed out without my CPAP. Compared to last year, I was in a bit stronger body taking less medications.

After walking more than 160 km (averaging 20 km per day) I woke up in the middle of the night with strong cheat pains and problems breathing. I panicked, woke up the pension owner, and grabbed a cab to the nearest hospital. Turns out, after a few tests and some resting time, that the doctors discovered my body had gotten used to the CPAP and no longer could do without, and because of the exhausting walks, my body no longer could wake itself up without putting undue stress on my heart and lungs. I needed to return home immediately to deal with this challenge.

Rest assured, I realized how lucky I was to wake up – severe sleep apnea can cause a person to simply not wake up enough to get breathing again… but I still am upset that I am at this stage. The good thing, it CAN be reversed! It really can, and the solution is simple. I didn’t say EASY, I said SIMPLE! When I get to my healthy weight, I will no longer need this CPAP machine that has allowed me deep sleep for the past 3 years. However much I appreciate what it has given me, I do not want to be slave to this machine. Therefore, my focus is SIMPLE and anchored… and I will get there by what I like to do best, WALKING!

After all, walking is what I was doing on the Camino de Santiago – – I got to Burgos from Pamplona, and now will virtually walk my way to Santiago and will focus on doing everything to get me ready to return to my Camino in late summer of 2015.
The focus is set, the tools are in place (water for swimming, treckers for walking, music for inspiration).
My feet are walking feet, and from this point on, my focus to get those feet back on the Camino!
Happy trails!

Too many mice in the cage

In college I completed a two year introductory program in Psychology. Among the many classes I took, one delt specifically on the sociological aspects and behaviors of people. I recall the teacher stating ¨when too many mice are in a cage, their behaviors turn towards aggression.¨

I have felt, over the past few days, that the Camino has become the cage with too many mice. Those who know me know that I have a great respect for the Camino and what it brought to me over the past few years. I looked forward to spending this Camino time really reflecting on my sister Denise´s life with us. I have experienced amazing moments of true compassion and support, but I must admit I have seen more negative behaviors that lead me to believe the overcrowding of pilgrims on the Camino has become detrimental to a peaceful journey…

I speak solely of the Camino Frances, and this comes as no surprise to those who have traveled this road in the past years. Incrementally we have seen the journey of walking and connecting and discussing become slowly more of a race to the next bed. I am aware that the current infrastructure is not enough to address all the current needs. Perhaps this is only an issue during the months most popular such as May and June in the summer, and September in the fall.

Last year I noticed a large increase in the number of pilgrims on the road and in the albergues. However, most times there was still a sense of respect for the individual, understanding of the conditions and patience shown by all.

I have only been walking for 4 days now, and in this short period I have seen behaviors that would, in the past, solicit from my parents a hard time out and loss of priviledges. Awful outbursts of anger and impatience at subtle small things, not just the lack of spaces in albergues.

Yesterday morning, EARLY morning, a pilgrim got up and started to go through her many groceries and plastic bags (the ones that really make noise) and upon multiple requests of pilgrims asking her to stop and move her items below in the foyer, she flew into a range and cursed at many of us. In passing, it was 5:05 in the morning!!

A few days ago, a pilgrim and I arrived by foot in a small village with only two small cafes to provide food and drinks. Parked beside one of the cafe was a huge bus full of tourists who were having a snack break. There must have been at least 30 of them, lined up in both small cafes. We stood in line for more than 20 minutes when we realized we no longer could wait for the crowds to dissipate. One of the pilgrims asked me how far I was walking that day, and I responded about 20 km. He then let me know that this group of pilgrims walk 2 hours per day, then retire to the local hotel. I have no issues with tourists being on the Camino, but in these cases, perhaps there could be measures taken to ensure the stops are in villages that CAN accomodate larger groups at once… leaving the smaller ones to be available to those who are walking most of the day.

And probably the most shocking behavior yesterday was seen in this beautiful church in Logrono. A group of 4 pilgrims were visibly upset and almost shouted at the small and timid nun. They were complaining about the fact the church had been closed in the afternoon, and they were quite strongly stating that this resulted in them having to return downtown to visit the church at a later time, which apparently was quite the inconvenience to them.

