Frazzled Much? 5 Mindfulness Strategies you can use Starting Today!

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Frazzled much?

I don’t know about you, but this merry-go ‘round we’re all riding seems to have gone into overdrive and my fingers are desperately grasping to keep my hat firmly planted upon my head.

We all have a plethora of things to do.

  • Lunches to pack.
  • End-of-the-school-year presentations to watch.
  • Deadlines to meet.
  • Gardens to weed.
  • Miscommunications to rectify.
  • Social events to plan and attend.
  • House to clean.
  • Diplomatic report cards to compose.
  • Work dedications to meet.
  • Broken hearts to mend.
  • Networking.
  • Cars to maintain.
  • Emails to craft.
  • Exuberant exclamations inviting mirrored responses.
  • Phone calls to make.
  • Recycling to sort.
  • Hands and knees playtime.
  • Appointments to schedule.
  • Social media vacuum.
  • Crisis. Crisis. More crisis…stretching me into a spindly version of myself.

So, I find myself, desperate to create sacred space of respite, breathing room.

To create an untouchable sense of peace within my soul.

Ironically, while Social-Emotional Learning (which encourages teaching mindfulness practice) is at the forefront of our explicit classroom teaching, it’s common to see teachers overwhelmed, overworked, and super stressed. It’s ironic that the very thing we’re meant to be teaching our children and students to do, we’re not incorporating into our own lives. Wouldn’t we be more effective in teaching mindful practice if we practiced it regularly, ourselves?

But how? And when? How does mindfulness not get shoved to the bottom (or top) of our list as yet another line item to action?

So, within the goal of simplicity in mind, I’ve curated a small handful (because we all know overabundant choices breed paralysis and overwhelm) of my favourite mindfulness strategies. You can integrate them into you own life. You can encourage your students or children to do the same. It feels pretty good to press “pause” on this busy life of ours.

Some are super short in length and can be done while you’re waiting in the grocery line-up.

Some are delicious and more lengthy opportunities for reflection.

Here we go…

Mindfulness Strategy ONE:  5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique

This activity is about grounding yourself in the present by tapping into your 5 senses. Whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I find this strategy so useful, calming, and unassuming. No one even needs to know you’re doing it. And it really works to calm a racing mind. I first learned this strategy from the amazing Life-coach and Counsellor Julie Evans (check out her striking new website).

Here’s how you do it:

Start with a deep breath.

5 – LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see and name them.

4 – FEEL: Check into your body and think of 4 things that you can feel.

3 – LISTEN: Take a few seconds and allow yourself to listen for and identify 3 sounds.

2 – SMELL: Good, bad, and ugly…allow yourself to find two distinct smells that root you into the present. If it’s hard to do, move around or try and remember and name your two favourite smells.

1 – TASTE: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth, or a mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste.

Take another deep belly breath to end.

Mindfulness Strategy Two: Text Three Good Things:

Thank you, Counsellor, Educator and Change-Maker, Lisa Baylis of AWE (Awaken the Wellbeing of Educators) for this incredible new strategy. We were recording an interview for my upcoming podcast (launching in September 2018) recently when she shared this ingenious strategy. This one is so simple and easy, and it came as a delightful new way to connect with friends, family, and colleagues while building my gratitude practice. Two birds, one stone, right?

Find a friend, colleague, or family member. Decide for 21-days (or as long as you can manage) to text one another three good things that happened at the end of each day. I love the accountability of this daily practice. The benefits are multi-fold: you connect with someone daily, you train your brain to search for the good in every day, and neuroscience has proven that the practice of gratitude in your life raises your overall happiness and wellbeing. Can’t argue with science!

Mindfulness Strategy Three: Meditative Counting

I learned this super easy and quick calming strategy through the Headspace App. It’s one of the first exercises one learns on his/her meditation journey and it’s the perfect ticket for training yourself to stay with your breath.

Start by sitting comfortably, eyes opened or closed.

Take note of your surroundings, becoming aware of the origin of your breath. Where do you feel the rising and falling? Without wanting to change the tempo of your breath, notice the shallowness or depth of your inhales and exhales.

When you feel ready, start counting each inhale up to a count of 10.

Then, start back at 0 again and count to 10 again.

Repeat this cycle 7-10 times until you feel calm and centred.

This sounds so easy, but it’s a trickier than it seems.

