The morning I walked to work on Mars

pink mars skyIt was one of those mornings… a five snooze alarm, sleep vs shower trade-off morning, when you dream you’ve woken up and left for work then wake up and have to do it all over again. It was one of those mornings when your bed is your entire world and any universe beyond is dark, cold, alien, and empty, and the warm comfort of your sheets weights your body with the gravity of a thousand suns. You know, one of those mornings.

I waited until the last possible second before getting up, savouring each ‘tick’ with the knowledge that these were the last precious moments of self before the blind suffering of routine would rip me out of my bliss and cast me, shivering and whimpering, out into the unholy frozen city. Ok, so maybe I’m getting a bit carried away, and of course I’m grateful for all my blessings and, quite frankly, even to have a job to wake up for. But our humanity is pretty raw at 6:30 in the morning, and the gloss of rational thinking is rarely available before lunch (if at all).

Trudging along the bikepath, I was still locked in hostility – towards the weather, towards all the bikers who ‘dinged’ at me, towards the little patches of ice that seemed just as hostile towards me, and, unforgivably, towards a woman I love who is suffering so much more than myself. I’ve been trying so hard to find solutions to her problems, to guide her towards relief, but she keeps slipping deeper.

No, I told myself, right there on the path. I’ve do so much, all I can. I just need this one moment to be my own. No job, no worries, no obsessing. Let me ‘just be’ in the story of this landscape. I focused all my energy into my senses: the sharp cold smell of the Bow river, the crunch of the snow under my sneakers… I lifted my eyes up from the pavement and gasped in unabashed awe.

Calgary’s downtown skyline was on fire with a rapturous sunrise, all glowing hot pinks and soft peaches, fading high overhead into a delicate lavender border. Absolutely gorgeous, and huge! We’re ‘big sky’ country here in Alberta and this morning the colours reached far beyond their usual semi-circular modesty. This was an entirely new atmosphere, an entirely new backdrop to the city. And then it hit me. I was walking to work on Mars!

I angled the brim of my baseball cap to block out any earthly, pedestrian blue. My world was Mars and I played the story through in my mind. Only a thin yellow line separated me from the joggers and bikers on my home planet, journeying into an opposite sky. I was alone in this magical new vision. I changed the snow to dust and the buildings to alien constructions. It wasn’t hard. In the last quarter century Calgary has transformed into a hulking, though glittering, vision of past futures. But I felt a sudden gut pang of sadness. This Mars was so beautiful, yet all would be lost to time. Whatever its past may have held, our shared Mars has been blown back to red dust. But I would always have my Mars, even when the sky came back to Earth, and even when later I’d check Wikipedia and find out the dull truth about the real Martian sky.

But in that glowing pink moment of my own, I thought of the woman I love, and a new idea. Overwhelmed by the crushing enormity of making a change, she holds the first small step in her hand, but tells me she always puts it down because she thinks “it doesn’t matter.” As I stood delighting in my Mars, I realized I had crossed epic time and space by giving myself the simple permission to enjoy the moment as purely, unapologetically ‘me’ – because “I matter.” If I’ve brought back anything from my Mars, it isn’t a sample of gas or rock, it’s the gift of knowing that even when you feel like “it doesn’t matter,” you still do.

Modeled by Barbie – How to turn Walmart’s ugliest Muumuu into sexy DIY loungewear

diy barbie clothesI bring out the adult-size version of this catsuit inspired muumuu transformation to show my Blank Canvas Living Creative Counselling client. She’d been brave enough to strip off her Walmart muumuu to expose her addictions, and braver still to hand over the epically unflattering pink and orange synthetic protection in hope that I could show her a different kind of comfort.

Last session, she was enthusiastic in her adoption of the new language of addictions – glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls – and ranked her own obsessions according to this novel nomenclature. We discussed how these words open new patterns of positive brain associations and allow more space for change. But now, faced with a different life dangling in front of her on a thin wire hanger, chest wraps (two long narrow strips of fabric for wrapping around the torso) pooling on the green carpet, she looks more than a little dubious.

suspicious face“Is this really part of the treatment plan?” She asks, her expression and voice the definition of incredulous. “You want me to join Cirque du Soleil?”

“For goodness sakes, no! This is about transforming your perception of an object – in this case a protection – that you think you know, and taking that change out of the theoretical and into the physical world. This is about embracing a whole new definition of comfort. Rather than making yourself invisible by hiding behind your learned glamours and insatiables, we’re going right back to a genetically coded human glamour – swaddling! This DIY bodysuit can give you that close womb feeling of being held when you swaddle yourself with the chest bands. You can change the wrapping pattern to play with your body to let its secret curves surprise and sustain you (and your most intimate relationships) rather than layering on artificial distractions and escapes.”

barbie clothes patterns

Note: The basic pattern pieces shown above can be adapted for any fabric or body (or doll) size. From top to bottom: sleeve/top (cut one), fold sleeves along horizontal dash line and sew to vertical dash line; leggings with bootie (cut two), sew as per leggings; chest wrap (cut two), sew onto angled front-neck of top and attach back of top to leggings.

“So let me get this straight,” she says, “dressing up like Comic-Con Stripper Barbie is going to help me stop drinking and waiting for calls from bad men?”

