What comes out of you when you are squeezed?

Every once in a while you hear something that resonates for you in a deep way.  That happened for me when I heard Wayne Dyer talk about the orange.  It’s a story he loved to tell his audiences.  He would hold up an orange and ask, “If I were to squeeze this orange as hard as I could, what would come out?”

Generally people would look around unclear about what to say.  Then someone would shout, “Orange juice!” and everyone would laugh.  Then he would ask, “Why? Why, when you squeeze an orange, does orange juice come out?” After a pause, he’d say, “Because that’s what’s been inside all along.”

It’s the same when you squeeze a tube of toothpaste; you get toothpaste.  Or when you squeeze a bottle of ketchup; it squirts ketchup.  When you squeeze a bottle of shampoo, you will not get body lotion because that’s not what’s in it.

When life “squeezes” you, or someone puts pressure on you, what emotions and behaviours will come out?  Will it be anger, fear, hate, pain, judgment, resentment, negativity?  It does not matter where the pressure comes from: it could be a family member, a boss, a friend, a customer, your work, an illness, a job loss.  When life deals you a setback or people say something you don’t like, or if they offend you, the emotions that will erupt out of you is what is building inside of you all along.

I have experienced this more times than I care to admit.  I find that when I have a lot on my plate or trying to meet impossible deadlines, I can become impatient with my family and be quite difficult to live with.   When someone annoys me, I can get quite cranky and judgemental.  It is what is inside that explodes out.  A huge part of this is taking accountability for all my emotions and actions.  I no longer say, “she makes me so mad” because I can’t justify my actions by blaming someone else.  I also proactively think about what sets me off so that I can better manage my emotions.

Since my illness, I have become conscious of what I put inside of me.  I accept that life can be challenging and pressures can creep up.  At the first glimpse of trouble, I reframe the situation and find a way to restore and rejuvenate so that when I am squeezed, I am at the very least, centred.

I love to spend time with my mom and watch her as she goes about her business.  When she is squeezed, what comes out of her is pure love.  She does not have the capacity to harbour any negative emotions.  Her gift is in her ability to always find compassion and understanding no matter what the situation.  She makes me realize that what’s inside of us is our choice.  If you choose to have joy and peace within, it will find a way to show up, no matter what comes from the outside world into your life.

So what would come out of you today if you were squeezed?  More importantly, what would you like to come out of you when you are squeezed?

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Manage your energy, not your time

…the pressure we put on ourselves by chasing time, by multitasking and working crazy hours may help us achieve our short-term goals, but it is not sustainable in the long-term.

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When I was working full-time as an HR practitioner, I often caught myself saying things like:

I’ve got to put in an all-nighter, or
I’ll take time off after I finish this project, or 
After next week, I will be able to breathe again.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably uttered the same words as you worked on a project or were trying to complete a task. You just hunkered down and worked harder.

Now that I look back, I realize that the pressure we put on ourselves by chasing time, by multitasking and working crazy hours may help us achieve our short-term goals, but it is not sustainable in the long-term. And if we continue down this seductive path, we may end up over-worked, frustrated in constantly chasing deadlines, and, God forbid, sick.

When I was diagnosed with one cancer, then another, and then a third cancer, I had to re-examine my relationship with time. No longer was I able to function on 5 hours of sleep (which I saw as a badge of honour). No longer did I have the energy to take on multiple projects and manage them all successfully through completion. No longer could I work tirelessly for weeks and then expect to function normally. At the height of my illnesses, I struggled with basic stuff like climbing up a single set of stairs or even getting out of bed. I had trouble with opening a bottle of jam when neuropathy struck my fingertips. Chemotherapy caused me to forget names, directions and instructions. From this place of immense loss, I was forced to figure out how to live productively and do more with less.

The secret antidote I found is not to manage time, which is a finite resource, but to leverage our energy, which is renewable. I stumbled upon this when I came across work done by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr, authors of the Power of Full Engagement:

The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not.

They identify four dimensions of energy that we need to focus on for full engagement and high performance: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy.