I’ve found that being disciplined enough to restart the count once I reach 10 keeps my mind from running away on me. In other words, the practice of staying with my breath and counting gives my brain a break from the laundry list of things to do.

I would highly recommend the Headspace App. Andy Puddicombe hosts a number of wonderful guided meditations on a variety of different themes including, Anxiety, Happiness, Performance, Gratitude, Motivation, Relationships and many more.

Mindfulness Strategy Four: Get Out in Nature

Just this morning, nature beckoned and invited us to delight in her wonders. While hydrating some of the neglected herbs on our deck, my little family noticed that a tiny salamander had made the watering can its home. My children shrieked with glee as the little guy ran across our deck and hopped into their splash pool, swimming a few laps nonchalantly as we looked on. We decided to spend the next half-hour making a comfortable home for him in our garden. We asked ourselves, what might he need to be safe, comfortable, and happy? We fashioned a tiny bathing pool for him under the protective foliage

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of our roses and perennials. My kids were tripping over themselves to create a sanctuary for our new friend. It was such a lovely reminder of the connection, inspiration, and replenishment that nature brings us.

So, take a walk, watch the birds, just sit with a cup of tea outside for a few minutes and soak it all up.

Mindfulness Strategy Five: Guided Gratitude Practice

This is a guided meditation or reflection that I recorded that takes about 3 minutes and fills you with a sense gratitude, purpose, and the ability to resolve inner conflict. Initially inspired by Tony Robbins, it’s a good way to start your day if you’re feeling a little disconnected from yourself and your purpose because of all of the ‘busy’ in your life.

I sincerely hope that you manage to find a moment of replenishment and soul nourishment today. You can’t give if your cup’s not full.

 

Much love,

Morgane

 

How Paddle-boarding, Elk, and a Girls’ Weekend Getaway Brought me Closer to Gratitude

“If you’re going to make a change, you’re going to have to operate from a new belief that says life happens not to me but for me. If we trade our expectations for appreciation, the world changes instantly.” -Tony Robbins

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One Friday evening in March of last year, I set off for Port Renfrew to meet a small group of girlfriends for a much-needed, restorative weekend away. My husband had graciously agreed to hold down the fort for two nights. It would be my first weekend away from my baby boy, a bittersweet prospect. I had made the deliberate choice to drive the 2 ½ hour journey on my own, embracing the opportunity of delicious solitude with almost nervous anticipation. The typical wet west coast climate had been replaced by a bone-dry couple of weeks, but as dusk fell, I could smell the imminence of rain in the cool air. Before departing, I had secured our paddleboard onto the roof of the vehicle, programmed my GPS (to Handsome Dan’s Cottages in Port Renfrew) and selected an episode from my favourite podcast to accompany my drive (a two-part Tim Ferriss interview with Tony Robbins). I had just finished watching I am not your Guru on Netflix earlier that week and was interested to learn more about Robbin’s values and principles.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 10.40.26 PMAs the suburbs, streetlights, and sidewalks gave way to lush west coast foliage, lumbering cedar trees, and blacktop that stretched endlessly before me, I felt the weight of my shoulders lessen and exhaled deeply. About 2 hours into the trip, as I was listening to the fascinating interview, Robbins invited the audience to do a short, guided gratitude exercise (which is linked here and here). He discussed the scientific benefits of gratitude on our bodies and the way that our heart (EKG) and brain (EEG) literally align when you experience a state of gratitude. I’m guessing he explained this perhaps to convince the skeptics that this is not just some feel-good exercise, but that it has lasting physiological benefits. I was intrigued.

I should mention, by this point in the journey, I was starting to feel a little edgy. It was dark, the road was unfamiliar, and the GPS, which hadn’t spoken to me in over an hour, seemed to be struggling with the lack of consistent service signals. A little voice inside kept wondering if I’d ever make it to my friends and the cozy cabin we’d rented.

Pushing the negative thoughts to the periphery of my mind, I allowed myself to be guided through the exercise. First, we were instructed to identify a stressful situation or conflict in our lives (umm…getting lost in the middle of nowhere with no service, immediately sprung to mind). Then, he encouraged us to think of one, two, then three separate moments or memories for which we are grateful. For each one, Robbins directed the listeners to recall the sensory experience in order to fully immerse ourselves in the memory. Research has shown that when we relive a beautiful experience, it truly transforms our mental state to a more positive, optimistic one.