I was shocked and taken aback. I approached the nun and thanked her for being there to answer questions, and apologized for the previous group´s awful behavior. She noded and actually said she has noticed a change in attitude over the past few years.

Have this Camino become the proverbial overcrowded mice cage? It seems to me that we are all aware of this new challenge, but where does this allow for bad behavior? We are all tired by the time to get to our albergues or abodes. We are all a bit frustrated when faced with full albergues, limited room on the clotheslines and line ups for registrations. BUT let´s not become so impatient that the beauty of the Camino is lost…

I wonder if this will be the norm from this point on, until the masses travel through and we can see a lower number of pilgrims wandering the Camino? I am holding back on any conclusions, but for my short 4 days of experience, what I am seeing is not pleasant…
I will focus on the beauty there is here, on the kindness of others and try to ignore the nasty… if this is at all possible…

This Camino is too amazing to let this happen and perhaps with some open and frank discussions, we can turn this around…
I have hope…

The countdown begins

Three weeks from now I shall be heading to Spain to begin my third Camino de Santiago journey, walking in honour of my oldest sister Denise who left us after many years of struggling with health challenges. When I walked my first and second Caminos, Denise followed my every post with much support and a touch of envy. She always said she traveled vicariously through my many escapades, and my Camino adventures were her favorites.

DSC_4956 She especially enjoyed my poppies pictures as these, along with sunflowers were her favorites flowers. She listened with much attention to my many stories and she often asked many insightful questions about my journeys. She was quite interested in the mysterious events or moments that lacked logical explanations which pilgrims often share only with their closest ones. She enjoyed hearing me describe Spain’s varied landscapes and its gastronomical treats. She enjoyed looking at my pictures and shed some tears when we both watched the movie The Way.

But oh, my poppy pictures… Those were the ones she asked to see multiple times. She mentioned they would make a great calendar. I planned on making her such a calendar but never got to it and I wish I had.

When her son called me to let me know I should come to her hospital room the very next day in order to say our last goodbyes, I quickly modified one of my credentials document to include a picture of her so that I could share it with her and let her know she would be with me on my next Camino. Alas, I never got to do that since she left us before I had a chance to see her.

I have the strong belief that even though one leaves one’s earthly body, the spirit, the soul, the essence of the person remains with us forever. I feel she knows and is aware of everything we say and do. In fact, when I was looking through my many pictures to select those of Denise, I saw on my computer screen, right in the middle of the many rows of pictures a bright macro photo of poppies and I heard in my head “Oh, I so love poppies”. This is when I knew I would walk the Camino in prime poppy time. When I looked back at my screen the poppy picture was not there… Was this a sign or my imagination? Either way, it was the deciding moment for my change of dates.

DSC_4717

I am undertaking this journey in a very different approach than my previous Camino journeys. I am leaving everything to the moment. I will arrive in Madrid on May 19th and at that point in time, I will decide in which city to start my Camino. I have no set plans other than being in Madrid again on July 18th for my flight back to Canada. I will live in the moment, every day. I will revel in the large fields of poppies and remember all that Denise brought to my life.

“The way of the poppies” is what I am calling this very special, unique and magical journey both Denise and I are about to undertake. She will be with me every step of the way; this I believe with all my heart. I know there will be many tears, many heavy heart moments, moments of anger at her absence, but mostly, days and days of remembering amazing times and lots of gratitude and love for the years we spent together.

The Camino is a special place that healed and soothed my soul as well as opened my heart and my mind. I am ready for this journey and what it will bring and I will savour each day, each hour, each minute and each moment.
I am ready…

Poppies in Spain

Poppies in Spain

Three weeks ago…

Three weeks ago, I stopped by the store to buy tulips for her room. Three weeks ago, I drove over, unannounced because I wanted to surprise her. Three weeks ago, we visited and I took her picture, for the last time. Three weeks ago, I left her with a big hug and kiss and a “see you soon”. Three weeks ago, I didn’t have a clue that this would be the last time I would see her.
“Life changes in an instant” we say, and I know this, but it doesn’t always make itself apparent and we go one with our day to day life without really thinking about how quickly life can change.