Physical energy is about being mindful of our nutrition, getting enough sleep, and exercising. This was hard for me because my body was constantly fatigued. But I persevered with small changes like taking deep breaths and stretching a few times a day, then over time starting the day with a healthy breakfast, drinking more water throughout the day, slowly introducing weekly workouts and taking a 15 – 20 minute nap when I needed it. The other aspect of physical energy that the authors recommend is to do what elite athletes do to maximize their performance. It is about interval training: working in focused 90-minute chunks followed by recovery and rest. Their research shows that after 90 – 120-minute cycles, our body moves from a high-energy state to a state where we can no longer concentrate and it craves recovery (think yawning, hunger, lack of creativity, restlessness). Taking the time to go for a walk or doing something you enjoy for 20 minutes allows you to recover and rest. I am doing this with astounding results and finding that when my brain has a chance to rest and I totally unplug, I can get back to working with recharged batteries.

Emotional energy is about keeping a positive outlook in the face of challenges, obstacles and stressful situations. Negative emotions are draining and costly. My way of restoring emotional energy is to sit in a place of gratitude, connect with people and reframe situations to find the good within. I have had a lot of practice to do this over the past 5 years when my body, mind and spirit were so challenged. Now when I find myself down or stressed, I try and break out of that cycle quickly so I can focus on living life joyfully.

Mental energy is what we use to organize our lives and focus our attention. It is about challenging our brain and constantly learning. It is about feeding our mind a daily dose of good stuff and keeping distractions at bay. Having experienced “chemo brain”, I know what its like to be at the mercy of a non-functioning mind. Now I am super conscious about what I feed my mind. I am hooked on Stitcher (thanks to Shayne) and listen to one podcast a day on a topic of interest. I have become a voracious reader of non-fiction books. I spend dedicated time connecting and collaborating with like-minded individuals on projects. I push myself beyond my comfort zone. This has improved my ability to think rationally, make decisions and focus. I still need to limit the amount of time I spend on social media which can be a huge distraction, especially in these highly charged political times. And I am trying to cultivate a habit where I check emails at designated times rather than every few minutes.

Spiritual energy is fueled by our sense of meaning and purpose, it is the “why” we do what we do. It is about understanding who we are and where we are going. It is the life force that binds us to our soul. It is our personal way to connect to something beyond the physical world. I practice spiritual energy by living by the tenets of my faith. Sometimes I falter and fail, and then pick myself up and try again. Several times a day, when I have a moment to myself, I take out my Tasbih and pray – sometimes, only for a few seconds. When I am spiritually charged, my soul is happy.

Incredibly, it took cancer to help me appreciate how to live life fully by managing my energy. When we are physically active, mentally agile, emotionally stable and spiritually charged, we can balance the different aspects of our lives with ease. When we alternate between hard work and play, we give our body and mind the fuel to work better. Today I feel awesome most of the time by following rituals to manage my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy on a daily basis. So the next time you feel tired, drained, stressed, or even lethargic, bored or stagnant, focus on managing your energy.

5 years later…

…and we are finally going on that long-awaited Mediterranean Cruise next week!

Happy 35th Wedding Anniversary, My Love, and…

Thank you, Shayne, for making it all possible!

The Journey Beyond Cancer

April 24, 2017 – After 8 pokes to search for a working vein, nurses at North York General Hospital infused Munira with her final Herceptin treatment, successfully closing the chapter on her battle against breast cancer.

Munira always says:  “Put it out to the Universe, and let it work its magic”. The Universe has come through again.

Dr. Robson confirmed that Munira’s latest mammogram results were negative.  Dr. Tiedemann confirmed that all bloodwork for her multiple myeloma (m-proteins, free light chains, etc.) are within the normal range. And her Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has been out of sight and out of mind for the past few years.

So on this, the 25th day of April, 2017, I’m putting it out to the Universe:

The Journey Through Cancer is over.  Now, the Journey Beyond Cancer begins.

