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What Space Feels Sacred to You?

I have just returned from visiting family.  The visit was less about the season per say; indeed I tend to avoid travel this time of year if I can help it.  However, sometimes life requires you to flexibly respond and off I was to the airport with my long underwear and favourite toque.  My parents, my brother and niece all live in the interior of B.C.  Imagine picturesque snow covered mountains, chickadees flirting with the snowflakes and rosy cheeked children. While both the towns they live in centre on ski culture, it is not unusual to find hard core mountain bikers braving the trails with thicker tires!  While my family is originally from Ontario, arguably much flatter but just as cold, we have each in our own way gravitated to living in B.C.  And I began to wonder why we all resonate with the climates we have landed in.  I began to deliberate on a blog dedicated to the season, and it occurred to me that creation and access to sacred spaces is part of how we mark the season. For some, scared spaces this time of year are reflected in brick and mortar places, such as synagogue, church, temple and circles.  For others, there may be a sacredness bestowed upon more humble abodes, such as grandparents’ or your own kitchen table.  The space that evokes warmth, connection, and reverence can be considered the sacred.  But as I have been learning on my trip what is sacred to one might be mundane to another. For me, the mountains are my scared place.  There are several things that tell me...

The Dialectic Between Loss and Laughter

Fall is well underway and I have been remiss in getting a posting up. As most people have likely noticed after a spectacular sunny and warm summer, the air is crisper, the leaves are changing and the wooly sweaters are coming out from the back of the closet.  This morning I was mulching the garden (“putting it to bed for winter” as my neighbour would say) and contemplating that the leaves and earth I was turning into the garden were very much alive and vibrant in another season.  And yet, I was not experiencing sorrow for their decomposition, but rather gratitude for the soil they were being reincarnated into.  And I asked myself how I might apply this lesson in my relationships. We have experienced some major loss at Island Family Counselling during the late summer and our energy has been put toward our care for our clients, our collective and ourselves.  As many of you know, we lost our wise and gentle colleague, Doug Emid late July and this was followed shortly by the death of our resident therapy dog, Beowulf. Sometimes, it can seem like loss of loved ones comes as storm and I have since said goodbye to a much loved friend.  Originally, I thought this post would only be about loss and the process of mourning (you can view a previous IFC blog regarding grief on this site), but within these last months there has also been an increased appreciation for my colleagues at IFC and our clients.  Specifically, an appreciation of our humour and being attuned to how much we laugh and appreciate being...

Summer time and the living is…

Ah! It seems only yesterday that I was writing the blog entry about returning to school.  Now, school is out, the first summer long weekend is under our belts and the weather in Victoria is finally cooperating with the time of year.  Now what? Summer time looks different for all families, of course.  If you are a parent working outside the home, summer time might actually add a little more stress as you navigate child care, activities for your kids or trying to swing vacation time from work amongst your fellow parenting co-workers.  For stay at home parents, well, suddenly there are few breaks in the day as the little ones are home – and maybe bored.  I recall how, as a child, summer seemed like FOREVER whereas an adult, it sure disappears in the blink of an eye. I remember calling out “Mom, there is NOTHING to do!”  And her reply (as she balanced working and parenting), “Then FIND something!” When approaching this summer and this blog topic, I was inspired by my colleague Valerie Trace who made a bulletin board with ideas for an unplugged summer.  I stopped in my tracks as it reminded me how summer sometimes becomes a “to-do” list of camps, extra courses, or skill development.  As a result, we may be speeding up at the very time of year we are allowed to slow down (even just a little). Kids need a well deserved break from school, adults need to rekindle the kid inside.  And what better way to do this than through unplugged activities? Some unplugged activities include: Flying a kite – or...

On Mothers

In contemplating this month’s blog, I kept putting off writing as I needed to plan what to do for Mother’s Day.  There are several mothers in my life that I would like to honour – the one who birthed and parented me, the mother of my partner, the mother of my favourite person in the world (my niece), my neighbour celebrating her first Mother’s Day, my neighbours’s dog and her 11 puppies, and a friend who has been a solo mother to many foster children.  In my counselling practice, I work with many mothers who are continuously re-defining the role of motherhood and the responsibilities associated with it. Not being a mother myself, I stand in awe for their patience, humour and resilience.  But I am also cautious not to romanticize the role of “mother” as it is also fraught with things that are mother specific, including post-partum depression, the cultural practice of mother shaming/blaming, and the stigma that is still attached to women who solo parent.  All I can say, it looks like a daunting terrain to navigate!  Elizabeth Stone said “Making the decision to have a child is momentous – It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”   This can be both joyful and stressful.  On the one hand, to see a child blossom would give anyone pause but to see them struggle produces profound pain.  And so this entry is dedicated to mothers and the difficult task you take on! Historically, mothers were often the source of blame for mental health issues.  For example, it was a long held belief...