Finally, he asked us to think of a coincidence in our lives, something that has happened for us which has resulted in a new job, a new connection, or a profound realization.

In that exact moment, two enormous shapes materialized on the road in front of me. Time slowed down, as my foot slammed on the brake pedal and I narrowly avoided hitting what turned out to be two majestic elk, making their way across the road. My heart pounding, the vehicle slightly askew, I took a moment to process what had just happened and lowered my window to gaze at the creatures who had paused to inspect me with their huge, gentle eyes.

Robbin’s voice cut into the silence, as if to punctuate the moment: “Was it a coincidence, or were you guided? What if you believed that life was happening for you, not to you?” A chill raced along the length of my spine.  Not a moment later, my GPS kicked in, confirming that I was merely minutes away from my destination. I don’t know if it was the sleep exhaustion, the adrenaline rush of such a close call, or the fateful coincidental timing of the whole experience, but as I sat there in my car, keenly aware of my smallness in this giant universe, I felt a tear roll down my cheek.

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About 15 minutes later, I finally entered the cabin, greeted by my friends’ smiling faces, fellow moms seeking to recharge, as well. And recharge, we did! During the course of the weekend, we had unexpected dance parties, we took sopping beach hikes in the torrential rain, we spent hours talking, we cried, we took photos, we ate, and we laughed until our bellies hurt.

Sunday came, and I had one more thing to do. After packing and cleaning up, my friends set off for home. I crammed my body into the wetsuit, loaded the truck, and headed out in search for the perfect spot to go paddle-boarding…by myself. One of my friends had pulled me aside that morning, asking if I wanted company. Kindly, I had declined. For many reasons, heading out solo to go paddle-boarding was something I never would have considered doing when my daughter was an infant. I would have found reasons to avoid going (the discomfort of wriggling into an uncomfortable wetsuit, feeling guilty for taking time to myself, feeling incapable of pulling the heavy board off of the truck). In my life, I have tended to opt for certainty over adventure. But, here I was, as a mom of two, seeking the unknown adventure that stood before me. Going it alone was part of the idyllic uncertainty.

Initially, I had pulled into a spot near the ocean-side of the bay, but pounding surf, powerful wind gusts, and side-ways rain made me swiftly reconsider my choice. After a few minutes of searching, I finally settled on a calm lagoon location on the opposite side of the bay, with no evidence of current or waves. I parked the truck, acutely aware of my seclusion. With no one around for miles and no service signal whatsoever, I was truly on my own. It was thrilling!

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I retrieved the step-ladder from the trunk and hauled the bulky board off of the roof awkwardly, making sure not to damage it. I felt a little jolt of pride, quickly retrieved the paddle, set it beside the board, and returned the step-ladder. Carefully, I tucked my purse and phone under the back seat and locked the door.

As I stood at the edge of a bank overlooking the lagoon, my eyes were drawn to the fluid movements of a heron, the colour of steel blue, in the distance, observing as he skimmed the water before rising into the sky and disappearing against its white backdrop. The silence was almost deafening juxtaposed against the comfortable commotion to which I had grown accustomed at home. A thin, wispy fog hung just above and veiled the glassy expanse of water, from which darkened logs and deteriorated bulkheads rose like alligators. Droplets of falling rain broke the water’s surface, creating ever-expanding hypnotic concentric circles.

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I turned back to the truck and placed my keys above the tire in the wheel well of the car; I didn’t want to run the risk of soaking my fob and rendering it useless. Almost immediately, I removed them. Too obvious! I certainly didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere without a vehicle, either.

Then, in a moment of infinite wisdom, I rested them just inside the front fender. I know… I KNOW!! In slow motion, I watched motionless as the keys tipped from their stationary resting place and slipped down under the engine compartment. Hoping that they had miraculously fallen to the ground, I dashed under the truck only to discover that they were tucked between the engine and its protective metal casing…completely out of sight and reach.

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Under normal circumstances, I would have completely panicked. I would have cried. I would have started the downward spiral of hopeless thinking: no keys, no phone, NO SOLUTION! Then, my mind would have given way to all of the worst-case scenarios possible. That being said, I’d be lying if I didn’t have momentary visions of desperate hitch-hiking, serial killers, and being chased by bears.

But, the truth is, I had come to this very place to prove my independence, strength, and to challenge my fears. I had asked and the universe had delivered. Perhaps, this could be a lesson, for which I might be grateful one day. I remembered Robbins asserting,

“You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously. Gratitude is the antidote to fear.”