These past weeks my mind kept going back to one of my mantra “Carpe Diem”. We should wake up in the morning and remember to “Seize the Day” and be grateful for all those who surround us and love us. I try to end my day in gratitude for all that I have, and all that I have seen, done, been and loved. I get lazy some times and slip into sleep without once thinking of how lucky I am for my life. This past few weeks have been challenging however I have been reliving so many amazing moments with her in my life and this made me even more grateful for the relationship we had, and will continue to have.

A good friend of mine sent me a poem and it resonated so well with me. Thanks Mary, this truly opened my eyes… It was written by Henry Scott Holland.

poem

What a beautiful way to see that the loss is true, but it is not the end.
Carpe Diem – Carpe Diem – Carpe Diem

A chain has been physically broken…

Poppies in Spain

Poppies in Spain


A chain has been physically broken…
But never to be separated soulfully. Our oldest sister passed away this week – and when you have a chain of 5 siblings, closer than most families, more linked in every way … then the departure now marks the space that held the chain together… we will need to leverage the love, the commitment, the understanding and the compassion to keep it together soulfully…

I am truly blessed as I am to undertake my third Camino de Santiago in Spain. This Camino, however, is one of a journey of two souls, but only one set of steps. Two hearts connected forever will discover new insights, new ways to communicate, and a truly double appreciation of what the Camino provides.

Calmness when silence is needed to manage the emotions. Beauty in the nature that will surround us. Comfort, connections, smiles and support from other pilgrims. The solace of a worn down pew seat in a small village church. The wind in the crops, the sun on the flowers and the cold refreshing waters of the fountains.

She really enjoyed poppies, therefore my dates have changed to have us stroll through the country, jostle through the large cities, shed tears at sight of the largest crimson jewels stretching out to reach the rays of the warm sun.

May 19th – my feet on some part of the Camino (to be determined upon my arrival in Madrid) will start this amazing journey that will be as unique as our Canadian snowflakes… one of a kind journey of two alike souls.

This journey will ignite the healing needed to recover from such a loss, and will offer endless ways to connect at much deeper levels.
My boots are by my door, my pack is slowly gorging with items, and my heart and soul are preparing for an amazing experience.
41 days and counting…
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The universal communicator

This past month my husband, brother and sister-in-law spent time abroad on an amazing journey which brought us to several countries where English was not broadly spoken or understood. While visiting those countries I came to the realization that there is, without any doubt, a universal communicator so to speak, that transcend any language barrier.

I realized we often leverage this universal communicator without even knowing, and for some, it is a trademark. It opens doors to further communication, it weakens aggression, it establishes a connection, it softens attitudes and it does all this without a single utterance of a word.

It is the genuine SMILE. I know, some of you are rolling your eyes and wondering what other “pie in the sky” statement I will write. I’m sure some will not espouse to my theory and that is fine. These postings are a reflection of my experiences, therefore I am not assuming that all will agree, but I challenge you to consider its validity.

I especially noticed the effect of this universal communicator in foreign lands. In Thailand and Vietnam I noticed that when I sought information (price of items, directions etc) taking a moment and smiling before the actual inquiry seem to put most at ease. It wasn’t always easy to get my point across or decipher the response I got, but the attitude changed immediately if smiles were offered at the onset of the interaction.

I also noticed that while walking down the streets, when eyes would meet, a smile almost always was assured a return smile; even with the ones who seemed to frown or scowl the most. Smiling is not something foreign to me, especially when looking at people I don’t know. However, in foreign locations, the results of a genuine smile seemed more apparent. I made efforts to do so with everyone whose gaze I could catch, and it almost became a game of observation for me.

Seldom did I not get at least some form of a smirk, sly smile, head nod. Most times people just returned the smile and occasionally I received a word or two which I assume might have been a hello, good day, or equivalent. Being an optimist, I’ll assume those foreign words weren’t something negative!

It seems so simple… a smile. I needed to be reminded of its powerful tug is can have on the heart, mind and soul of human beings. It was comforting and empowering and made me feel that even though I couldn’t utter a word, a connection was made, even if it was for a fleeting moment in time.

I’m sending out a virtual smile as my closing… Cheers to you!

The Slow Down Challenge…

warm blanket 2
It’s 6 AM on a Wednesday morning, and I have been tossing and turning all night. I’m fighting a cold, fighting a cough, and lately, fighting myself. “In what way are you fighting yourself?” you may ask.