“This is to get you back in touch with your body and start opening up more creative avenues of perception. The real hard-core brain work comes later. Funny you should mention Barbie clothes, though. I actually thought the ultimate sex kitten would be good place to practice. And don’t worry about your body not looking like Barbie’s, or Adrianne Curry at comic-con. But I can promise you that you’ll be amazed at how your body will respond when you start to get your glamours in gear. So do you want to play?” I put down the hanger and pull two dolls out of the canvas bag behind my chair.

She takes the brunette with all the grim, ceremonious reluctance of a subpoena. But before long her and I are laughing and joking as we compete for who can come up with the most risqué-chic chest wrap variation.

“You know what,” she confesses with pink cheeks and a naughty grin, “this is actually really fun.”

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Inside the process of how story and math change our world

historical geniusesHeisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies equally to particles, parabolas, and prose. To describe – which is the common goal of any story or mathematical formula – is to influence the object of observation. Our reflection of reality becomes our measure of the world. isaac newton caricatureBut while Heisenberg’s electrons were thrown off course by photons, the change in our reality is essentially rooted in perception. And because perception is our brain’s only way of interacting with the universe, a change in perception equals a change in our world.

Truth is variable according to our experiences. Our experience of ideas, concepts, and proofs come together to pattern our perception of the truth of our reality. ernest hemingway caricatureWhen not individualized through direct sensory exposure, this ‘experience’ is communicated to our neural networks through a language of symbol: story through words, math through numbers. Both math and literature humanize a universe fraught with chaos by translating it into patterns of information compatible with the structure and function of our brains.

The only difference between story and math is the path of emotional access. Both words and numbers are symbols loaded with meaning and expectation of pattern of connection (eg. sentence structure/ B.E.D.M.A.S.). albert einstein caricatureHowever, words have broader associations and are linked with emotions that, when activated, open and extend our logic parameters to create new suspended realities. We can choose to incorporate these new worlds into our own (The Globe and Mail, religion, this post) or simple abandon them when we get to the last page (fiction, Calgary Sun). Mathematical symbols have a much stricter pattern of expectation that, upon entering the brain, must first be vetted by the logic system in our prefrontal cortex before giving us an emotional response/release in the form of soothing contentment (eg. simple beauty of E=mc2), or that sick feeling you get in your stomach when a formula turns out to be bullshit (eg. string theory… don’t get me started!).

virginia woolf caricatureInterchangeable except for path of emotional access, every story and mathematical formula use a shared humanized language of symbol to communicate novel patterns of perception that, if adopted as truth, change our world.

Under the muumuu – A woman and her addictions exposed

walmart muumuu

“I’m lost.”

If these words are yours, own them. Wear them. Go to Walmart and buy the widest, ugliest muumuu you can find. Take it home and drape it over your naked body. Be brave. Look in the mirror and see your true reflection. This is reality. This is what your brain has done to your life. There is no shame here, only pattern and practice. This is habit, addiction, and insatiable desire…

“I’m so sorry,” says the woman trying to squeeze herself through the doorway of my Blank Canvas Living Creative Counselling office. She’s wearing what’s got to be the most horrifically unflattering muumuu ever created.

“Don’t apologize,” I tell her. “The only thing you have to be sorry for is, quite frankly, that awful muumuu. Why on earth would you do that to yourself?”

“I’m lost,” she says, and bursts into tears. She’s in the room now, but she can’t even sit down. There’s some unspeakable bulk, all sharp corners and clinking sounds, writhing under the synthetic pink and orange atrocity.

“You’re here now, and that’s huge. Not as big as that muumuu, mind you, but major non the less.”

She gives a weak smile at my even weaker joke and looks at me expectantly. This is how it always goes. There’s this idea that I’m going to make some diagnosis and write a prescription or trace some emotion back to its pattern of childhood origin. But that’s not the way creative counselling works. I’m not here to waste anybody’s time. My job is to strip the problem down to the story and brain habits that are causing it. And I know this woman’s not going to like what I’ve got to ask her to do.

“Take it off. For the love of gawd,” I beg her, “take off that hellish thing so we can see what we’re dealing with.”

“What?” She says, giving me a worried look. “Seriously? But I’m not wearing anything underneath.”

“Good, all the better. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to be perverted or anything. Just trust me on this.”

She fusses and fidgets, delays, protests, and delays some more, but I won’t let her off the hook. Finally, with infinite reluctance, she takes off the muumuu and drops it on the carpet between us.addiction woman illustration

Bottles of white wine, cases of diet coke, cigarettes, tabloid magazines, 12 boxes of Peek Frean cookies, television remotes, Facebook screens, automatic negative thoughts, phones waiting for calls from bad men… the baggage is a tonnage of habit and addiction. The woman’s body is creamy and lovely at the center of it all, but her face is red with shame. She won’t even look at me.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispers, “I never realized how bad things are, how much I’ve been carrying around. It’s ugly isn’t it?”

“Not near as ugly as covering it up with that gawd awful muumuu like you’ve given up on yourself. Look, if you’re brave enough to show me your body and brain like this, then you’re brave enough to change it. You don’t need all this shit. I can give you a new language and way of maximizing your humanity without needing to rely on external emotional regulation. I’m not talking about yoga rituals or 12 steps. I’m talking about a way of real-time dialoguing with your brain’s perception of reality. You just leave that muumuu with me and I’ll transform it into a tactile demonstration of what this process is all about. Sound like a plan?”

“This isn’t some new-age-y bullshit, is it?” She asks. I can’t blame her; I’d be suspicious too.

“No bullshit. It’s already saved lives, including mine.” I leave her curious as I go to find her another outfit to wear home.

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