The instant I stopped resisting my current reality, the fear and panic dissipated. Time passed sluggishly, as I calmly lay down under the truck, tried every possible method to blindly reach the keys. I completely filthied my wetsuit, hands, and hair in the process. Finally, after twenty minutes of fruitless searching, I decided to change my approach.

I peered inside the engine compartment, through a tiny slit near the wheel well. A glint of gleaming metal caught my eye. The KEYS! Carefully, I squeezed my hand past the sharp metal encasement to reach them. After several suspenseful, painful, and frustrating minutes, I managed to finally grasp the keys between two fingers and retrieve them.Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 11.25.38 PM

My heart pounding, pure elation and gratitude emanated from my soul. Covered from head to toe in mud and engine oil and my hand scratched-up and slightly bloodied from the sharp metal edges, I couldn’t help the enormous smile that spread over my face and my exclamations of joy that soon followed. I quickly recovered my phone from the truck and took a quick picture, proof of my incredible experience. Then, tucking the keys into one of the wetsuit pockets, I headed out onto the water, my heart genuinely full of gratitude and appreciation.

Want to bring gratitude part of your daily practice? Here are 7 ways you can bring gratitude into your life, in meaningful, authentic ways:

  1. Actively cultivate moments of gratitude : Use your 5 senses to take a mental picture or video of the moment. Put your phone down. Be present. It’ll make the memory unforgettable and forever locked in your mind, something you can bring forth whenever you want.
  2. Limit your gratitude practice to listing three things: PhD researcher Adam Grant explains in his book, Option B,  that a regular gratitude practice, involving listing three things for which you are grateful daily, can help you nurture your resilience after loss or during adversity. But, when you try to list more than three, it can become overwhelming and counteract any benefits.
  3. Be specific and authentic: Don’t just say the same 3 things you think you should be saying…that doesn’t enter the realm of authenticity, your brain will check out, and you won’t be connecting. Instead, keep it fresh and exciting by looking for opportunities –One person, one memory, something right in front of you-keeps you grounded no matter how bad or overwhelming your life might feel.
  4. Give yourself a timeline: If you’re a skeptic, you don’t feel like you have time, or you plain just don’t want to…make a declaration to try it for 7 days and see if your outlook changes.
  5. Do twist on Gratitude: If you’ve done gratitude work before and you want to do something different, think about reflecting on your contributions that day. Dr. Adam Grant asserts that gratitude is passive, but contribution is about action. What three things have you done today to contribute to your home, work, school, or community to make it better?
  6. Zoom in: Marie Forleo talks about focusing on one person or moment for which you are grateful. She encourages her listeners to zero- in with a macro lens on 3-5 qualities you appreciate about them or how that situation improved your life.
  7. Write your gratitude down! When we write things down, our brain processes it more completely on a subconscious level. When it comes to goals, for example, we are 42% more likely to achieve them when we’ve written them down. I think we’re kept accountable, and it also serves as proof that good stuff really is happening in our lives.

Comment below to share your gratitude practice!

How Empathy Leads the Way for the Transformation from Victimization to Resiliency

IMG_7940Just this morning, I had a realization that stopped me in my tracks. It was one of those “Aha” Oprah-moments that sent a jolt of electric energy from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s caused a dramatic paradigm shift in the way I look at people-centred pain.

I have spent the last few weeks or so researching for my newest project which will provide tangible support to teachers embarking on the Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Kindness Challenge with their classes in the form of grade-specific lessons, activities, and free resources.

I have stolen early morning, caffeine-filled moments at my dining room table sifting through books, articles, videos, websites, and adapting classroom lessons.

Anti-bullying strategies.

Neuroscience.

Peer-reviewed studies.

Opinion pieces in major magazines.

Psychological theories.

All of it has reinforced my belief that teaching generosity and kindness though explicit means within the classroom is essential to creating classroom cultures that promote a sense of belonging and significance for our students.

The research process got me thinking about the concept of understanding those who hurt us. Nothing underscores the universal human experience more than the hurt we have all suffered at the hands of someone else. Painful break-ups. Conflicts at work. Family Feuds. Misunderstandings with friends. Falling outs. Bullying on the school ground. Childhood trauma. We have all experienced varying degrees of very real interactional pain.