Project Kindness

For the past many years, I have taught an introductory counselling theory course to second year Child and Youth Care students.  As part of their course work, they are asked to take on a personal change project.  In the past, students have accomplished amazing things in a 12 week semester – a former student who took up jogging is now running marathons, another quit smoking cigarettes and remains a non-smoker, others have taken up a spiritual path and so on.  It is a privilege to bear witness as students come to understand that such an assignment is designed not only to increase their own personal well being but also build empathy for the change we ask others to do in the helping field.  For all these years, I have also participated, choosing a different project each semester.  This is based on the words of a former mentor who told me “never ask a client to do something you wouldn’t do yourself” (thanks Greg!).  I have translated this to my teaching and believe it important to model taking on the challenge of change. For this year, my change project was kindness. You might pause and ask “what is so difficult about being kind?”  In fact, I was a little embarrassed to tell my class this was my project for fear of them thinking I was deficient in kindness.  But I think we can all agree it is easy to hit the send button, respond to being cut off in traffic, respond to a family member, or turn away from an outstretched hand on a street corner without kindness.  If I...

Umbrella Terms

Time for a pop quiz! Take some time to consider when you have recently asked or been asked “how are you” and have heard or delivered the following answer(s): I am just so busy Things are a bit stressful right now I am feeling pretty tired Everything is just fine! (Even when it isn’t). Don’t worry, we are not doing a research study based on your responses!  But it gives pause to consider how we answer the question “how are you” or “how do you feel” and what language we use habitually to describe our lives.  So often, we use what I call “umbrella” language to narrate our current emotional states.  If we consider the above “quiz” we can see that the terms busy, stressed, tired and fine do not tell us a lot about how someone is really feeling.  We just know that things are either bad or good and respond accordingly.  We tend to collude (e.g., “yes, I am so busy myself, life just never stops!”), curtail (e.g., “it’s not so bad, chin up!”) or compete (e.g., “you think you’re tired! The kids/cats/neighbours had me up 5 times last night!”).  For many of us, umbrella descriptions do not set the stage for the empathy we need and want and worse yet, steal from our own capacity to understand what is really going on. Take “busy” as the umbrella term.   What does “busy” mean?  Chances are that it means different things to different people but there is a specific cultural conversation that busy implies hard working, self-sacrificing and trying one’s best.  If we look at it this way,...

How to love in a time of hate

I recall a moment as a pre-teen where I first understood the concept of nuclear war and that a nuclear disaster could be in my imminent future. While this is chronologically past the Cold War, my constant exposure to news at my house must have flipped a switch in reference to Chernobyl.  I remember my parents saying “it is nothing for you to worry about, nothing will happen.”  Little comfort to a pre-teen who was suddenly understanding nationhood, political violence, classism and xenophobia at a more complex level.  I would often go to my private thinking spot; a wooded ravine outside our suburb to mull over this new information and the implications it might have on my life.  I recall thoughts such as “why are adults so selfish?” and “why are they so mean to the environment?” and “what will happen to me and my family?”  I recall feeling very alone in these anxieties and perplexed that we could all just go on with Business as Usual despite these global threats. While this story comes and visits me on occasion, it returned full force as I sat down to write our February blog. I must confess that my late submission this month is in part due to an ethical dilemma regarding wanting to write about love and care in politically fraught times.  As our regular blog writer, I could have dove into the month of paper hearts, chosen heart felt poetry or even discussed fundamental skills for our intimate relationships.  I could have chosen to elucidate with humour on the many other days that come in February, such as...

Happy 2017!

As 2017 begins to unfold, we wanted to take some time to reflect on why this is a time of year when people make their resolutions.  In some ways, the New Year represents a “fresh” start to our intentions where we make goals for personal, familial or community betterment.  While your goals are uniquely yours, it is not uncommon for people to want to improve their exercise/diet, cease unhealthy habits such as smoking or other substances, go on a digital cleanse, or take on a new hobby that would enhance overall quality of life.  In fact, Doctor Mike Evans sums our love of New Year’s resolutions here:     What we appreciate about his video is that he talks about the smaller steps of change as opposed to the “all or nothing” perspective we sometimes bring to change.  If you have a perfectionist orientation, all or nothing New Year’s resolutions can be, quite frankly, disappointing.  If you are looking at starting a new habit (or breaking up with an old one), SMART goals can be helpful: S= Specific Get really concrete!  It is not enough to say “I want less stress” or “more work-life balance.”  Instead, formulate your goals such as “I will hire homecare for my elderly parents” or “Our family will commit to game night once a week.” M = Measurable Part of sustainability of change is being able to measure your progress.  How will you know what you are doing is working?  What visual trackers can you use or what mini-celebrations will you do when you reach these change milestones? A= Attainable/Achievable Is what you want...

Handling the holidays

I am not sure about you, but other months tend to roll in gently while December seems to suddenly arrive.  We wanted to offer a few “gifts” that may help in this month. There are several significant days in December that are aligned with diverse spiritual practices or memorial days.  Included in these are: December 1: World AIDS Day, which was created to commemorate those who have died of AIDS, and to acknowledge the need for a continued commitment to all those affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. December 1: Eid Milad Un Nabi, an Islamic holiday commemorating the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. During this celebration, homes and mosques are decorated, large parades take place, and those observing the holiday participate in charity events. December 3: International Day of Disabled Persons, which is designed to raise awareness in regards to persons with disabilities in order to improve their lives and provide them with equal opportunity. December 3-24: Advent is a season of spiritual preparation in observance of the birth of Jesus. In Western Christianity, it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In Eastern Christianity, the season is longer and begins in the middle of November December 8: Bodhi Day, a holiday observed by Buddhists to commemorate Gautama’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, India. December 10: International Human Rights Day, established by the United Nations in 1948 to commemorate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. December 12: Feast Day at Our Lady of Guadalupe. This day commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary near Mexico City in 1531. December 13: St. Lucia’s Day. In...