Thank you to everyone for your support and prayers over the last 5+ years, and especially since December 2015, when Munira was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I’m writing this post because Munira is way too busy living her life beyond cancer.  Every day, she finds a way to make an impact on those around her – whether it’s providing support to others afflicted with cancer, or raising funds for cancer research at the Princess Margaret, or lending her name to the Munira Bra (to raise funds for North York General Hospital’s BMO Breast Cancer Centre), or volunteering for a major community project, or bursting into a room with her energy and exuding happiness and warmth, and … (I can’t keep up with her!)

So, thank you, and God bless everyone.

The Journey Beyond Cancer begins…

-Nagib

 

Mount Kilimanjaro: Between Heaven and Earth

January 4, 2017.

My life has been intrinsically connected to Mount Kilimanjaro.  I was born in Moshi, the landmark of Kilimanjaro, and every morning, as a child, I would jump out of bed, run to the window and see “my mountain”.  It was a ritual I continued until I left Moshi for Canada.  The mountain was my anchor and my certainty.  When I visited Moshi two years ago, the mountain had “disappeared”.  I could only see a faint impression of it; something to do with global warming.  It was a difficult reality to face as an adult.

Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa at 19,341 feet.  About 30,000 people climb the mountain each year and about three-quarters of those reach the summit.  This past week, my son Shayne, his girlfriend Fareen, the impressive Mohamud Zaver (Fareen’s dad), Shaila (Fareen’s sister) and Shaila’s friend, Aleeza, took the 6 day trek to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. For six days, we have been holding our breath, waiting expectantly to hear from this group of brave warriors.  This morning Shayne called us to say that they all made the summit successfully and reached base safely.  Over the next few days and weeks, I am sure we will hear about the adventures, the joys, the mishaps, the challenges, the exhaustion and the exhilaration that the group experienced.  Right now, their immediate focus is a shower and many hours of sleep!

2017-01-03-027As I think about their experience, I am mesmerized by the metaphor of climbing a mountain.  Of doing something that is so out of your comfort zone; something that gets your adrenalin moving and your heart pumping. Something that gets you out of your head and fully into your body; where there is equal risk of failure or success.   Of taking that first step and creating the momentum to see the top of anything, rather than staying at the bottom of your life.  Of figuring out your true capacity by doing the seemingly impossible.  Of trusting that you will make it to the peak, that forward momentum will  get you there and that all you need to do is to put your head down and move forward.  Of knowing that it’s not all straight up – sometimes, you have to go down to go up – and you may miss a trail or path, and that’s okay.  For making that final push, when you are tired and scared and don’t think you can do it anymore.  Of doing something so expansive, so magnificent, that it changes you forever.

We are not meant to be ordinary.  We are meant to be extraordinary.  And in being extraordinary, if we can touch the lives of others and share experiences, be in the moment and enjoy the process along the way, and not judge ourselves by others, what gifts might that open up for us?  I love this excerpted quote in Eric Walters book, Between Heaven and Earth.  In this story, one of the characters, DJ, is given a quest to take his grandfather’s ashes to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is a great metaphor for life:

“There is a saying – if you wish to travel fast, travel alone. If you wish to travel far, travel together. You are part of a group of climbers, supported by partners and led by a guide. Travel with them. That’s important for the climb and in the life. As you trek up the mountain, I want you to stop along the way, enjoy each step, each moment. Breathe in the air, savor the view, live in the moment. Move slowly, enjoy. Remember not to wish away the minute of the days between now and the goal you are seeking. When you look up, you’ll see climbers further along the journey. When you look back you’ll see those behind you. Don’t pity those below or envy those above. Life is a journey and not a destination; each must take it at his own pace.”

What is the one thing you will do in 2017 to be extraordinary?  To break out of  your comfort zone?  To broaden your perspective?  To embrace challenges?  To test your boundaries?  Each one of us is at a different pace. Is it learning a new language?  Is it taking a sabbatical?  Is it moving to Spain for 2 months and embracing a new culture?  Is it simply getting out of bed earlier?  Is it committing to working out 3 times a week?  Is it loving more?

I’m sitting with this for now as I applaud Shayne, Fareen, Mohamud, Shaila and Aleeza for the journey they took together and how this is inspiring me to find my own mountain.

– Munira

 

 

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