The thing is, many people reflexively tend to demonize those who have hurt us. Dehumanization of perpetrators or those who cause us pain somehow makes us feel justified in acting outside of our integrity. We blame. We rage. We might even turn to hate. We might act uncharacteristically. We do so with the intent of protecting ourselves, and ironically, we wind up perpetuating the pain. We can get stuck in the story and the victimization. We might find it challenging to seek understanding, because retribution can be what we ultimately seek. For example, when I think of students in conflict, the “winning” mentality can make it difficult to come to consensus and seek positive solutions. For some students, retribution seems like the only answer.

But…here’s what I realized this morning:

The more we understand bullies and those who hurt us either intentionally or not, the less victimized we become by their actions. When we see the situation or conflict at arm’s length, from a different perspective, I believe the narrative can change. That is what we need to teach students in order to build resiliency in the face of conflict.

And here’s where I have to be very clear. Reframing the narrative by seeking to understand various facets of a hurtful interaction does not mean standing by passively and allowing it to continue!

It’s not about condoning the hurtful actions or statements.

It’s not about blind forgiveness.

And, it’s not about inviting hurtful people back into our lives in the hopes that things “change.”

It’s about preventing the hurt from weaving itself into the narrative that defines us as individuals.

I recently had a fascinating conversation with a close family member about the importance of recognizing what motivates people to hurt us and the value in having empathy for them. We discussed that people are fundamentally motivated by a variety of needs and that their actions directly relate to those needs, whether they are conscious of them or not. I believe that when people hurt us, their words and actions are motivated by unmet needs. It’s like they’re in survival mode, finding the easiest, fastest route to strengthening themselves. Ironically, like fast food, hurting people to meet your needs doesn’t fill you up at all. It leaves you emptier, hungrier, and lonelier than ever. I argued that understanding these motivators provides us with a broader, richer context though which to view the hurt. We seek understanding from our empathy as much for our sake as theirs. And, it allows us to view it through a less personal, victimized lens.

Through several defining moments of my life, I have had to set clear boundaries to ensure that I stay true to my integrity and to protect my soul and spirit. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It requires a great deal of courage, possibly many attempts, and a boatload of help, but it’s possible to rise up against unfair treatment. When we look around us, we see so many examples of individuals banding together courageously to advocate against injustice.

By and large, we are creatures of habit and certainty. When we are thrust into trauma or hurtful conflict, we instinctively go into certainty-seeking mode. Our brains try to make sense of the interaction and search for the best path back to certitude. In the absence of tangible data, our minds generate narratives (whether they are accurate or not) that make sense because we are biologically wired to find patterns.  In his article on the Neuroscience of Story Gert Scholtz asserts, “Stories invoke the mind to fill in gaps and to anticipate future outcomes and as such it provides a safe simulation of reality.” This explains why many people who have been hurt, not only blame others but often blame themselves, consciously or unconsciously. If the pain is bad enough, they may apply this new narrative to redefine the way they interact and react to life’s stressors to avoid being hurt again. As we know, when our backs are against the wall, we fight, flight, or freeze.

Heartbreak and trauma may very likely be part of your biography, but it does not define who you are. We don’t have to own or accept the story our brains have set out for us. I believe that seeking to understand the motivations of an individual who introduced the hurt into our lives, gives us perspective and a new frame of reference through which to view the pain. We can be freed from the limiting beliefs that we are inextricably linked to our stories and that we are not only somehow at fault for what has happened to us, but that we ARE our stories.

When we realize that we are not our stories, that it is not our fault, we can experience the truest sense of spiritual and emotional freedom. Within the spaciousness of this newfound freedom, we become capable of writing our own endings.

How do we actually go about putting this understanding framework into action? Here are some powerful questions (from Rising Strong, Brené Brown) you might ask yourself or invite your students to ask themselves in conflict:

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  1. What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation in terms of what I know and my assumptions?
  2. What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story in terms of information I’m missing and questions I might have?
  3. What more do I need to learn and understand about myself in terms of my response, my feelings, and the part I play?

 

Sources:

*https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/neuroscience-story-gert-j-scholtz/

Brene Brown (Rising Strong/Braving the Wilderness)

Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic)

Maya Angelou

Tony Robbins

Dr. Shimi Kang

 

Handfuls of Hope

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“Why would God make me this way?” he threw his hands up exasperated, standing in the middle of the grocery aisle as she stood beside him.