Remembering

A couple of weekends ago, I attended the memorial service for an old friend and colleague.  I had not seen him for many years and even considered not attending. I chalked this consideration up to a variety of things, including being busy, the idea he might not know if I attended or not, and a healthy dose of existential angst that sometimes folks die young (although I will say my definition of young keeps changing as I grow older).  In retrospect, I was a bit ashamed I had not kept our friendship going after we parted ways in the workplace.  I thought, oh dear, another example of “I’ll do that tomorrow” or “we should really get together soon.” I arrived at the memorial which was being held in a large social space that could likely hold 350 people.  It was standing room only. I scanned the crowd looking for former colleagues and his family members but it was so loud and bustling I was a bit overwhelmed. At the front of the room was a long table with photos so I thought I would go have a wander down memory lane and gather my bearings.  On the table were what appeared to be a carefully curated selection of “the good old days” and more contemporary photos.  I stopped in my tracks when I recognized a photo taken on a ski hill 18 years ago.  Because in that photo was me – with my old friend and others – smiling in the brilliant sunshine at Mt. Washington resort.  The loud bustle of the room went on mute as I picked...

An Attitude of Gratitude

A couple of years ago, I began to notice a disturbing trend in my morning routine.  As soon as my eyes opened, I would begin to think about all the things that needed to be done for the day.  It ranged from the more mundane details of life –“ if I take a sandwich to work I need to remember to pick up bread on the way home”- to the more existential – “am I living my life with integrity?”  As you can imagine, before my bare feet hit the floor, I had enough worries in my head to fill a week never mind a mere to do list. As an antidote to this trend, I began my mornings with more intention.  Specifically, I began my day with gratitude.  When awoke, I would count 5 things I was grateful for.   I confess, every once in a while I would “cheat” and list all my pets (I have 5 so that was convenient) but most days I amazed myself at just how much I had to be grateful for.  By starting this practice in the morning, I found I was able to be in the present moment more, despite the daily tasks that lay ahead of me. But don’t just take my word for it.  An “attitude of gratitude” has been scientifically studied and the results are pretty amazing (see http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude).  Cultivating a practice of gratitude is good for your mental health, increasing your overall subjective sense of well-being and belonging.  It is also beneficial for your physical health, improving your overall immune system and heart health.  We know that...

September is Around the Corner!

Back to School As a university instructor and lifelong learner, September always seems like the “real” New Year.  It always has so many firsts – first day at school, first time living away from home, first crunch of leaves.  There is also a series of newness – new faces, new places and new or upcycled supplies. For me, there is also the anticipation of settling into a new routine and this rhythm, while familiar, takes time to adjust to.  For many parents, this transition time can be one of relief as illustrated in Staple’s choice of theme song (“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”) or one that might better fit with Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”  For many, it can be both at the same time. At Island Family Counselling Centre, we know that transitions can be challenging to navigate, even when they are expected.  Back to school often involves changes to routines in sleep, nutrition, and downtime and for some parents, a ramped up chauffeuring schedule for new extracurricular commitments.   We know that children, youth and their parents are resilient and can normally rides the waves of transition.  But we also know that for parents of children and youth who are highly anxious or with low mood, back to school can be extra challenging.  Below we offer some suggestions for making this transition smoother for everyone. Sleep Hygiene A good night’s sleep is important for all of us, but chances are the sleep schedule changed over the summer due to a variety of factors – hopefully fun ones!  In order to get back into the swing of things,...

Why Counselling?

I grew up in a family where the unofficial motto was “don’t air your dirty laundry.”  This meant that everyday struggles with family dynamics, couple health, financial strain, educational challenges or mental health and addictive behaviours were expected to be dealt with in the family unit.  The flip side of that motto was “don’t be a bragger” and successes were dealt with in the same stoic and silent manner.  You can imagine my family’s surprise when I pursued a career in counselling; they simply could not fathom going to a stranger to discuss the struggles and successes of everyday life.   Island Family Counselling Centre has been helping individual, couples, and families for over 30 years and we know that we all need feedback and direction at some point.  This can sometimes be for small bumps in the road and sometimes for major life transitions.  At IFCC we do not determine what constitutes small bumps or major ones or even dirty laundry; we know that every individual and family can determine why and when they need help to connect, explore and transform. Connect We know that there are 400+ counselling modalities around the world, probably more if we include local and/or Indigenous healing traditions. We also witness families and communities supporting one another through challenging economic, environmental and social crises without formal support. When people turn to counselling, many questions arise: How does one choose between evidence based practice or practice based evidence? This acronym versus the other?  How do you know what will work for your unique situation?  The good news is that the relationship that you form...

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