A Letter to Creativity

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Dear Creativity,

I’m sorry it’s been so long. You were my saving grace in childhood, before I dismissed you so callously and without consideration. I saw you in me as being somehow less than you in another. I disowned you by discounting myself as worthy enough to be graced by your presence. I ignored you and thought you were for the weirdoes, the underachievers, and the crazies. I curtailed my curiosity for fear of insanity, and ignored inspiration. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I stopped drawing and singing, writing and crafting, doodling and fiddling with everything my hands could find. I’m sorry I stopped playing music and embracing silliness and daydreaming to pass the time. I’m sorry I stopped making up poems and plays and attempting improbabilities. I’m sorry I rejected the beauty of bewilderment for timidity and boredom for the sake of conventionality. I’m sorry I tamed my imagination and stopped taking risks. I’m sorry I exchanged adventure for the comfort of safety, and traded vitality for security.

But I want you back. I want reckless abandon and childlike wonder. I want to write. To innovate. To inspire. To create. To risk. To explore. To expose. To embrace. So let’s go somewhere we’ve never been. Let’s blaze a trail, explore a whim. Let’s dance and eat and fall in love all over again.

I promise I will do my best to nurture you, to hold you close, albeit loosely. I promise to love you, to cherish you, to savour you. I promise to unhinge the shame from my creative process. We don’t have to make amazing art, or amazing anything. We just have to make. We don’t have to wow the world. And we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be.

We can be public or personal, poem or prose, primitive or sophisticated. We can be clean and proper. Or we can push the limits. We can be sensual and witty, and entirely extraordinary. But let’s run away together. Because the monotony of safety will be the death of me.

And dearest Creativity, thank you for finding me again. Thank you for giving me another chance and believing in me and helping me believe in myself.

So today, I reinstate you as part of my identity.

Your very own,

BGJ, Creative Soul

Healing Practices: Walking

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It all started with this iPhone app I downloaded last summer that tracks the number of steps I take in a day. My goal is 10,000 steps a day, which is what the app recommended for weight control. And so began the long walks, which quickly became a favourite summer activity, whenever I was able to make it happen. Ten thousand steps usually takes me about an hour and a half of walking and/or jogging, on top of my regular (mostly sedentary) day.

If you think that walking is boring, there are ways to make it a fun and interesting activity. One thing I like to do while walking is listen to podcasts. There are so many good podcasts out there and such a wealth of information. (I’ll write a post on my favourite podcasts soon.) If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that another thing I like to do on my walks is stop to appreciate the flowers and sometimes take pictures of them. I also like keeping an eye on the sky because clouds and sunsets take my breath away. When I’m walking a trail, I like listening to the sound of birds, the crunch of dirt on the path under my feet, the water rushing downstream, the leaves blowing against each other with the wind, and whatever else happens to be in the soundscape.

Long walks are rejuvenating for your body and your brain. Research shows remarkable mental and physical health benefits to taking walks. They help declutter your soul, bring clarity to your mind, and are good for your heart (both your physical heart and your emotional heart). And it’s a great problem solving activity. Sometimes, when I’m working on a paper for school, after I’ve done all my information gathering and just before, or midway through, the writing process, I leave everything and take a half hour walk. This activates a flow state and my papers turn out better than if I had sat there and worked straight through. Usually when I’m walking to help clear my mind or problem solve, I don’t listen to podcasts, instead I turn my attention to my surroundings and practice being mindful and completely present where I am.

I’d encourage you to find some time, today or this week, to leave your house, pick a direction, and walk. And while you’re walking, be in the moment and enjoy your surroundings. You will feel lighter, happier, more alive, and accomplished. And don’t take just my word for it. Steve Jobs walked. Beethoven walked. Darwin walked. Dickens walked. Jesus walked. Poets and prophets, gurus and pundits, business people, inventors, engineers, artists, scientists, musicians, the unemployed, and many other brilliant people made the practice of walking a part of their lives, and they were better for it.