My 84-year-old friend, Kate, a devout Christian, had spotted Sam immediately upon entering the grocery store that day, hunched over as he squinted at the ingredients on a box of cereal.

A resident in her senior’s complex, he had been struggling with presenting his true identity to the world. Born a female, Sam had recently decided to bravely transition in the last act of his life, through hormone therapy, to the man with whom he had always identified.

Adversity was no stranger to Sam. He struggled daily with depression and anxiety. He could be seen frequently breaking down publically, shouting angrily at passers-by from the steps of his apartment. Other residents in Kate’s complex tended to avoid Sam, unable to grapple with the uncertainty and erratic nature of their interactions.

He was often solitary.

He walked alone.

Shopped alone.

Spent every holiday alone.

Kate was always good to him. She made sure to honour and call him by his chosen name. She always acknowledged him in passing.

This day was a little different.

“Oh, I just can’t today,” she thought initially when she saw him standing there. She was exhausted after a long week of medical appointments and the last thing she wanted to do was navigate unpredictable waters with her neighbour. She began to turn on her heel for the opposite direction, to avoid Sam before he could see her.

But, in that moment, something stopped her.

She knew he needed her today.

So, she angled her cart toward Sam, and made her way over to him, greeting him sincerely with a big smile and a friendly “hello.”

He looked up, surprised, then, upon recognizing Kate, his face broke into a wide grin.

As it turns out, it had been a particularly difficult day for Sam. He had been contemplating his identity, struggling with whom he thought he had to be for the world to accept him, questioning his worthiness and existence.

They stood together, for a long time. She listened. He talked. She validated him as he revealed his fears. He felt safe and heard. Sometimes, that is all we seek.

There were tears and even a hug.

Before he turned to go, Sam stopped her suddenly, grasping her hand, “You know, Kate, I was feeling miserable earlier, but after talking to you, I feel…hopeful.”

My 84-year old friend, leaned in a little closer, placing her freckled hand on his shoulder and whispered gently, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Giving Thanks for An Unexpected Encounter

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“What beautiful blue eyes!” her voice broke through my thoughts as I waited, admittedly impatient for the sign to invite us to cross the busy road. It was the Saturday of a hectic Thanksgiving weekend, we were set to catch the next ferry to our favourite gulf island, and I had just raced into a nearby pharmacy to buy some necessary supplies to ward off the beginnings of flu season, my blue-eyed-one-year-old strapped to my body.

I had noticed her.  A flat brown mop of hair, swaying slightly, speaking to everyone and no one, gaping darkness where teeth once stood, assaulting the big yellow button repeatedly as she urged the lights to change, so she too, could cross the street.

I had noticed her, but I hadn’t really seen her.

Until she spoke to me.

There exists a distance so expansive between truly seeing people, as they intend to be seen, and accepting the representatives they send forth into the world. First impressions seem easier to comprehend. We allow ambivalence to bubble up somewhere deep inside of us, born from the lack empathic connection. Ambivalence often leads to dehumanization. When we dehumanize people, scary things can happen: incidents of road rage, hateful anonymous comments on the internet, violence, and general indifference to human suffering. We tell ourselves the story that we are not responsible for others, that they have made choices to wind up where they are, that we are powerless to create positive change, and we shrug our collective shoulders, overwhelmed by our own lives, and let ourselves off the hook.

It’s easy to become protectionist, to turn away from that we don’t understand, to write people off based on our assumptions of who they are.

But, when we choose to be witness to the humanity in people, to see people’s truth, to will ourselves to see beyond the confines of their label, beautiful moments abound.

I could have ignored the homeless woman, who took a risk to tell ME how lovely my baby was. The woman who had nothing to give, but gifted me her kindness. On a weekend meant for giving thanks for the abundances we enjoy, I could have refused to speak to her out of fear.

But, I didn’t.

I chose to see her humanity. To hear the kindness in her words. To feel her need for genuine human connection.

I turned to her, looked into her eyes, acknowledged and thanked her authentically, as I would a friend. Her eyes widened, then her face broke out into a smile. I asked how her day was going and listened attentively as she told me.

As the sign turned, indicating that it was finally our turn cross the street, I wished her a heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving.

“Bless you,” she said and grinned before turning and walking away.

The funny thing is, I felt luckier for having met her.

As I walked toward my vehicle, I wrapped my arms around my baby boy, reminded of how incredibly blessed I am.