It’s the beginning of winter and winter, for my body, means cocooning in a warm blanket of quietness. I should follow my body’s wants and just enjoy this time of the year but somehow my type A personality seems to not accept cocooning as a viable option.

I’ve always been at odds with myself during the season of frigid cold winds and whiteouts. Winter, I believe, is why soft cuddly blankets and warm cups of cocoa come about, bringing a natural slowdown to our hectic lives. Who can keep the old spring or summer pace when the simple of act of dressing for the arctic air could easily end up as a multi-paged process diagram?

This is the only time of year where my mind just doesn’t seem to pay attention to my body’s need for a more koala-like pace; slow, deliberate and zen-like motions alike one entering a still lake with the intention of minimizing waves. My mind, however, wants to keep a running cheetah speed and this is when my internal fighting happens.

However, I am a firm believer in positive thinking and projecting what we want out of life. I believe that things happen when they need to happen and today is not exception.

In light of my tossing and turning I opted to surf the web for some inspirational nugget that might enlighten me or offer my brain a little bite of busyness. As it often happens when one has an open mind for the “whatever”, I chance upon a title that catches my attention – The Slow Down Challenge.

“When we slow down, we do better, more creative work; we become better stewards of the relationships in our lives; and we grown grateful for the small things in life” writes Author Jeff Goins.

The Slow Down Challenge project is a five-day series of reflection and action that will help participants to live with greater intentionality, have better focus and develop deeper relationships.

Perhaps this is what I need to get myself into a slower paced frame of mind. I will document my daily insights and findings (a requirement of this program) and hopefully my mind will slow down and allow me to sync to a more harmonious state with my body.

My soft cuddly blanket awaits…

Gambatte Kudasai – Do Your Best

I am reading a great book by a local author Robert C. Sibley, a journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, about his pilgrimage in Japan. He walked over 1,400 km and visited 88 Temples along the way.

In this book, he speaks of a phrase that is often said between pilgrims doing this trek – “Gambatte Kudasai – Do your best.” When I read this, I immediately thought of our bootcamp sessions.

I will not lie, I am out of shape. Decades of office work, long plane rides, hotel food and client dinners peppered by limited movements left me carrying additional weight that increased over time. Although the past few years post retirement have seen me walk over 1,100 km in Spain (over two trips), eating better and getting much better sleep, I still have a way to go to get fitter.

Mama Hanes7 weeks ago, a friend of mine spoke about her experience at a local bootcamp and I decided that I need to up my game. Inspired by my brother who lost more than 75 lbs and now a runner, I signed up, along with my two daughters for a 5:30 AM, three times a week bootcamp.

I admit that I was scared and had my doubt as to whether I could even finish a workout, let alone try to keep up with the others. Some of the members had been attending the bootcamp 5 days a week, and this for a few years!

Our local group, led by the fun and encouraging instructor Ristow, is comprised of amazing athletes who are the picture of encouragement. When newbies like us start, the experienced athletes pick up the reps we aren’t able to complete, run back to get the straggler (most of times, ME), support and encourage each other.

All that is asked of us, is to Gambatte Kudasai – Do your best! Today marked our 7th week, and somehow my body finally decided to cooperate with me. For the first time in 7 weeks, I was able to keep up with the running, able to carry with another team member, not once, but twice, MISERY (a huge bar weighing more than 50 lbs or so), run hills and carry a sandbag.

I don’t think I have EVER felt such a rush at being able to almost keep up with the group. I still have a long long way to go, but I am so excited at seeing the changes in my body, the increase strength and stamina, and my ability to recover after a hard workout.

They say that change needs to happen from the inside, and we need to be ready for it. I can honestly say that I am THERE! The change is happening little by little and I am so amazed that even at my tender age of 53, I can say “It’s never too late”.

I am absolutely sure that the credit doesn’t only rest with me, but with the support of everyone surrounding me. I now understand that even though I am still last in line, the important element is that I am DOING MY BEST – Gambatte Kudasai!

Thanks everyone for your amazing support! We are now opting for bootcamp 5 days a week – and I look forward to giving it my all each and every time!
Happy weekend –
Mama Hanes (My bootcamp nickname!)