Grace and peace.

Healing Practices: Yoga

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In the midst of everything that has been going on in my life (transformation, transition, deconstruction, etc.), I have been utilizing a handful of what I like to call healing practices to help my soul recalibrate and find center again. These healing practices, or centering rituals, or whatever you want to call them, are the activities that I am building into my life in this season in order to maintain balance and sanity. I will share each one in a different post and they will be part of a series that I’m calling “Healing Practices”. This one is about my path to participating in the practice of yoga.

My journey with yoga hasn’t always been a fond one. Growing up as a charismatic-evangelical-pentecostal-Christian kid, and my parents being Indian, yoga was strictly frowned upon as being derived from Hindu and New Age religious practices that would invite demons into our lives if we ever tried it. (I’m not even joking.) This (mis)information has kept a lot of people missing out on a valuable practice.

When I started working in the field of mental health five years ago, I learned that yoga is incredibly effective in treating trauma. Trauma is held in the muscles, bones, joints and sinews of our physical bodies. Traumatic experiences literally live in the body’s implicit memories, and is often experienced as chronic pain or other chronic conditions. The focus on body work, breathing, balance, etc. are all effective techniques for healing the damage of trauma and alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and a number of other mental health related problems. But I was skeptical. My fundamental Christian worldview stood as a giant barrier to considering otherwise.

Eventually, I started hearing stories about people’s experience with yoga and noticed that none of them appeared to be demon possessed. And in fact, it was a great addition to their fitness routine and useful for coping with stress. So I considered trying it.

My first experience with yoga was joining a giant Sunday morning class a couple years ago at the Lulu Lemon store in the Yorkville area of Toronto. It was enjoyable in general, but my wrists (still weak from an old Starbucks injury) simply couldn’t handle all the downward dog poses. And, quite honestly, it seemed like white, young adult, hipster females had hijacked the practice, and I wasn’t too interested in joining the trend.

My second experience with yoga was when my sister invited me to go to a class with her. She had taken up the practice and found it calming and rejuvenating. I wasn’t convinced. But I went with her anyway because I had read and heard about all the theoretical benefits to yoga, and I trust my sister. This yoga class was less hipster but I couldn’t keep up with its pace and my wrists still hurt. I also didn’t feel very connected to the practice and mostly just felt like an imposter. At that point, I decided that yoga wasn’t for me and didn’t bother with it for another six months. Even after I took up meditation as a regular practice, I kept yoga at a distance.

About a month ago, I purchased a fitness membership at my local community centre. My plan was to swim, work out in the gym, and maybe take a couple group exercise classes when I was feeling brave and up to it. The first class I signed up for was half and half of low impact cardio and yoga. I will write about my experience in some of these classes in another post, but the ½ hour yoga practice was truly sublime. It connected with me in such a profound way that I had to seek out more. I found another yoga class the next morning and went to it. Even with a different instructor, it was soothing to my soul. So basically, I’ve attended a yoga session four out of the last six days. And my plan for this week includes a yoga class almost every day.

The most intriguing part of the process for me has been how it flushes out pent up emotion from my system. It helps me unwind from work and sleep better. It helps me process my thoughts in effective and positive ways. And it helps to clear and calm my mind. Sometimes, the slowing down and breathing process as I enter into a practice period is enough to move me emotionally. And as the session continues, I literally work and stretch and squeeze those emotions out of my body and out of my mind. Sometimes, at the end of practice, as I’m driving home, I’m overcome with tears. But they are tears of cleansing and renewal and healing. It’s beautiful and I am now a believer in the power of this ancient practice.

If you’re looking for something to work your body and mind, to promote balance and strength, and bring healing to places of pain or bad memories, I highly recommend trying a basic yoga practice. Sometimes, you need a few introductions before you get to know someone, and few roadsigns pointing to the path before you get to walking along it. I hope this can be a sign along your path. And I hope to keep yoga in my repertoire of healing practices for as long as it serves me.

Grace and peace.

The Shunning

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In light of the backlash that came with my recent post “7 Reasons to Leave a Church”, I would like to take a moment and say thank you to every single person who reached out by liking, commenting, sharing, or sending me a private message in response.

It turns out that something as simple as a Facebook “like”, in this situation, carried the weight of a public statement. And so to the brave souls who dared to stand up with me and endure the bullying and rejection, I salute you. Your courage inspires me.

To those of you who messaged me privately, I want to express my gratitude. Huge thanks to all of you who took the time out of your day to write to me about your own experiences. Your messages have been a source of encouragement and I cannot thank you enough.

Of all the emotions I’ve experienced since the big exit and trying to heal from that mess, nothing has been stranger, but also confirmation that I made the right decision, than the social media shunning that followed.

It’s a peculiar phenomenon directly related to the fact that we live in a world ruled by social media. It reminds me of the concept of excommunication, in which a person is cut off from the larger religious group by being deprived, suspended, or limited in their participation with, or membership in, the group because they did something that was frowned upon by the group. Today, it could be argued that excommunication is a virtual spectacle in which the offending party gets iced out on social media. No more likes. No more comments. Unfollow. Unfriend. Block.

Strangely enough, I’ve watched this happen before and have been a part of doing it to other people when they left. I even anticipated it happening, and so in order to soften the blow, I pre-emptively unfollowed a number of individuals who would likely not share my views. Despite all the mental preparation, however, it still wasn’t easy watching the very people who smiled and said they loved you, turn their backs on you because you chose to speak up. Thankfully, I’ve grown some thick skin over the years and people’s opinions don’t phase me like they used to. So that took all of maybe five minutes to get over.

The more upsetting part of this situation is not that I’ve become the black sheep, but that anyone remotely affiliated with me is also getting the big unfriend and block action that I’ve grown accustomed to. As silly as it sounds, I don’t make light of it, because it can be deeply upsetting and the social rejection can be damaging. When most of your social network, social activities, and weekly agenda revolve around church (because that’s how this particular group is set up and it is expected of you), it’s a painfully difficult and lonely process to heal. I know this because I have been there.

And so I would say to those of you who have stepped away, who are being shunned for being associated with me, and who are in the process of grieving and healing, please know that you are loved, accepted, and covered by our tender loving Heavenly Father who sees your heart and your pain, who wants you to be free and whole in Him, and who loves watching you, His precious child, explore and probe the ever expansive depths of His goodness and kindness towards you.

Lastly, may the strength of His unfailing love hold you steadfast. May you find rest in Him as He tends your wounds. And in the grip of His grace, may you find peace, and the strength to journey on.

Grace and peace.

[Disclaimer: Despite what is being said about me, I did not then, nor will I now, publicly call out or name anyone involved. I have not, nor will I ever, condone violent acts. I have no intention of taking the law or due process into my hands. And I am not responsible for the arrest that was made last weekend with regards to the incidents I alluded to in my post. I wrote that post as a way for me to process, not as any kind of means to a vicious end. I have no personal vendetta against anybody.] 

Short Hair Don’t Care

I think it was Coco Chanel who said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I did cut my hair. And, as a matter of fact, I am about the change my life. And, as a further matter of fact, I couldn’t be happier about it.

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I promise I’m not turning this into a fashion blog. But I have to talk about my new do which came about on whim (well, sort of) this afternoon. It all started out rather innocently. I had plans to drop in and pick up a few things from my friend Keila, who manages a trendy little  hair salon in the heart of Yorkville in Toronto. But I really needed a hair cut and Keila always finds a way to make it work when I ask. So I asked.

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Earth Salon is owned by Michael Crispel. I’ve been getting my hair cut here for almost a year and a half, but nothing quite as drastic as today’s cut. Tina is the girl who cuts my hair. She is awesome and takes good care of me. She knows what she’s doing. She’s good at it. And she’s a sweetheart. And I always walk out of there with a smile.

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I grew up with super short hair and always wanted to grow it out. But when I finally got older and grew it out, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about with long hair and decided it was way too much of a hassle. 

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It’s been a while since I went and got a wild, out there kind of hair cut. Back in 2010, I rocked a super edgy, asymmetrical bob. Followed by rockstar purple hair that I absolutely loved and which probably was my favourite hair phase of all time. But since then, it’s been fairly mainstream. Until now…

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And there you have it. The undercut. It’s my first time trying this so let see how it goes and how it grows out. Also, it looks really sleek and styled in these pictures, but I’m excited to go wash it and let it air dry for a messier look. I’ll post pictures on Instagram so stay tuned.

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One final point, I’ve had this love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with my baby hairs—you know, the little wispy pieces right at my hair line that always want to do their own thing. But I’ve realized that I’m so done with hating on parts of myself, for whatever reason, and instead, I’m going to embrace. Curves. Muffin top. The hunch at the nape of my neck. Being short. Skinny legs. The extra melanin in my knees, elbows, and underarms. And yes, even uncooperative baby hairs, along with everything else I haven’t mentioned.

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Last but not least, huge thanks to Tina for taking all of these photos. I wasn’t planning to blog about my hair, but she had all these pictures and I had such a great experience that it couldn’t not happen. You can find out more about Tina here and Earth Salon here. They’re also on Instagram as @ilove_yourhair and @earthsalon.

Grace and peace.

Rediscovering Wonder

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Transitions are hard. I remember when I was growing up, my family moved around a lot. I was changing cities, schools, houses, and friends every few years. And it’s not an easy thing to do. As I got older, it became increasingly difficult to cope with change. So understandably, I was apprehensive at the thought of entering yet another transition period. But I have found that, despite all the recent and upcoming changes in my life, I’m doing really well. And I think it’s because I’ve re-discovered wonder.

Wonder. This unassuming little word has childlikeness built into its very essence. It means amazement, admiration, awe, and it causes one to marvel. It carries a visceral sense of incredulity, palpability, and inspiration within its depths. It feels like vulnerability and tastes like adventure. It is risky because it exposes our soul but it is the precursor to unearthing treasure. I’m finding more and more that it is the perfect antidote to anxiety, the secret to thriving in the midst of life change and paradigm shifts.

When I think back to all the moves my family made when I was younger, I distinctly remember that change, though difficult, wasn’t something I always dreaded. In my younger years, I enjoyed it and even looked forward to it. It was like another new adventure. And it was because I was still a child and ignorant to all the details and planning involved in facilitating a move. But despite the practical considerations, I believe there’s a valuable lesson here. As we get older, we take on life and carry on our shoulders the burdens that come with being an adult, perhaps even with pride or an air of resentment. And transition no longer means a new adventure, and instead starts to mean a whole host of logistical and practical problems to solve. Our sense of wonder is lost in the pragmatics.

But, over the past couple of months, I’ve rediscovered a few ways in my everyday life to cultivate this peculiar thing called wonder. And I want to share these with you. They are actually really simple and they’re all about getting in touch with your inner child. So think about it with me:

When was the last time you spun around in circles just to make yourself feel the rush brought on by dizziness?

Or left the windows rolled down while driving on the highway and let the wind play with your hair lifting and tossing each lock?

Or laid on the grass, stared at the sky, and tried to pick out cloud shapes (or constellations)?

Or found a lake or river or creek, kicked off your shoes and let the waves splash over your toes?

Or stared up into a tree and allowed yourself to get swept up in its majesty?

Or danced around your room in your underclothes like a child?

Or sang at the top of your lungs?

Or laughed so hard that your sides hurt?

Or felt truly satisfied with your life?

When was the last time you were filled with wonder?

If it has been a while, maybe it’s time to hit pause on whatever you’re doing instead, and rediscover a little wonder in your life.

What are you guys think? Have you been able to hold on to the sense of wonder you had as a child? What kinds of things do you do to cultivate a sense of wonder in your life today? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Grace and peace.